Black Sands promotional brochure
“The construction of the new Argyle International Airport [AIA] will be an instrumental contributing factor in attracting a multitude of flights from all over the world increasing tourism into our resort”
(Black Sands promotional brochure).
The recent decision by Pace Developments Inc., a mid-sized Toronto residential builder with little international experience, to finance a 275-room US$60 million complex on 36 acres of land at Peter’s Hope Bay on St Vincent Island (SVI) called Black Sands Resort and Villas
is one the company may soon regret.
The signs pointing to the probable failure of the project are: (1) SVI has never been a popular tourist destination because of its paucity of desirable attractions compared to other Caribbean destinations, especially no natural powdery white-sand beaches fronting shallow inshore waters, grave defects that Pace is trying to market as attractions; (2) Pace is the first developer foolhardy enough to buy land in a seaside area that has stood unwanted since the government earmarked it for tourist development in 1998; and (3) Pace has the causal connection between airports, airlines, and tourist visits (quoted above) backwards while ignoring the most important factor: the number, variety, and desirability of existing attractions.
I have already noted the absence of international airports on several popular small-island destinations (see essays numbers 7, 14, 15, 31, 37, 38, 39 below). My purpose here is to add two similar examples and two additional observations: (1) many international airports do not depend on huge tourist inflows and (2) many popular tourist destinations are far from international airports.
Tourist islands or tourism-oriented countries without international airports
1. Islands and island countries
The Bahamas archipelago southeast of Florida has a land area of almost 14,000 sq. km. (5,400 sq. mi.) and an estimated population of 330,000. Tourism accounts for over 60 percent of the Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP) and provides jobs for more than half the country's workforce.
Though most visitors arrive by sea, The Bahamas is well served by overseas airlines. Some flights go straight to the larger Out Islands but most land in Nassau or Freeport where some 180,000 passengers, or 14 percent of all visitors, conveniently re-connect via small regional airlines to reach their final island destination.
Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean eight miles (13 km.) east of the Puerto Rican mainland measuring 52 sq. mi. (130 sq. km) with a population of 9,300. Although tourism began only after 2003 (due to its previous use as a United States naval base) and there in no international airport, Vieques now receives over 300,000 annual visitors, mostly attracted by its over 40 golden sand beaches.
2. European countries
The only access to this land-locked principality in Western Europe, bordered by Spain and France, is by train, bus, or car. Andorra has a four-season tourism industry that annually attracts over ten million people to a country with an area of 468 sq. km. (181 sq. mi.) and a population of approximately 85,000. Tourists from across Europe come to ski and enjoy other outdoor activities. Being outside the European Union, means Andorra can sell many duty-free products, including alcohol, perfume and cigarettes, another tourist attraction. Andorra also has a plethora of outstanding hiking trails that can be explored during the summer months.
Also a principality, this famous micro-state on the French Riviera in Western Europe has an area of only 2.02 sq. km. (0.78 sq. mi.) and a population of about 37,800, a size and population density that could never accommodate an international airport.
Monaco's climate, scenery, and gambling have made the principality a tourist destination and recreation centre for the super-rich and ultra-famous. In 2015, it received 561,184 stayover visitors for an annual room occupancy of 67 percent, or double our mainland rate.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
An independent nation with no international airport enclaved inside the boundaries of Italy with a size of just over 61 sq. km. (24 sq. mi.) and a population of about 32,000, the country received over two million tourists in 2014, most of whom drove there by car to visit the historic attractions of the city of San Marino itself.
The Guaita, the oldest of the three towers of San Marino, built in the 11th century
Busy international airports independent of a large tourist Inflow
Across the globe, there are major national and international airport hubs with relatively little off-airport local tourism compared to the huge level of airport traffic. In 2015, these included: Atlanta (102 million passengers); Beijing (90 million); Dubai (78 million); Chicago (77 million); Denver (54 million); and Toronto (41 million).
There are also dozens of international airports serving as minor hubs or end points for countries where international tourism is relatively low by global levels: most of Africa; much of Eastern Europe; and central and northern Asia. Together these three regions encompass over one-third of the world’s land mass.
Tourist areas far from international airports (and hotels)
In the United States, the 409 parks, monuments, and other protected government sites totaling 84 million acres and administered by the National Park Service saw a record 305 million visitors from around the globe in 2015. Most reserves are in remote, sparsely populated areas far from even the closest commuter airport. There are a handful of lodges in some parks supplemented by surrounding motels and small hotels. Accessing the tourist sites means entering mainly by bus, car, motorhome, or truck (often pulling a camper or travel trailer). All sites contain government-run in situ
camping areas or off site commercial campgrounds to accommodate visitors who sojourn mainly in tents, campers, or trailers. This means that visitors often spend several days on the road reaching their destination or driving from one park to another.
“Old Faithful” geyser, Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, which received over four million visitors in 2015
All this proves that international airports and large hotels or resorts are neither necessary nor sufficient to promote tourist demand wherever that demand exists.
The same holds for wilderness and adventure tourism to public non-park areas in Alaska and Northern Canada as well as safari tours to low population density (except for the wildlife) areas in sub-Saharan Africa that are hundreds of miles from the nearest international airport.
In sum, the statement in Pace’s Black Sands brochure is false: the construction of an international airport does not invariably or inevitably bring more airlines, more flights, or more passengers, as the failure of several international airports clearly shows (see essays number 2 and 22 below). More particularly, there is little direct, necessary, sufficient or determinative relationship – in one direction or the other -- between (1) airports, whether regional or international, (2) tourist accommodations (such as hotels, resorts, apartments, guest houses, inns, condominiums, private homes, tents, trailers, campers, etc.), and (3) holiday visitor locations, levels, features, or desirability.
Pace may soon learn the hard way that the company has the tourist development sequence backwards: good holiday attractions produce visitor interest which then translates into increased tourist traffic (whether by plane, car, bus, train, ship, or foot); when the most convenient way to access a desirable destination is by flying, then airline traffic inevitably increases to a point where new airports may be needed or old ones may need to be expanded, not the reverse.
“If you build an airport, they will come” simply does not apply to the vacation industry, which is based on interest and attractiveness, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
This is the 42nd in a series of essays on the folly of building 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
41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
42. Cuba's tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport