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Gerald “Gerry” Gouveia is the owner Roraima Airways, a tiny regional charter company flying out of Guyana with five small aircraft totalling 59 seats, with ambitions to make St. Vincent Island (SVI) a Caribbean airline hub. To highlight this desire, he says he will use his ties with two other charter airlines — Dynamic International Airways and EasySky — to make an in-transit stop at Argyle International Airport (AIA) from New York and Cuba, respectively, en route to their final stop in Guyana on Feb. 14, 2017, Valentine’s Day, to coincide with the grand opening of AIA.
Mr. Gouveia’s sudden and inexplicable interest in doing business in SVI should be a cause for concern, if not alarm:
- The Guyanese businessman’s claim that he did no market research to determine whether his plans for a regional hub out of SVI would be financially viable makes no business sense given the careful studies and comparisons established airlines carry out to ascertain whether new routes would be commercially rewarding. Instead, he said he simply followed his “entrepreneurial nose” to SVI, an island he had never visited before his three-day trip to attend the ground breaking of the proposed Pace Developments Inc. hotel and villa project at Peter’s Hope on Jan. 19, 2017, yet another project that should make us nervous. A lack of grounded familiarity with SVI is hard to reconcile with Gouveia’s proclamation that, “… we have always have had a good relationship with St. Vincent, the government of St. Vincent”, leaving unspecified the grounds for this relationship except that he was apparently beguiled by informal discussions in Cuba with our Ambassador there, Ellsworth John, and in Guyana, with our garrulous and charismatic Prime Minister.
- Gouveia’s plans to set up a regional hub at AIA is a pie in the sky idea at best. There already is a major regional hub in Barbados that connects us to the rest of the Caribbean and outside world; there are two smaller hubs in St. Lucia and Grenada that do the same, and a large hub in nearby Trinidad (283 km or 176 miles away). SVI also serves as a mini-hub for the country’s five airports. Why would we need yet more regional airlines when existing ones fly half empty most of the year?
- Even more fanciful is his plan to bring small-scale Cuban traders here to explore shopping opportunities using EasySky, an airline with only three planes, when AIA opens on Feb. 14. What Mr. Gouveia needs to learn is that with some of the highest wholesale and retail prices in the Caribbean and no formal duty-free regime for itinerant peddlers, our goods are uncompetitive with the same items available elsewhere in the region. The argument that visa restrictions would preclude Cubans from shopping in nearby countries for fear of a flood of refugees would also apply to our country which has seen its own share of Cuban freedom-seekers trying to gain residence.
- More important, is Gouveia’s admission that: “Guyana is now a haven for them [the 1,000 Cubans who travel weekly via EasySky to buy cheap clothing and other goods in Guyana] …. [T]he only thing is that it is dependent on the bad times in Cuba… The minute Cuba opens up [by America lifting its trade embargo] … it means that will stop”. What would also stop would be shopping visits to SVI.
- As for commercial or tourist visitors from his other two Caribbean destinations, Honduras (the home of tiny EasySky) and Guyana, both are have-not nations whose small number of wealthy citizens have never been inclined to travel here on holiday or business.
- Although Dynamic Airways may be filling a gap in non-stop travel to Guyana from the United States, it cannot compare to Caribbean Airlines, the region’s largest carrier with 17 aircraft and 1,700 employees, and with a Skytrax customer satisfaction rating of 6 stars out of 10. By comparison, airlines like Air Canada and WestJet have scores of 5/10. Dynamic Airways, with a mere six ancient aircraft, has a score of 1/10. Even our own beleaguered LIAT has a much higher flyer rating of 4/10 on the Skytrax site.
- The third airline that Roraima Airways links with, tiny Insel Air, headquartered in Curacao, also has a pitiful Skytrax customer rating of 1/10. Meanwhile, Roraima Airlines, Mr. Gouveia’s private company, is not listed by Skytrax, presumably because of its insignificant size.
- There is another important lesson for AIA from Guyana, a nation of 800,000 people working hard to become a popular tourist destination based on its large array of attractions. Even though Guyana now greets 200,000 annual stopover airline holiday visitors — 10 times our number — the most frequent non-stop flights from North America are via five flights a week using chronically-late Dynamic Airlines and three flights a week using tiny Jamaica Airways, both from New York City. Except for a few other flights out of Miami, most international routings connect through Jamaica, Barbados, or Trinidad, as do all flights from Europe. This is hardly a good sign for the success of AIA, a facility for which the Prime Minister and his ULP government have used “…. the limitations of air access … due to the absence of an international airport” as their main public relations selling point since 2005. Even if we increased our vacation passenger numbers to 50,000 a year over the next decade, a farfetched feat if there ever was one but still one-quarter of convenience-challenged Guyana, this would still be insufficient cost-benefit justification the construction of AIA.
Finally, there is the problem of “white powder” being transported on Gouveia aircraft, an issue that has been extensively reported. We already have dozens of supposedly “therapeutic” black sand beaches – a medicinal function claimed by the developers of Black Sands Resorts and Villas that we Vincentians have never heard of — and lots of plans for medical marijuana — another divisive issue in our deeply fragmented country — so we don’t need any white powder. It is also worth noting that Guyana ranks 108th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s influential Corruption Perception Index, the third highest in the Caribbean, and much higher than SVG’s thankful rank of only 35. We should just keep it that way.
What this leaves us with are two genuine charter arrivals on Valentine’s Day — Sunwing from Toronto and Caribbean Airlines from New York City. What is still unknown is whether these poppy-show flights will be returning the same evening full or empty (or something in between) and whether the Feb. 21 flights scheduled to pick up returning Valentine’s Day passengers will arrive full or empty and whether the returning flights an hour later will depart full or empty.
What I do know is that when I phoned G.G. Tours in Toronto at 1 p.m. on Jan. 31 to mischievously claim (an established investigative journalism tactic) that I was calling on behalf of a group of 12 possible passengers, I was told that the Feb. 14 Sunwing flight could easily accommodate them, a far cry from the prediction by Glen Beache that the flight would be sold out within an hour.
All these considerations should tell us that we will be scraping the bottom of the Valentine’s Day “Labour love” barrel on Feb. 14 and every day after, no surprise given that the bottom of the barrel has long been our place.
This is the 46th in a series of essays on the folly of having built Argyle International Airport.
My other AIA essays are listed below:
My other AIA essays are listed below:
- Get ready for a November election!
- Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
- Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
- Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
- Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l 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 Vincy-Style
- Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
- Airport without a cause
- The unnatural place for an international airport
- The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
- False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
- Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
- Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
- Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
- Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
- More proof that Argyle won’t fly
- Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
- The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
- The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
- Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
- Argyle Airport amateur hour
- Vincent’s place in the world of travel
- Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
- The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
- Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
- Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
- Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
- ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
- Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
- No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
- We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
- Hotel Saint Vincent
- Why St. Vincent Island has so few tourists
- Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
- Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
- St. Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
- Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
- Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
- Not all Argyle Airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
- The media’s take on the opening of Argyle Airport