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Fortune teller

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

In the next few instalments of my extended series on the Argyle International Airport (AIA) project, I examine what visitor arrival numbers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) between 2001 and 2015, compiled from official arrival statistics kindly supplied to me by the SVG Tourism Authority (see Table 1 below), some of which are also available on their internet site, supplemented by Eastern Caribbean Central Bank tourism numbers, suggest about the future growth of the country’s hospitality sector. In particular, I try to predict, with qualification, the future of arrival levels supposedly fuelled by the operation of AIA.

My main qualification is that even though thousands of books in every possible field of study have been written over the ages guessing what the future holds in one area or another, such efforts have generally ended in failure or have been “proven” to be based on chance alone. It is easy to see why trying to predict a bright and sunny future — fortune telling, if you will — is so untrustworthy by looking at attempts to understand the past: if so much remains unknown about things that have already taken place using archaeological, historical, experimental, or other means, and if countless studies of previous events or processes have subsequently been overturned by newly discovered data or using better research tools, how can we possibly prophesy what the future will bring?

The notable exception is the operation of scientific laws that govern future events which, for example, allow the prediction with 100 per cent certainty exactly when the sun will “rise” every day any place on earth.

Prophecy in the highly uncertain field of human endeavour is much more problematic since it is not governed by infallible scientific theories.

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Economic predictions are among the most fallible of all. How many economists accurately predicted the global economic recessions of 1975, 1982, 1991, 2009, or the Great Depression of the 1930s? How many knowledgeable pundits forecasted the plunge in oil prices that began in the second half of 2014?

For the Vincentian people, by far our most important economic prediction was the one made by the Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves in his Aug. 8, 2005 “historic speech” announcing the construction of AIA. Stripped of its lofty rhetoric, the Prime Minister prophesied that the economic development of our country depended on building AIA when he argued:

“… it is clear to the ULP [the governing Unity Labour Party] administration and its leadership that the full realisation of the potential of our country’s growth and development hinge on an international airport, among other vital considerations.

The requisites of economic diversification and regional and international competitiveness demand an international airport” [italics added] (

The speech’s most important words were “it is clear” and “demand,” unequivocal predictions that our country’s future growth and development would be guaranteed by building AIA.

How should we judge the accuracy of this prophecy?

The very construction of the airport is the first signs that this prophecy is highly questionable. One empty promise after another about its costs, funding, and completion, the last broken pledge occurring not only annually in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 but chronically bi-annually or even monthly towards the end of the same period, have severely damaged the Prime Minister’s credibility, particularly his psychic powers. The prediction of an Easter 2016 completion has now morphed into an August 2016 guarantee which, based on this track record, is likely to evolve into yet another false prophecy.

Though trying to predict the economic future is an intrinsically foolhardy endeavour, this does not mean that all such predictions are intrinsically false, only those unconnected to credible information or associations. The most accurate predictions are based on: (1) known causal connections (e.g., a rise in the price of discretionary consumer goods normally results in their reduced consumption); (2) past performance (e.g., price controls result in a shortage of the restricted goods); and (3) comparative analysis (e.g., the results of industrialisation in one country teaches us about industrialisation in a similar country).

My aim is to use data from each of these three sources of prediction to guess what the completion of AIA portends for our own economic prospects of substantially higher tourist visits, the main goal of the airport project.

Taken together and separately, the figures in Table 1 below do not bode well for the success of Argyle International Airport, when and if it is completed and fully operating.

Table 1. SVG visitor arrivals by type, 2001-2015 

Year Air Overnight arrivals Cruise Ship passengers Yachters    Total Per cent Change
2001    70,686      76,494 91,862    239,042
2002    77,622      70,314 86,451    234,387 +2.1%
2003    78,535      64,964 84,330    227,829 -2.9%
2004    86,721      77,585 84,227    248,533 +10.9%
2005    95,504      69,753 81,890    247,147    -0.6%
2006    97,432    106,474 93,638 297,544 +12.0%
2007    89,637    144,455 86,718 320,810 +10.8%
2008    84,101    116,709 43,277 244,087 -23.9%
2009    75,446    149,464 40,859    265,769 +10.9%
2010    72,478    110,955 42,603    226,036 -14.5%
2011    73,866    88,924 41,266    204,056    -9.7%
2012    74,364    77,179 45,246    196,789 -3.6%
2013    71,725    80,185 45,548    200,458 +1.8%
2014    70,713    85,170 46,899    202,782 +1.0%
2015    75,381    82,079 47,470    204,930 +1.1%
Total 1,194,211 1,400,704 962,284 3,557,199  

Overnight airline passenger arrivals peaked in 2006 and have been stagnant or in decline ever since. In 2015, they were nearly 7 per cent lower than the average of the 14 previous years. What needs to be asked is whether this is a result of the absence of an international airport, on the one hand, and whether AIA is both necessary and sufficient to turn these declining numbers around, on the other.

Cruise ship passenger visitors have seesawed much of the time, reaching a peak in 2009, but have declined ever since. In 2015, they were some 14 per cent lower than the average of the previous 14 years. What does this tell us about the prospects for the success of AIA?

Yacht visitors have shown a steep decline over the entire 15-year period: in 2015, they were a whopping 48 per cent lower than in 2001. Overall, the 2015 numbers were almost 26 per cent lower than the average of the 14 previous years. Again, we must ask what credible predictions can these numbers predict for the growth in airline visitors resulting from the completion of AIA?

Overall, total visits to our country declined by nearly 14 per cent comparing 2001 with 2015. In 2015, they were around 15 per cent lower than the average of the 14 previous years. The question is whether our mainland is even capable of substantially raising our tourism numbers?

The Prime Minister’s position — supplemented by tourism predictions from the Minister of Tourism and other officials — is that these figures, or at least the air arrival portion of them, would improve substantially with the building of an international airport at Argyle: their collective prophecy is that “it is clear” that the spending by thousands of new visitors landing at AIA would improve our economic growth and development enough to make the expense of building and servicing the airport worthwhile from a cost-benefit perspective.

These arrival figures, whether for each category, each year, or taken together lack causal, historical, or comparative evidence to “demand” this will happen. On the contrary, they show that AIA has been the most wasteful and costly project in our young nation’s history.

Grounds for this assertion will be presented in subsequent essays.

(To be continued).

This is the 27th in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.

  1. Get ready for a November election!
  2. Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
  3. Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
  4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
  5. Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l 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 Vincy-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 Vincy-Style
  16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
  17. Is Argyle 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

C. ben-David

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

7 replies on “The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say”

  1. I wonder if the Tourism Authority even gave you accurate numbers. I do not even think they have the ability to know how many yacht visitors come here. So many do not want to come here to get robed or killed, as happens all the time. The only way to improve things is if the PM one day realizes he has to lower taxes to create jobs. So far he has it backwards. He said raising taxes creates jobs. Lets you know we are really lost.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      Thanks for the heads-up on this — my essay-length reply re: what the UMF said about Argyle airport in their report should appear soon.

  2. I find it interesting the sudden decrease in yachters without any significant recovery. Because it is well known that yachters spend significantly more on the islands than cruise ship passengers, who have their meals and drinks already provided by their ship, I’m surprised the government has not done more to address this dramatic decline in tourist dollars. I wonder if the strong uptick in cruise ship passengers is directly related? Last thing a yachter wants is their peaceful anchorage turned into Coney Island, NY in a matter of minutes when a cruise ship drops anchor.

    The sudden rise in cruise ship passengers happened on Ralph’s watch. Ralph gained visitation fees from the ships at the expense of yachters’ tourist dollars to the southern islands that so desperately need the money. […]

  3. I can get a flight from Toronto to Barbados for about $250 CAN. To get to St Vincent, just 100 miles to the west of Barbados I have to pay another $175 US, so that’s a huge disincentive for most people. Presumably when Argyle is up and running I could travel directly from Toronto to St Vincent for $250 CAN. There will be an increase in tourism when there are direct flights from Europe, and the America, because getting here will become much more affordable.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      Appealability, not affordability, is why we have so few tourists interested in holidaying on our mainland.

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