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Letter: The world's best tourist islands: Lessons for Argyle International Airport
Published on July 26, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

A Palawan, Indonesia, resort, far surpassing anything we have on the mainland

Dear Sir:

Travel + Leisure is a popular travel magazine and Internet site based in New York City. Published monthly, the magazine has nearly five million readers and has conducted an annual subscriber survey rating vacation destinations and travel providers for over 20 years. It just released its 2017 list of the world’s top 10 tourist islands and top 15 Caribbean island holiday destinations based on the rankings of its readers.

An analysis of these results teaches important lessons for the likely success of the recently opened Argyle International Airport (AIA) on St Vincent Island (SVI).
The “World’s Top 10 Islands” 2017, in descending order, are: (1) Palawan, Indonesia; (2) Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA; (3) Boracay Island, Philippines; (4) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; (5) Santorini Islands, Greece; (6) Maui, Hawaii; (7) Kauai, Hawaii; (8) Ischia, Italy; (9) Hvar and Dalmatian Islands, Croatia; and (10) Bali, Indonesia.

Not one Caribbean island graces this list even though the archipelago is easily and cheaply reached from North America and Western Europe, home to tens of millions of international tourists. Conversely, three of the top islands are in Asia which makes reaching them from Western countries both inconvenient – one or more stops, often requiring an overnight stay -- and expensive.

For example, the cheapest return flight from London to Bali in mid-January means one stop and a plane change both ways plus 36 hours flying time; on the same dates, the cheapest return flight from London to Barbados uses nonstop flights totaling only 17 hours flying time. Despite the greater inconvenience and 11 percent higher air fare of flying to Bali, the island received 221,149 British visitors in 2016, or 2,500 more than visited popular Barbados, an island with inexorable historical, political, economic, and cultural ties to the former motherland.

A slice of Bali, Indonesia, highlighting what we lack on SVI

But even the two popular Hawaiian islands don’t offer nonstop North American air service from outside Western United States or Canada, thereby necessitating an inconvenient and time-consuming stopover for those travelling from densely populated areas via large Eastern airport hubs. Still, Maui and Kauai recorded 2.6 million and 1.2 million stopover visitors in 2016, respectively.

For those unwilling to drive there from afar, air travel from the large hubs in New York City and Miami to Hilton Head Island – all three on the east coast of the USA -- requires a stopover and transfer to a small plane, a hardship which has not deterred nearly 3 million annual visitors to the 42 square mile (68 sq. km.) island.
As for the three European island favourites, each can be reached only by ferry or small commuter plane.

Sunset at Oia, a popular village in Santorini, Greece. What village do we have to match this?

Finally, the remote eco-tourism Galapagos islands are accessible only by boat.

All this suggests that the justification given by Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, in his “famous” August 8, 2005 speech that, “Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport” certainly does not apply to the world’s top 10 islands and scores more like it.

Moreover, the Honourable Prime Minister has never satisfactorily revealed how and why the construction of AIA would fully realise our country’s tourism potential.

The presence of two Hawaiian islands on a list of the world’s top ten also begs the question of why this small American archipelago, the most isolated population centre on the face of the earth -- 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines – is such a beloved holiday destination.

It is certainly not because Hawaii has the most famous black sand beaches in the world: many of them are unsuitable for swimming owing to rough seas or dangerous currents. Those that are safe entertain few tourist sun worshippers and sea bathers given their abrasive granular composition and recognition that walking barefoot can cause burns because black sand absorbs much more solar radiation than white sand.

Black sand Hawaiian beaches are suitable mainly for strolling and turtle watching

Gritty Hawaiian black volcanic sand that is even coarser than our own

By comparison, its magnificent white and golden sand beaches are a delight to most tourists.

Gold-coloured Kaanapali Beach, Maui. Which of our mainland beaches compare?

As for the top 15 islands in the Caribbean Sea, they include several that I have already discussed in this series of essays plus many that appear on other rankings. In descending order, they are: (1) Anguilla; (2) Culebra, Puerto Rico; (3) Vieques, Puerto Rico; (4) Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; (5) St John, British Virgin Islands; (6) Harbour Island, The Bahamas; (7) Bermuda (technically in the north Atlantic Ocean); (8) Exuma, The Bahamas; (9) Turks and Caicos Islands; (10) Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands; (11) St. Bart’s; (12) St. Lucia; (13) Aruba; (14) Abacos, The Bahamas; and (15) Nevis.

It is worth noting that 10 of the 15 continue to be colonial or semi-colonial possessions, testimony to the fact that Great Britain, Holland, and the United States gladly relinquished control of those overseas territories that showed little developmental potential.

The fact that islands belonging to The Bahamas and British Virgin Islands make up fully six of these 15 is also worth noting though the main reason for this is straightforward: the presence of some the most beautiful and spectacular white and pink sand beaches in the region.

A typical Bahamas beach, why 5-6 million tourists visit every year and why so few tourists sojourn on our mainland

But the most important fact to note is that reaching these highly rated islands from North America and Western Europe, the main source of holiday visitors, involves either a nonstop flight or a brief transit through one of many comfortable regional hubs: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Trinidad/Tobago, Aruba, Guadeloupe, and Barbados.

Those without an international airport are Anguilla, Culebra, Vieques, Virgin Gorda, St John, all but one of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jost Van Dyke, St Bart’s, and Nevis. In short, most of the 15 islands. But these highly regarded holiday destinations are all well served by public ferry or small commuter plane from nearby islands with international airports.

Despite the lack of an international airport and comparatively late state as a Caribbean tourist destination, tiny Anguilla (35 sq. mi.), for example, welcomed 79,239 tourists in 2016 while we received 7,200 on the mainland, or less than one-tenth that number, last year (see essay number 49 below) even though SVI is nearly four times larger in area and began receiving tourists decades ago.

One of Anguilla’s 33 pristine white sand beaches, a feature we lack on the mainland

The thriving tourism industries in these “best tourist islands” without an international airport, but with lots of white sand beaches, is more evidence that Dr Gonsalves’ contention that “Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport” was just mischievous speculation rooted in political aggrandizement by a man with no hospitality industry expertise.

If we even needed one, this is yet another reason why AIA is doomed to go down in history as “an airport without a cause” (see essay number 11 below).


This is the 58th 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
56. How St Vincent's tourist attractions stack up: Lessons for Argyle Airport
57. Lessons from Guyana for Argyle International Airport

C. ben-David
Reads: 5635

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