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Letter: Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
Published on January 12, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

Perhaps the best regional two-case comparative evidence that Argyle International Airport (AIA) will fail to meet its tourism expectations because there was no compelling reason for its construction is a side-by-side assessment of tourism and allied features in Barbados with the mainland of St Vincent (St Vincent Island or SVI) (see Table 1).

Table 1. A comparison of key features: Barbados vs. St Vincent Island

barbados-st_vincent.jpg
*Based on the same 17 percent landed cruise ship passengers as Barbados
**Excludes yacht visitors
Source: Official Barbados and other regional databases


The larger population size of Barbados (rooted in its much earlier settlement and more intensive production of sugar cane) is partly responsible for Barbados’ over eight times more visitors in 2015 than SVI because some of these guests were permanent or long-term diaspora residents returning home on holiday, to conduct business, or for some purpose. But this accounts for a small portion of overall visitors (and barely a handful of cruise ship passengers), most of whom are non-Bajan North American and European tourists.

Another difference is the antiquity of tourism on the two islands. The Marine Hotel opened in 1878 and was massively expanded in 1887. A tramline was established in 1885 and smaller hotels quickly grew up along its route, from Bridgetown all the way to the famous St Lawrence Gap, while the “health resorts” of the Crane and Atlantis soon became well known.

The famous Crane Beach Hotel, which was opened in 1887 and totally renovated and expanded just a few years ago (and renamed the Crane Resort), is a national treasure known around the world:

“The site of a small commercial port in the mid-18th century, Crane Beach and its surrounding district assumed the name of the area’s most recognisable scene – the raising and lowering of cargo by a crane. A mecca of cool breezes, Crane Beach attracted scores of the island’s plantation owners and prosperous merchants who sought the reputed ‘healing’ powers of its waters” (Crane Resort promotional data).

crane_beach.jpg
Pink sand Crane Beach as seen from the overlooking Crane Resort

In short, tourism in Barbados was well established long before the invention of the airplane, more testimony that existing attractions draw visitors, not the other way around.

The first airport terminal was built in 1949, regularly scheduled flights to England began in 1953, and new routes added as external demand dictated. The Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) has been renovated and expanded on a regular basis since its inception: a new terminal was built in 1956; the present air traffic control tower was completed in 1976; between 2000 and the present there has been a major upgrading of the runways, taxiways, parking aprons, and approach lighting; a new arrivals terminal has been built; the older terminal has been renovated; new spacious departure lounges and an expanded duty-free shopping area, executive lounge, and restaurants have been added.

All this has been done to meet a growing inflow of international and regional passengers: tourist arrivals tripled from around 200,000 to around 600,000 between 1976 and 2016.

Today, some 19 international and regional passenger carriers, plus numerous charter and cargo carriers, have regularly-scheduled flights arriving and departing this aviation hub of the Eastern Caribbean, handling daily flights to and from the other Caribbean islands and connecting to major cities in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Europe.

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

The story of tourism and aviation on SVI has been so limited that there is not much of a story to tell.

All I found about the early 20th century hotel business is the following photo, possibly taken as early as the 1920s, that suggests that there were some seaside health resorts catering to regional and overseas tourists on the mainland 100 years ago. (I assume that any others were at the Indian Bay/Villa area.) As for the details, nobody knows and nobody cares.

early_hotel.jpg
One of SVI’s early hotels as shown in a 1920-1930 photo

The same holds true of our aviation history, though there is indirect evidence (via an Internet site that I could not fully access) that Arnos Vale Airport (later renamed E. T. Joshua International Airport) began regularly scheduled flights to other Caribbean destinations during the 1940s.

What I do know is that most people continued to travel by boat to surrounding destinations long after regular air travel began to and from SVI. This includes the thousands of migrants who went to Barbados and Trinidad to search for work between the mid-1940s and at least the mid-1970s, the hundreds of persons who returned from Aruba, Curacao, and Trinidad where they had often spent decades working during same period, and the thousands who migrated to England between the early 1950s and mid-1960s in search of a better life. The latter cohort travelled all the way to England by boat from Kingstown even though they could have travelled there (at far greater expense but with much more comfort) via aircraft using the Arnos Vale and Barbados airports. So much for needing planes, regional or international, to encourage people to travel long distances when it is in their interest to do so.

What then accounts for the huge eight-fold disparity in stopover tourist visitors between Barbados and SVI? It cannot be the sun and the sea which we both share; it cannot be the difference in population numbers, which I have already discussed; it cannot be because Barbados has over seven times more hotel rooms than we do -- these rooms were built in response to past increases and reasonable prospects of future gains; it cannot be the presence of an international airport because the origin and expansion of GAIA was the result of steady increases in overseas visitors; and it cannot be because of the existence of dozens of special attractions (except for the premier one) on a flat, densely packed island with no forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, or nature reserves (and only one underground tourist cave), that collectively do not exceed what is available in nearby islands, including our own.

careenage.jpg
Inviting, litter-free, and uncongested Careenage area in Bridgetown, Barbados

The answer lies in Table 1 and is … surprise, surprise … Barbados’ 61 white and pink sand beaches, nearly all of them public, all them clean, all of them natural, all of them tempting.

This and the country’s allied attractions is also why so many more of our wealthy citizens – in both numbers and proportion – have long flown to Barbados on holiday than Bajans have travelled here to enjoy our mainland.

With all these considerations in mind, why have we built an expensive international airport at Argyle?

Ask Ralph.

***

This is the 41st in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.

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

C. ben-David
 
Reads: 6099





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Comments:

Tomas Chlumecky:

With several airports in the area (Grenada, St. Lucia), under utilized, it makes no sense to have built Argyle, but its built and now the challenge to make it profitable begins.

The notion of "build it and they will come" does not apply to Caribbean islands.
Look at Maurice Bishop Airport under utilized for years, yes the current CEO of the airport is doing a great job, but it costs money to get airlines to fly in, and lots of money in marketing support or guarantees to airlines based on load factors, revenue, etc.).

The sad reality is that every country wants its own airport, but if LIAT was a dependable regional airline with on time regular scheduled services, there would not be the need.

Look there should be several daily flights from Grenada and St. Lucia, both less than 145 km away or 0:25 flights, that should have been bringing tourist from all over, but what you get as is 4-7 hour waits in Barbados to fly to St. Vincent, NO tourist or businessman wants that "torture".

Frequency is a must, yet LIAT chose to abandon small Twin Otters (18 passenger) years ago and now runs 48 to 78 seat ATR-42/72-600's with maybe 3 flights per day through small Dominica, with gaps of 4-5 hours in between for Dominica bound passengers from ANU or BGI, NOT acceptable.

Time for a smaller airline with say 19 seat pressurized Beech 1900D's to operate along side of LIAT during off peak times and fill the time gaps between ATR departures.

I know personally that the poor air connectivity is why tourists chose non-stop flights from US/Canada/Europe to St. Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda or Barbados, and not choose to go to STV or STL because of the added cost of another flight (sometimes +50% of their total ticket price for 8% of the journey distance), the wait factor (especially with children) and losing a hole day travelling to and from.

Time for the Governments to start offering what tourists want, not what LIAT can offer, the monopoly must go.

Look tourist today have so many new affordable choices (Thailand, Maldives, Fiji, Vietnam, Panama) and the Caribbean is losing out, time to get off the can and do something about it, take charge of air connectivity, and look at setting up your own "virtual" airline, that you control commercially and outsource the operation.

Vinciman:

David this comment is in reference to your posting of the essay on Kenton's IWNSVG site (Kenton blocked me from his site). I noticed you removed young Nesta's photo here.

Although I never pay much attention to your Argyle airport-SVG umbrage essays, two (2) things caught my attention that made me gasp at your professed diligence as a historian and researcher that you’re not.

1: The photo of Nesta Paynter the photographer and entrepreneur is not THE Nesta Paynter you refer too. That photo might be one of her children’s daughters (not sure). I knew that Nesta (my sister's friend) as a teenager, but not her parents. That Nesta Paynter the photographer was a lady called Claire (Nesta) Paynter a much older lady.

2: Arnos Vale airport was not in operation anywhere near around the 1940’s. Our first airport was at Diamonds (1930's), afterwards we had Villa Beach airport next to the Aquatic Club (1950's), where we had a Seaplane called the ‘Grumman Goose’ (My older sister flew as a kid to Grenada on that plane). Arnos Vale was built around late 1950-55, and opened in '61, subsequently known as Vigie airport.

P.S. I'm glad you or the editor removed that Little Tokyo photo...how dare you!

C. ben-David:

Vinciman:

1. The photo I used was captioned as Nesta Painter on the site I obtained it from. I also knew Clairie (not "Claire") Paynter very well all my life (and even boarded at her guest house as a teenager for several months while my parents and siblings were overseas) and assume that the photo was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s when she was a young girl.

2. As I said in my longer discussion on IWNews, I was unable to get any good info. on the origin of air traffic to and from the mainland, especially the opening of Arnos Vale, because my only source was the Internet given my inability to visit SVG this year.

So my guess was the 1940s because I knew indirectly that there were occasional flights to and from the mainland at that time (as you confirm). If you are correct that Arnos Vale opened to regularly scheduled flights as late as 1961, this only adds to my contention that airport construction follows airport demand. Indeed, 1961 was very late in the Caribbean even for a regional airport! (And don't talk about your "older" sister which might make me assume that she is named Verona).

3. How can you claim to "never pay much attention to [my] Argyle airport-SVG umbrage essays" when you devour every single one of them the moment they are posted! This is simply because you are paid to do so.

4. I chose not to post the Little Tokyo photo here even though it speaks volumes to the nasty state of our beloved homeland under your regime. How dare you and your people have Kingstown in such a degraded condition!

5. Why were you compelled to write on January 5, 2016, that, “This AI Airport is for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines primarily, not any “tourist airport” as you and the others always like to imply or suggest, and we will see to it that you or no one will deny us this reality. It is long overdue and a welcoming sight in the eyes of all well meaning and patriotic Vincentians" (Caribbean News Now)? The reason is because no international airlines or reputable global resort developers are interested in servicing our mainland, making it necessary for you and yours to begin to historically rewrite the purpose for its construction as clearly enunciated in the Comrade's historic 2005 speech, a process that will accelerate as time goes on.

***

Vinciman, you can't ever fool me or win me -- you damn well well know that I am different in quality from all the rest -- as you have successfully fooled and won countless others on this site over the years.

C. ben-David:

Vinciman, here is the source of my Nesta "Clairie" Paynter photo:

http://tonyoldies.homestead.com/14thPage.html


C. ben-David:

Vinciman, I stand corrected about the opening of Arnos Vale airport, as the following site (which I somehow missed) indicates:

https://caribaviation.net/2016/07/20/1934-svd-st-vincents-first-airport/

Many thanks for your correction.

Vinciman:

David you're welcome, and don’t assume too much of anything, even in the case of my older sister. No, she is not Verona B, and neither am I B.B! Not even close. They are very much my seniors.

However staying on the/your crooked case of assumptions, that photo of Nesta Paynter and the caption is incorrect and needs to be changed or removed. Leaving it as is, in itself is a case of misinformation; a blatant lie! Your choice, your problem!

Again, here are the facts concerning Clairie (Nesta) Paynter. Apart from wearing many hats so to speak, she was also an accomplished musician besides being a first rate photographer, and was young Nesta’s (the photo) Aunt.

After consulting with my sister who definitely knows best, that photo she believes was taken at the Botanical Gardens, a place they loved to visit as teenagers. That photo must have been taken around 1963-64 when she/they were about 16-17 or thereabout. Nesta left SVG in 1965 for the US, lived and worked there until she passed away in 2000, at the age of 52.

Moreover, your reference to Tony Oldies is a good second source to verify these facts, as can be seen in a photo with the late Joy Brown’s (Mike Brown’s sister) featuring them both, who also was a good friend of Nesta. Joy Brown died about two years ago.

I am very much surprised that no one on IWNSVG took the timeout to correct you on this matter. It shows how concerned they are and are not about your essays. Even our comrade knows “...it aint so”! He too would have known Nesta and her Aunt! ...ben-David needs to pay more attention when it comes to the "fact of the matter"!

On the other hand, my reference to the International airport being for Vincentians first and foremost, is self evident; nah tru? ...yo’ blind? Of course Tourism matters, and is a welcoming need also, and should be of immediate concern going forward. But we want to, need to get away from going through your beloved Barbados or other countries for that matter, when in transit.

Argyle International Airport is a gift from comrade The Honorable Dr Ralph E Gonsalves, the ULP government, and a coalition of friends (first of its kind) to the Vincentian people and not any “cash cow”! Got That? (Who vex, ley dem stay vex!) Vincentians who know better aint complaining, and the opposition just opposes because, in keeping with their MO, they must oppose any and everything ULP; again, nah tru? yo’ blind and deaf? Even so, they didn’t have the belly or know how to go about building one anyhow! Thank you comrade PM!

Well it done, and... We look forward to Feb’ 14, 2017, ULP Grand Opening of the Argyle International Airport!

Listen, 'ah done say already! Who don’t like it, could put it in their pipe and smoke it!'

Alick Lazare:

The comparison is odious and inaccurate. Most of the countries that forged ahead in the tourism sector were favoured with war-time airports with links to metropolitan centers. A fairer comparison is St. Kitts and Nevis' high risk investment that paid off handsomely after nearly ten years stagnation.

C. ben-David:

Vinciman, on further investigation, I am please to concede that the photo on IWNews was of the wrong Nesta Paynter though the strong family resemblance took me in.

The photo, as you said, is of a niece who died in 1980 while the older multi-talented Nesta who owned the Kingstown Park Guest House died just a few years ago (though here bio did not do her proper credit).

Again, thanks for putting me on the straight and narrow and please continue to do so in the future because my greatest disappointment has been the way so few people have ever challenged my facts or interpretation of the boondoggle at Argyle.

For example, an obvious reply to my reporting on how rock bottom our tourism figures are is that we have nowhere to go but up with Argyle; conversely, if our figures were sky high without Argyle airport, I could easily argue that the venture was a waste of time because it was not needed to boast our visitor numbers.

My obvious reply would be that any increase -- and no one would ever argue that there would not be some increase -- would be much too small to make the project economically worthwhile, something we will clearly discover as the months and years unfold.

The biggest problem with failed government projects -- and this is bound to be one -- is that they usually die a slow and painful (economic) death because the state keeps them on life support for years (by deficit spending and massive borrowing) unlike the private sector which is constrained to pull the plug on their failed projects before their whole company or corporation goes bankrupt.

Market discipline is what this airport has lacked in the past and will continue to suffer from in the future.

Thank you and your party for setting us on the path to Armageddon.

As for me and my family, we live overseas and thankfully will suffer no fallout from the coming disaster.

C. ben-David:

Alick Lazare, you give not an iota of evidence why my, "comparison is odious and inaccurate."

In what way is it "odious" and how is it remotely "inaccurate?" Don't be shy -- please elaborate.

GAIA (formerly Seawell International Airport) was certainly not 'a war-time airport with links to metropolitan centers."

As for St. Kitts and Nevis, their international tourism potential has always and will always exceed that of mainland St. Vincent. Just check out their gorgeous white sand beaches, well maintained infrastructure, and other features.

We have just completed a "high risk investment" whose pay off will be a sea of debt and misery.

Vinciman:

C.ben-David, apart from your admission of, "...guilty as charged", you insist on still being in the wrong, by implying that I said Nesta Paynter "died in 1980"??? Where did I state that?

Come on David, "straighten up and fly right, man!". Even on Tony Oldies Obits', which you referenced as a source, one can see that she died in 2000! Keep those spectacles near at hand buddy!

C. ben-David:

Vinciman, na bite me ole head off fu a typo!

Vinciman:

Oh!"typo" you say? Well okay then. Watch it now!

Kenton X. Chance:

Vinciman's claim that Kenton blocked him from commenting on IWN is totally untrue. It is totally impossible for us to block anyone from commenting on the website.


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