By D. Markie Spring
If not remedied quickly, Argyle International Airport (AIA) will be a failed investment!
Before I open up the unhealed wounds of its management and financial malpractice, I must admit, from the inception, I was and still am a staunch promoter of the idea of an international airport in SVG.
The author of a number of published works, D. Markie Spring was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines and now resides in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. He has an MBA from the University of Leicester, England, and a BA from Saint Mary's University, Canada
It is my opinion, the AIA was spearheaded incorrectly from the start and there is an observable rationale for my submission. However, these sentiments are not politically motivated; rather, they are enshrined in the recurrent apparent trends of remarkable ineptitude, mismanagement and immorality.
The number one reason is indicative of the myriad of debt of over $400 million it has left behind, considering the government’s promise of a debt-free airport to be undertaken by the ‘coalition of the weak,’ I mean the ‘willing’ – a debt amounting to more than twice the government’s initial cost forecast. Today, a huge section of the country’s demographic is convinced that the government’s projection was misleading and the ‘coalition of willing’ was big hoax.
It didn’t stop there! Storylines crammed with political chicanery continued. The hoaxers cited several claims about international airlines waiting to service AIA: first, announcing Qatar airlines, then Chilean airlines and when those names expired they invented CAL and Sunwing that landed as charters and never returned.
The other justification involves the government’s refusal to release the official financial information surrounding the ‘true’ expenditures of AIA and, to some extent, its capital structure. Subsequently, the towering debt of the project has ignited taxpayer disgust and it creates impetuses that the government’s borrowings span far beyond the authorities’ unauthenticated reports. They insist the government must practice transparency in its fiscal policy, not excluding expenditures of the AIA.
As the prime minister indicated on AIA opening day, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) refused to lend the government funds for its construction. Subsequent to this, some citizens are adamant that this was so because of the lack of planning, inadequate feasibility studies surrounding the project, its economic uncertainty and the practice of ‘opaque’ transparency in government and the loss of its credibility.
The final rationale behind my claim involves a paucity of a strategic marketing plan for AIA; hence, an identified target market is almost non-existent!
Apparently, the same LIAT and inter-island flights that serviced E.T Joshua are the exact same flights servicing AIA. A skillful government would have wisely utilized the eight years the airport was under construction to make awareness through skillful marketing strategies and submit proposals to airline companies. Meanwhile, the airport remains a desolate place, hoping for planes magically to touch down.
Although ineptitude rules the day, the government’s impulsive loyalists, however, proclaimed that moving the airport from Arnos Vale to Argyle spells progress. My dictionary definition of progress does not allow me to refer to this as such and unless the government is able to address the ‘still’ growth at AIA there is no progress. As it stands, AIA has perceived economic benefits; however, considering its current hapless circumstances, the airport has no current economic benefit for the wider economy. The government’s first mistake was spending that amount of money on two charter flights for one day; rather than defining the country’s target audience and investing that same money into marketing strategies for sustained regular flights.
If the government does not contract and attract international or additional flights quickly to cover operational costs, the economy will lapse considerably further into chaos under the rigid flight paths of the AIA. In the meantime, the burden falls on the taxpayers to sustain its operation. Already, departure tax has skyrocketed from $40 to a whopping $100. This is a ridiculous increase of 250 percent – a desperate move to acquire revenues. This has infamously reassured the people that the government is inept, weak and disorganized.
Still, these misfortunes are just a fraction of the enormous formidable hurdles that the authorities have to overcome. Little did the government know that such a huge and modern airport has to be supported by modern healthcare system and facilities, roads and other infrastructure, and adequate hotel accommodations; notwithstanding, the upgrading of tourist sites and the development of an attractive tourism product.
Considering the absence of marketing strategies and international or additional flights to the airport, I believe I have the formula to solve these economic deficiencies. This will also address, not only the valuable, but pertinent concerns of taxpayers – that there exists, at least, three international airports within 100 miles of Argyle – two of which are near dormant. Henceforth, in an effort to spare the government from embarrassment of the acute economic situation and rescue taxpayers from the regular spiraling debt, I have invented the ‘St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) cruise’, an innovative tourism product that could sustain international and regional flights at the AIA.
This proposition is embedded in SVG’s unique feature – notably, its multi-island nature, a characteristic that cannot be copied and a well thought out product that is difficult to mimic.
The idea behind the SVG cruise involves cruises between the islands of SVG. The voyage begins at port Kingstown traveling south to Union Island – spending one day on each island. Northbound, the cruise will head toward Richmond for trips to popular tourists destinations of the La Soufriere volcano and the cascading waterfalls of Baleine and Dark View falls. Thereafter, another stop is made at Layou to visit bird sanctuaries and the famous Vermont nature trail, among other tourist sites.
The cruise heads back to port Kingstown, giving the passengers the final opportunity to visit tourist sites such as the Botanic Gardens and the cathedrals in capital Kingstown and other sites on the windward side of the mainland: Montreal Gardens, other waterfalls, the rugged Atlantic coast and Owia Salt Pond, which can only be accessed by land. In the meantime, more tourists are arriving for the next cruise.
For this to be a successful project a number of stakeholders: the government, local entrepreneurs and foreign investors must collaborate to construct seaports, roads and other infrastructure, upscale restaurants, hotels and modern medical facilities. The installation of entertainment and theme parks, cable cars and the provision of cultural activities and shopping.
Not only will this sustains flights at AIA and a vibrant tourist industry, it will create enormous revenues for the government, and the opportunity for Vincentians to acquire businesses, employment and wealth.
The love for my country powers my writing, but who’s listening? In a time like this, I wish there is a government and one that listens!