I have pointed out several times using different perspectives that our mainland tourism arrivals -- by both cruise ship and airplane -- are among the lowest in the Caribbean, indeed the very lowest, with the possible exception of volcano eruption-ravaged Montserrat and poverty-stricken Haiti, given our physical and population size. As I have also tried to show, this does not reflect the absence of an international airport but rather our low potential for either traditional mass tourism or ecologically-sustainable tourism.
When I escorted family members living in eco-friendly Dominica to several of our tourist attractions (Mt Wynne beach, Layou petroglyph, Vermont Nature trail, Wallilabou movie site, Mesopotamia Valley lookout, North Windward scenic coast) several years ago, their response ranged from qualified praise to outright laughter. My response ranged from a shrug to an awkward smile: I could not easily or truthfully dispute their reactions because I had already visited some of Dominica's many wondrous natural and human-made attractions on two occasions (and a third late last year) and knew full well that we could never match them in quantity, quality, or value.
The inadequacy of our tourist offerings is confirmed by a respondent to my last essay who wrote:
"A couple of years ago I brought a friend from the UK to stay in SVG at my parents' place which is very nice – He was disappointed at what he found generally and ended up in Grenada then Barbados which he went back and shouted about the tourism friendly infrastructure and attitude in those places. About SVG – he never said much around me. Yes – I did send him over to Young's island each day and he liked that. I tried. No one else went or was willing to go.”
This alone speaks volumes to me. To people who have never travelled who have no idea about how things are done on the next main island are seriously misinformed. “Build it and they will come” is not the end of the story – far from it
That we are not ready to receive many more visitors, whether they be tree-hugging eco-tourists who would be appalled by our unconscionable lack of environmental awareness and stewardship (unregulated beach sand-mining, indiscriminate littering and garbage dumping on public and private lands, widespread river and sea pollution, rampant deforestation, and mindless quarry-based land, river, sea, and air contamination); youthful party-animals disappointed by our pitiful nightlife; or middle-aged all-inclusive resort guests dismayed by the absence of the mile-long white sand beaches they are accustomed to, is shown by the quality and quantity of activities and attractions as well.
The popular Internet travel site TripAdvisor (38 million monthly unique visitors) lists SVG as having one-third the number of activities and attractions of our nearest neighbour, St Lucia. (The site also lists SVG as having one-half the activities and attractions of Dominica). Of these activities and attractions roughly half are in the tiny Grenadines.
The thin, rock strewn beachfront at the elite Villa area. The long standing sign warns of the impending collapse of the "defective retaining wall".
Feature for feature, the activities and attractions on our mainland are fewer in quantity and inferior in quality and value to those in St Lucia (or Dominica), as the online reviews show and as anyone who has spent even a short time on either island would recognize. A typical example is the beachfront Villa/Indian Bay area, our mainland equivalent of St Lucia's Rodney Bay region. The former is rundown, generally deserted, and depressingly dreary; the latter is professionally maintained, packed day and night with tourists, local people, and yachts, and bustling with energy.
Sandals Resort in St Lucia -- one of three on the island -- next to the Rodney Bay area
The result? St Lucia has four times more tourists than we do arriving by air every year and: ".. ended 2014 on a record high
with stay over visitor arrivals estimated at 338,158; an impressive 6 percent increase over the previous year. The figures recorded for seven months of 2014, namely February, March, April, June, October, November and December were the highest numbers ever reached for these specific months.... For the month of January , visitor arrivals grew by 14 percent to reach a total of 31,541; the largest number of arrivals ever recorded for that month, beating out the 28,220 arrivals recorded back in 2005".
Our January 2015 visitor arrivals
grew by a much smaller 9.8 percent, after experiencing stagnant or negative growth for previous years, including 2014, a year that saw substantial increases in tourist visits to our closest neighbours and strongest competitors -- Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada. The net result is that even when our tourist numbers go up, we keep falling further and further behind other Caribbean countries, including those with smaller land masses and populations.
What chance is there that our Potemkin folly at Argyle will turn our dismal tourism figures around? Excellent, seems to be the reply from two local KPMG accounting firm partners parading as tourism consultants
International hotel, resort, and villa builders -- people who actually have first-hand experience with the hospitality industry -- have long recognized the poor potential for tourism and allied enterprises on St Vincent island: if our mainland were primed for the massive tourist upsurge that AIA is supposed to unleash, according to its many champions in and out of government, why have renowned and visionary developers built their resorts solely in Mustique (Colin Tennant) and Canouan (Donald Trump and Antonio Saladino), relegating large-scale development on the mainland to an unknown twice-bankrupt former double-glazing English window salesman named David Ames whose countless Harlequin ventures have all but collapsed
Sad to say, the most obvious answer is that our mainland is an international investment haven only for likes of Dave Ames, Armando Nano, Aldo Rollo, Thomas Mangione, and William Wise.
This is why after so many decades of being on the market, the pristine though thoroughly unkempt and chronically neglected Mt Wynne/Peter's Hope area has attracted one phantom group of investors after another. (When I went there for a quickly aborted swim on March 25, the beach was littered with glass bottles, plastic cups, and Styrofoam containers either washed up from the sea or sucked down from the picnic areas; the unsupervised site attendant was busy relaxing under one of the gazebos). The latest of several announcements over the years is the possible interest of a single nameless "group of Canadian investors" but not a nibble from any regionally or internationally recognized hotel, resort, condominium, apartment, or retirement/nursing home developer.
Award-winning Sandals Resorts International
(SRI), an upscale all-inclusive, globally respected, Jamaican-owned hotel chain with 15 Sandals, three Beaches, and other resorts throughout the Caribbean (Jamaica, The Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, and most recently Barbados and Grenada), would seem to be the perfect candidate for an upscale hotel and resort facility in the Mt Wynne/Peter's Hope area. If SRI ever shows interest in investing in SVG, you can be sure that, even with all the interest-free loans, concessions, land grants, and infrastructure enhancements in the world, it would never be on our mainland, for all the reasons that I have given, probably ad nauseam, in this series.
To be sure, a Sandals or Beaches in the Grenadines would be a godsend for our country, despite the low wages, poor benefits, and non-existent employment security of most of its employees, not the least because of the free international spin-off publicity for our country such a venture would generate. But this would do nothing to stimulate traffic at AIA, especially since we already have a perfectly good but chronically underused jetport in Canouan, an ideal place as well for SRI to build a resort.
Finally, how could a deeply troubled country like Haiti be better off than us when it comes to attracting bona fide outside holiday investment, save for that country's brighter visitor prospects? Marriott International, a leading hospitality company with more than 3,900 properties and 18 brands and managed and franchised locations around the world (and nearly US$13 billion of reported revenue in 2013), opened a new hotel in the capital of Port-au-Prince on March 1, 2015
"The company found an eager partner in Digicel Group, which has invested US$45 million to build the 175-room hotel... The [Bill] Clinton Foundation worked closely with Marriott and Digicel Group to develop the hotel project. The Foundation [and former USA President Bill Clinton, reputedly a close friend of Dr Ralph Gonsalves] visited proposed construction sites with the parties, facilitated introductions to the Haitian government and the Haitian Tourism Association, and encouraged all parties to use the hotel as an opportunity to create an economic anchor for the community".
Our only "economic anchor" is the dead weight of the Honourable Dr Ralph Gonsalves regime whose boondoggle of an airport is bound to sink us just now.
This is the thirteenth in a series of 15 essays on the folly of the proposed international airport at Argyle.
The other AIA essays may be found at:
Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
Airport envy Vincie-style
Fully realising our country's tourism potential
Airport without a cause
The unnatural place for an international airport