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Letter: Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for Argyle International Airport
Published on May 9, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

There is no better evidence that Argyle International Airport (AIA) on the island of St. Vincent (SVI) will fail to meet its visitor expectations because there was no compelling reason, apart from electoral politics, for its construction than a side-by-side comparison of international tourism and allied features with our two geographically closest neighbours, St Lucia and Grenada, because the three islands share so much in common, while differing in a couple of critical areas, exactly what is needed for good comparative analysis.

Being roughly at the same latitude and longitude and separated by a few miles of ocean, being similar in size and population density (see Table 1), having a shared history of sugar plantation slavery under British Crown colony rule, and now possessing nearly identical systems of independent governance and a relatively free market economy, it would be hard to find three islands more suitable for comparison.

Table 1. A key indicators comparison of St Lucia, Grenada, and St Vincent Island

lessons_table1.jpg
*Estimate from earlier years.
**Based on the same 17 percent landed cruise ship passengers as Barbados (see essay number 40 below).
***Includes the Grenadines.
Source: Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, country statistics, and other reports
.

Unlike our own AIA, built mainly by selling precious Crown land and borrowing EC$400 million, St Lucia's Hewanorra International Airport was largely financed on the back of a military airport built by the United States in 1941 to protect the island from German attack during World War II. The airport was handed over to St Lucia in 1952, basically as a gift to the island. It became fully operational with a new control tower in the early 1970s and but did not see serious internationally scheduled flights until ten years later when St Lucia already had over 2,000 hotel rooms, or nearly three times our 750-room total, based on decades of increases in tourist traffic to the regional airport outside the capital of Castries.

Grenada's Maurice Bishop International Airport, opened in 1984, received nearly all its funding from outside, first from the Cubans and then from the Americans, who completed the airport after the country was liberated from its unelected and totalitarian communist regime. As in St Lucia, it took some ten years to see regularly scheduled international flights by which time Grenada already had over 1,000 hotel rooms, or 130 percent above our 750 mainland room count.

In short, in both islands, visitor and accommodation expansion grew hand in hand for decades, despite the alleged “inconvenience” of the existing regional air transport system and the two international airports were built only to accommodate the growing volume of tourists drawn there by the quality and variety of their many attractions.

reduit_beach2.jpg
Famous five-mile long Reduit Beach, St Lucia

The lesson to be learned from this is the same one I have been relentlessly preaching for over two years: airports are built, enlarged, or renovated to address an actual or reasonably expected rise in the supply of passengers, not the reverse.

grande_anse_beach.jpg
Equally famous two-mile long Grande Anse Beach, Grenada

What then accounts for the large disparity in stopover tourist visitors between SVI and our two close neighbours? It cannot be the features in Table 1 we all share like climate, geology, topography, size, population density, or history; it cannot be because St Lucia and Grenada have so many more hotel and other rooms than we do -- these were built in response to past increases and reasonable prospects for future gains; it cannot be the many more attractions listed in Table 2 below because many of these were developed to complement the needs of the growing number of visitors who went there mainly for something else; it cannot be the stark differences in wealth represented by the per capita gross domestic product figures because these are a result of mass tourism, not their cause; it cannot be the levels of unemployment because these are poorly correlated with visitor numbers; and it cannot be the presence of their international airports because they were built to accommodate steady increases in overseas guests.

villa_beach.jpg
Our very own mixed sand beach (coral and volcanic rock) at Villa, SVI

Nevertheless, the answer to the question of what accounts for the huge disparity in stopover and other tourist visitors between these two islands and SVI also lies in Table 1 and is St Lucia and Grenada’s many white sand beaches and other desirable attractions. (The stark tourist number differences between St Lucia and Grenada reflect the finer beaches and larger number and variety of desirable supporting attractions on St Lucia.)

These assertions are supported by Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel site with more than 60 million members and over 170 million reviews and opinions of hotels, restaurants, attractions and other travel-related businesses, which lists the following “things to do” for these three islands (Table 2).

Table 2. “Things to do” according to tripadvisor

lessons_table2.jpg

Both the key tourism related physical differences between the islands – facts of nature over which we have no control -- and the way they have been developed, augmented, and promoted is also why proportionately more of our wealthy citizens have always travelled on holiday to our two neighbours than their citizens have travelled here to enjoy our mainland.

Given what I have repeatedly argued about our limited mainland tourism potential, an observation no better verified than by our stagnant or declining tourist numbers over the past 16 years in the three categories of stopovers, cruisers, and yachters (see essay number 49), why did we build an international airport on an island with one bogus white sand beach on a tiny stretch of Buccament Bay whose large resort (nearly 15 percent of our mainland hotel capacity) is now shuttered, probably for good?

Ask Ralph.

***

This is the 53rd in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:

1. Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
2. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
3. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
5. Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
6. The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
7. Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
9. Airport envy Vincie-style
10. Fully realising our country's tourism potential
11. Airport without a cause
12. The unnatural place for an international airport
13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
17. Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
18. Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
19. More proof that Argyle won't fly
20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
22. The world's four most amazing abandoned airports
23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
25. St Vincent's place in the world of travel
26. Investing in St Vincent's tourism industry
27. The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
28. Did the IMF drink the Comrade's Kool-Aid?
29. Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
31. 'If I come, you will build it': Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
32. City lessons for Argyle International Airport
33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
34. No ticky, no washy - Argyle-style
35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
36. Hotel St Vincent 
37. Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
40. St Vincent's cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
42. Cuba's tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
44. Not all Argyle airport critics are 'internet crazies'
45. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle airport
46. The print media's take on the opening of Argyle International Airport
47. Our Argyle International Airport 'veritable miracle'
48. The Argyle airport 'poppy show' opening
49. St Vincent's 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
50. Going forward or moonwalking? Lessons for Argyle International Airport
51. The visible hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
52. St Vincent Island doesn't need any more hotel rooms
 
C. ben-David
 
Reads: 11075





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Comments:

Observer:

Compilation of essays and hardly making inroads, what sense does it make? You're too full of yourself. All of a sudden C.Ben David is the lead spokesperson on tourism.

Lord have mercy! Let's see if he's a long distance runner. Soon ran out of steam. Argyle success would pushed him aside for good. Unable to make a come. Ben is mounting a one man protest against something that has the full support of the majority. His effort will fail cause he does not have the majority behind him. Argyle has more likes and support than all of Ben's essays combined.

That only in itself says a lot. I'm here listening to PM Gonsalves press conference, speaking on hotel investments. Continue to woo investors to our shores, you're doing a marvelous job. You have my fullest support, Sir!

C. ben-David:

Observer, you seem to have a chronic aversion to people exercising their free speech in a democratic society, something our honourable Prime Minister has always actively encouraged.

This is exacerbated by your inability to challenge any of my assertions, let alone offer a detailed counter-narrative based on your own data and analysis, a sure sign of man with narrow vision, dogmatic beliefs, and a lazy mind.

You are a free man, sir, which includes freedom not to read any of my submissions if you find them so offensive. That you are unable to refrain from doing so tells me that I am constantly hitting the bull's eye.

Observer:

Why are you crying Sir? Stand up and take licks like a big man. Ben you shouldn't be surprise by my aggressive response, cause I've said in the past, once you continue to attack my country's tourism product, I will continue to slam you.

I'm a proud patriotic Vincy, there's absolutely no doubt about that. Unwonted attack on my homeland, I will intercede on behalf of SVG. Expect more aggressive comments from me.

C.Ben, whether you've reached 100 essay and counting, you wouldn't have the full support of Vincentians, thrust me. Can't you see the overwhelming support for our State of the art facility at Argyle? Take for instance, the arrival of Boeing 767 Aircraft that landed at Argyle today, to take back our precious cargo to the USA. Check AIA Facebook page and see close to a 1000 likes, plus 150 comments, and lots of shares including yours truly, Observer.

Tremendous support from Vincies at home and abroad.

You behaves as though you have all of the answers, but you're so wrong bro. Can't speak for us, we have a capable team in place headed by Mr Glen Beache.

The fact is, AIA proving to be a success story and that is getting underneath your skin.

GT:

Falsey man! You are second from top of the list.


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