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Letter: How St Vincent's tourist attractions stack up: Lessons for Argyle Airport
Published on June 29, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

In my last submission (see essay number 55 below), I argued that only a couple of the tourist attractions on St Vincent Island (SVI) come close to matching or exceeding those in nearby islands. But even these features pale to insignificance compared to the many outstanding eco- and mass-tourism attractions in popular circum-Caribbean destinations like Florida, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. If extra-Caribbean tropical areas are including, SVI becomes a tourism nonentity.

One of the four Sandals resorts in St Lucia

In previous essays, I also showed that the mainland and its attractions are visited by a handful of the cruise ship or yacht passengers who enter our waters (see essays 40 and 49), a finding that does not augur well for much more interest by airline passengers just because we now have an international airport.

Notwithstanding these considerations, a more complete analysis requires assessing how the attractions listed in my last piece compare to those of our neighbours. This cannot be done with complete accuracy given the scarcity of hard data judging their quality using impartial side-by-side rankings by tourists and travel experts who have visited many different islands.

Nevertheless, some indirect and telling comparisons are possible based on the following information.

First, a search for SVI among lists of the world’s 10, 20, 50, and 100 most desirable tropical islands comes up with no results; neither does SVI appear on any assessment of tropical islands with the world’s 10, 20, 50, or 100 best beaches. Both rankings, however, name some 20 other Caribbean islands.

Second, a recent study by Business Insider, a popular online commerce site, using an “accessibility, average cost of a hotel room, number of attractions, and a beach density index score” to rank 25 Caribbean islands saw SVG in last place behind Anguilla (23), Dominica (21) Montserrat (15), and St Barts (7), all islands without international airports.

Third, the huge Microsoft portal does not mention SVG in its list of the 25 best Caribbean tourist islands while naming five others – US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Anguilla, Montserrat, and St Barts -- with no international airports.

Fourth, though there is no mention of SVI, our famous Tobago Keys makes the “10 Under the Radar Caribbean Islands” list -- none of which have an international airport -- compiled by travel site Destination Tips ( which describes it as, “…a dream destination for yacht charters, scuba divers, snorkelers and fishing enthusiasts. It boasts heavenly lagoons, teeming coral reefs and turquoise waters full of green turtles and tropical fish.”

Fifth, the just released US News & World Report annual ranking of the world’s 30 best vacation destinations lists only two Caribbean locations: BVI (24) and St Lucia (30). Of the magazine’s top 17 Caribbean destinations, SVG ranked 15th because of the allure of its Grenadines.

Sixth, of the 11 top-rated tourist attractions on SVG listed by the popular travel site, eight are in our tiny but captivating Grenadines.

To supplement these qualitative assessments, a more direct comparison based on the sheer number of local tourist attractions can be made from data gathered by the world’s largest Internet travel site, tripadvisor, using its “things to do” listings (see Table 1).

Table 1. Tripadvisor’s “things to do” on four Caribbean islands

Table 1 shows how few “things to do” there are on our mainland compared to our closest three neighbours, an observation that corresponds to the view of many of our own people who often complain about how boring life is on the mainland. The data also show a rough correlation between “things to do” and the number of stopover airport visitors, the inconsistency between Barbados and St Lucia being partly linked to Barbados’ much larger population and how this reflects the holiday and other visits by Bajans residing elsewhere.

This discrepancy also reflects Barbados’ relatively small number of off-beach attractions: it is a country primarily known as an idyllic destination for a lazy beach vacation. The island has 61 impressive white and pink sand beaches totaling over 70 miles (110 km) in length; St Lucia has 23 beaches, several of them less than ideal. Conversely, St Lucia has far more off-beach attractions of all types (as reflected in the above figures for “nature & parks” and “tours”).

Those who would argue that the greater number of “things to do” in Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada reflects the long-standing presence of their international airports need to know that nearly all of the “nature & parks” and “sights & landmarks” were in place long before an international airport was ever dreamed of; that, except for many “outdoor activities” in Barbados, the foundation or potential for most of the rest was long present on these islands; and that the “tours” are a product of increased tourist numbers, not the other way around.

So, where does all this leave our mainland? First, we clearly have comparatively few first-class attractions. Second, we lack the miles of white sand beaches to compensate for the absence of many other “things to do.” Taken together, this explains why our tourism numbers are so low compared to Dominica (see essay 37), which also lacks white sand beaches and an international airport but partially compensates for this with its huge array of superior eco-tourism attractions (see essay 7).

Simply stated, whether we like it or not, our tourist delights – as nice as some of them may be -- are simply insufficient in number, quality, and variety to attract thousands more overseas holiday visitors regardless of the presence of a brand new international airport at Argyle or the construction of a new resort at Peter’s Hope.

A typical Tobago beach, highlighting that we have nothing comparable on SVI

If this were not so, our traditional donors, the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, Canada, the World Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank – our traditional “coalition of the willing” -- would have given us the loans and grants to build an international airport on the mainland decades ago.

There is no shame acknowledging that SVI is not a desirable tourist destination compared to other places. This is just a fact of nature over which we have no control. What is shameful is our refusal to accept the beautiful and beloved mainland that God has given us for what it is and try to make the most of its non-tourism potential.

At the end of our long, convoluted, and expensive road to Argyle airport we are bound to find that having built it, they – the international airlines, the prestige hoteliers, and the affluent First World tourists – will not come in sufficient numbers to have made the effort worthwhile, confirming my empirically demonstrated assertion that an international airport is neither necessary nor sufficient to precipitate a flourishing tourist industry.

Shame on us for having been fooled into believing otherwise.


This is the 56th 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?
55. St Vincent's mainland tourist attractions

C. ben-David
Reads: 4865

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