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Letter: St Vincent's mainland tourist attractions
Published on June 12, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

An international airport began operation on February 13-14 at Argyle, St Vincent Island (SVI), to encourage mass international tourism on the mainland based on the premise of prime minister, the Honourable Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, that:

"Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport [because] Foreign [hospitality industry] investors often shy away from St Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG] when the limitations of air access arise due to the absence of an international airport…” (see essay 21 below for source).

I have repeatedly argued that this assertion is unsupported because there are many holiday destinations around the world, including tropical islands in the Caribbean such as SVG’s very own Grenadines, with thriving tourism industries but no international airport (see essays 7, 10, 31, 38, and 43).

At the top of the mainland’s Soufriere volcano. But where is the washroom?

But there is another more convoluted assumption implicit in the prime minister’s statement, namely, that our mainland tourism potential is now being only partially realised because we already have both the quantity and quality of tourist attractions to satisfy the wants of discerning international holiday travelers who fail to come here only because of the alleged inconvenience of spending a couple of hours transiting through Barbados, Trinidad, and elsewhere.

In short, having built Argyle International Airport (AIA), extra-Caribbean tourists will now flock to SVI in record numbers because they would have done so long ago, given our obvious mainland attractions, save for the absence of non-stop flights from overseas.

Table Rock, Vermont

In interrogating this implicit hypothesis, I offer a contrary, indeed contrarian assumption. Simply stated, although we now have an international airport, our tourism attractions are insufficient in number, type, and quality to attract enough new visitors to ever make its construction economically worthwhile.

This is partly because we are faced with five constraints: (1) low economies of scale which makes what we produce comparatively expensive; (2) negative trade imbalances (we buy much and sell little) which increase our debt levels and interest payments; (3) a near pre-industrial level of limited production and low productivity in the key agriculture and construction industries which inflate both input and output costs; (4) a lower middle-income wage level that renders labour costs higher than in many other even poorer tourist destinations; and (5) an uncompetitive tax regime (anti-business import duties, anti-consumption VAT levels, and growth-depressing personal and business tax rates). Taken together, these constraints make our mainland a globally expensive tropical place to visit.

Fort Charlotte, Kingstown

Combined with our infrastructure and public service limitations (such as poor roads, inferior medical and emergency service, inadequate policing, non-existent firefighting, etc.), this is the overarching context which informs the following discussion of our tourist attractions, as listed under the following headings: urban delights; seaside delights; historical treasures; and rural pleasures.

1. Urban delights. Despite the many cobblestone streets and protective and attractive arches in many sections of town, an outstanding feature not found in most other Caribbean capitals, Kingstown is now one of the least appealing and interesting small cities in the entire Caribbean. Rundown, neglected, filthy, noisy, smelly, rat infested, congested with unregulated street vendors, lacking even minimally acceptable public toilet facilities, containing only one scruffy public seating area outside the courthouse, too unsafe for an after-dark stroll but otherwise lacking in appealing nighttime activity except during Carnival and Nine Mornings -- our capital is hardly a noteworthy tourist attraction.

2. Historical Treasures. Nevertheless, the capital does contain two historical treasures. Though a pale imitation of the gardens of yesteryear, largely due to inadequate funding and indifferent maintenance, our Botanical Gardens, perhaps the oldest in the New World, is still worth a visit even though it does not come close today to matching its public and private counterparts elsewhere in the Caribbean. Then there is the still well preserved but slowly eroding and neglected Fort Charlotte bastion overlooking Kingstown (probably the most intact citadel in the English-speaking Caribbean). The spectacular view alone is worth a leisurely visit but this feature without auxiliary attractions has never allowed the fort to come close to reaching its tourist potential.

3. Seaside delights. Apart from the Owia salt pond, our sole potential seaside delight is our many beaches. Unfortunately, the prospect of our beaches generating more tourist interest is a hypothetical illusion because they are composed of hot and unattractive course black volcanic sand and because the only mixed white-grey beaches on the south coast are not only too short and narrow for intensive use but are already occupied by small hotels and private homes and plagued by pollution from leaking septic tanks and other sources.

The scenic windward coast of St Vincent Island

4. Rural Pleasures.
a. La Soufriere Volcano Cross-Country Trail.
Arguably our number one wilderness hiking attraction and the only climbable, high altitude steaming volcano that I know of in the Caribbean, this feature nevertheless lacks appropriate infrastructure at the base or even a portable toilet at the summit.

b. Waterfalls. There are three in the north Leeward area. Trinity Falls which is closed, presumably due to the risk of life-threatening torrential river flows that have led to the loss of life in the past; the remote Falls of Baleine, which is periodically closed or labelled “use at your own risk” by the SVG Tourism Authority because of possible rockslides; and Dark View Falls, which has only a very shallow ice-cold pool.

The equally appealing vista on the leeward coast of St Vincent Island

c. Nature trails. We have two good rainforest nature trails – one at Vermont and one at Cumberland -- both worth leisurely trek but neither comparable to similar forest paths in scenery, variety of vegetation, or level of maintenance found elsewhere in the region.

d. Scenic Views. In addition to the urban and seaside views from Fort Charlotte, there are three excellent rural vistas: the majestic Mesopotamia lookout onto the agricultural lands in the Marriaqua Valley, the glorious interior and ocean views between Barrouallie and Chateaubelair, and the attractive seaside vistas from Colonarie to Fancy.

e. Other Attractions. These include the tiny Wallilabou Heritage Park, not worth more than a 15-30 minute visit; Montreal Gardens in the Mesopotamia Valley, closed for over a year now; the Windward Owia Salt Pond, deserving a half-day picnic visit if only for the delightful ocean scenery; the Layou petroglyph (“marked stone”), a rustic and unfinished-looking facility not worth more than a few minutes attention; Table Rock on the Buccament River in the Vermont Valley with three tiny waterfalls and a small pool; and the unkempt Windward seaside Rawacou Recreation Park.

Yes, we do have several attractions on SVI. But except for Fort Charlotte, the Soufriere trek, and the Leeward and Windward scenic vistas, none come close to matching similar features in the nearby islands of St Lucia, Grenada, and Tobago.

And why would we expect more sea loving tourists to visit now that AIA is operational when we have no beaches or seaside to love? Ask renowned travel writer, Fred Garth, who recently ranked the elite Grenadines resort island of Petit St. Vincent as one of the world’s ten best scuba diving resorts.

Petit St Vincent has seven perfect beaches (but no airport)

Better still, ask Pace Developments Inc. which is blindly financing a US$60 million resort on an unappealing black sand beach at an unwanted site at Peter’s Hope.


This is the 55th 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
53. Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for Argyle International Airport
54. Is Air Canada also a 'huge game-changer' for Argyle International Airport?
C. ben-David
Reads: 5857

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