St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) registered a 19 per cent fall in visitor arrivals in 2015, compared to 2000, even as each of the other Windward Islands registered increases ranging from 15 to 44 per cent.
The nation also received the lowest number of visitors among the Windward Islands during the 15-year period.
Speaking on his weekly radio programme on NICE Radio on Monday, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace noted that the Government was boasting about a year-on-year increase in the number of persons visiting SVG during the first quarter of 2015.
“Fifteen years after the Unity Labour Party took over the business of running this country, our tourism arrivals have gone down,” Eustace said.
Eastern Caribbean Central Bank statistics shows that 311,282 persons visited Dominica in 2000, compared to 358,820 in 2015 — an increase of 15.27 per cent.
The figures for Grenada were 314,325 in 2000 and 406,090 in 2015 — an increase of 29.2 per cent.
St. Lucia saw 742,323 visitors in 2000 while 1,073,019 arrived in 2015 — an increase of 44.5 per cent.
But in SVG, there were 256,039 visitors in 2000, compared to 206,662 in 2015 — a decrease of 19.3 per cent.
“So, in fact, St. Vincent is the only island in these Windward Islands which had a decline,” Eustace said.
The figures also show that during the period 2000 to 2015, total visitor arrivals in Dominica was 6,318,240, while 5,998,254 persons visited Grenada, 14,057,856 went to St. Lucia and 3,877,883 came to SVG.
Eustace said that when Minister of Tourism Cecil “Ces” McKie told Parliament about the increases from January to March, he is fooling the nation.
“Give the real story,” Eustace said.
“Give the true story of what has been happening in tourism for the last 15 years,” he said, adding, “Don’t give me any one quarter, any three- or four-month period and tell me we are doing well.”
Eustace said there may be a lot of excuses, adding that the Government would say things are bad everywhere.
He, however, countered by saying that if this is the cause, visitor arrivals in the other Windward Islands would have gone down also.
“They may say that St. Vincent doesn’t have an international airport. But Dominica doesn’t have an international airport … but their tourist arrivals went up by 15 per cent while ours went down by 19…
“This whole idea of blaming this on the fact that we don’t have an [international] airport shows that other countries, without an international airport can still have some growth while we can’t…”
He noted that in 2015 358,820 persons arrived in Dominica, compared to 206,662 who arrived in SVG during the same period.
“It clearly shows that the people who are running our country, who are running our tourism don’t know what they are doing. There is no excuse,” he said and questioned why the other Windward Islands are growing and SVG is declining.
Eustace said that was the reason for the negative economic growth some years ago.
“Because this government doesn’t know what it is doing… Years now we are building an [international] airport. Dominica has never had an international airport but it is bringing more tourists than us. It is harder to get to Dominica than to get to St. Vincent,” Eustace said.
He said that when tourism arrivals are decreasing, it affects employment, the confidence of business people in the tourism sector and will also affect foreign exchange earnings.
Eustace said he gets “quite angry” when he sees the figures because he knows better can be done.
He said there are a lot of hard-working people in the tourism sector “but the sector is not well-managed at the public sector level, otherwise we would not be declining as we are declining today”.
He further said that regional carrier, LIAT cannot be blamed for the declining visitor arrivals since the same airline also services all the other Windward Islands.