Dynamic Airways became the first wide-body aircraft to arrive at the Argyle International Airport. (Photo: Caribbean Aviation/Facebook)

Minister of Tourism, Cecil “Ces” McKie says that his office will, on Thursday, release the figures on the number of persons who arrived and departed St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the international charter flights arranged by his ministry to coincide with the Feb. 14 opening of Argyle International Airport (AIA).

The government arranged a chartered Caribbean Airlines flight from New York and a Sunwing Airlines charter from Toronto, which brought in passengers on Feb. 14 and took them back on Feb. 21.

When he announced the charters in January, head of the Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, had expressed confidence that they would have sold out within one hour of the details being made public.

Beache had said that the Tourism Authority, a state-owned agency, would pay for the flights up front and would recoup the money through ticket sales. He did not announce the exact cost, but said it could amount to US$100,000 per flight.

So far, all indications are that none of those flights was fully booked.

 

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iWitness News was able to determine from a passenger on the Sunwing flight from Canada that there were 131 passengers on the 170-seater plane.

But our repeated attempts over the past week to get from various government officials and departments the exact number of persons who arrived and left the country on the flights were not met with much success.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told iWitness News at a press conference on Monday that he did not have the figures.

“Those are things which you can get. We should be able to get them. They will have a number,” he said, and directed iWitness News to the Tourism Authority.

Gonsalves, who greeted arriving passengers at the airport on Feb. 14, said that from what he observed, the numbers coming out of Toronto were larger than those that came from New York.

“There are some people who actually came from those countries before, in the normal way, just because they wanted to be on the ground on the morning to watch those arrive. But those are numbers that you should be able to get.”

The “normal way” meant that the persons travelled to St. Vincent via a neighbouring country with an international airport before AIA saw its first commercial flights on Feb. 14.

Gonsalves said that the Tourism Authority and the Immigration Department would coordinate the data regarding arriving and departing passengers on the chartered flights.

In addition to the Caribbean Airlines and Sunwing charters, Guyana-based Roraima Airways also arranged an EasySky charter from Cuba and a Dynamic Airways charter from Guyana, both of which landed at Argyle on Valentine’s Day, en route to Guyana.

The return leg of the Caribbean Airlines and Sunwing charters took place on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

However, the return leg of the Dynamic Airways flight to New York did not take place as it would have taken passengers from St. Vincent to Guyana, where they would have had to wait for some four hours before flying to New York.

The chartered flights might not have brought as many passengers as the government had hoped. (Photo: Lance Neverson/Facebook)

McKie appeared on Xtreme FM on Wednesday and told iWitness News in calls to the radio programme that some 250 persons arrived on the flights, adding that the exact numbers were available from the Tourism Authority — which falls under his ministry.

He said that he could not say why the figures have not been received because he has not been on the receiving end of the requests.

“The figures are not anything that you can hide. Persons will know how many persons came in on Dynamic, how many came in on Sunwing, how many came in on…

“You can get the figures tomorrow,” McKie told iWitness News, noting that he had to attend the meeting of Cabinet on Wednesday.

In response to similar questions from an unidentified caller, McKie repeated that he had said about 250 persons came in on all of the flights.

“Why are we still trying to make a negative out of these things?” he asked the caller.

“The airport was opened, persons came home, the airlines insisted that they were going to land at Argyle. Why are we trying to make an issue of that?”

The caller said that Vincentians would still be going to Barbados, Trinidad. Grenada, St. Lucia, “and now, Guyana, to fill up the plane, because we don’t have enough people to fill up the plane”.

He further accused McKie of having said that SVG will double the number of persons arriving by air when the airport begins operating, something that McKie denied.

“I never said that. Never ever,” McKie responded, adding that the World Bank has indicated that within the first three years of operations of AIA, visitor arrivals by air in SVG is expected to increase by 10 per cent.

But in November 2013, McKie told regional media that his government was expecting visitor arrivals to triple within the first two years of AIA beginning operations.

“We expect to triple the numbers (of tourist arrivals) within two years, once the airport finishes,” he told the Caribbean Media Corporation in New York, adding that a number of airlines in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom had been invited to St. Vincent and the Grenadines before the end of 2013 for talks.

In a separate telephone conversation on Wednesday, Beache told iWitness News that the figures on last week’s chartered flights “are not out yet”.

“The flights just left yesterday. We haven’t consolidated our numbers yet,” he said in reference to the return legs of the flights.

He said had “no indication yet” of when the figures will be available.

“I am waiting for my staff to work with the tour operators to find out what the numbers are,” Beache said.

He said had “no indication yet” of when the figures will be available.

“I am waiting for my staff to work with the tour operators to find out what the numbers are,” Beache said.

13 replies on “How many persons came to St. Vincent on the Valentine charters?”

  1. There is a reason for refusing to provide the data for the Feb 14th flights. The figures will show a lost and expose how poor planning resulted in this huge debt. Ralph is correct when the stated that more visitors came from Toronto than from NYC. I believe close to 20 persons disembarked from the flight from NYK. This was because people in the US are afraid to travel due to the ban Trump has in place.
    During SVG carnival more people fly in from the US than any other foreign country. Not so for 2017 because of the US ban of aliens. This problem will be there for 4 years and that can have a bad effect on travelers from the US. This also covers charter flights out of JFK which was the only way planes with more than 120 passengers will undertake these flights.
    There are presently 7 flights out of SVG and LIAT is the only carrier involved. This will continue for several years until there are some changes made with respect to resources and politics. AIA is in for a rough ride. Other islands will also feel the heat from Trump’s ban on aliens. However the Sandals resort may be the savior for those islands because of the tourists that use those resources. Presently SVG cannot compete due to the lack of the resources that are available in the other islands.

    1. Trump’s ban was shot down by Obama’s liberal anti-Constitution appointed “so-called” judges. Also: The ban was on seven other countries, not SVG. Also: The ban is for 90 days, not four years. It should also be noted that Obama is the one who listed those countries as risks, not to mention that many other presidents instituted the same ban in the past but it was not contested. It should also be noted that there are thousands of people from those seven countries that have waivers and are now and have always been traveling freely in and out of the USA. Do not let the corrupt establishment, anti-Trump, Fake News, Corporate-Sponsored Media fool you. They have an agenda and it is not for the “average Joe” If we help them by spreading misinformation, we are no more than “useful idiots”.

  2. Excuse me, but all this dawdling about “releasing numbers” seems rather silly, doesn’t it? As far as I understand, four flights arrived at AIA on February 14, now eight days ago. Each carrier would have known exactly how many passengers were aboard each flight. In addition, SVG customs and immigration at AIA would also have known precisely how many persons arrived, and were duly processed, through the terminal on that day. (They would, of course, also know the countries of origin of every passenger, their nationalities, the purpose of their visits, their intended length of stay, and all the other information that all international passengers are required to provide anywhere in the world.)

    It is difficult to believe that all this information was not known, literally in moments, after all arriving passengers had left the airport. (As for “…wait[ing] for my staff to work with the tour operators to find out what the numbers are,” I would think that the Tourism Authority might also have been interested to know, from these operators, the number of tickets purchased before any flight left its country of origin – especially since the people of SVG, through the auspices of their government, have paid for these charters.)

    Apparently, things work differently in SVG. In any case, merely asking questions about these numbers should not, IMO, be assumed by anyone to be casting a “negative” – or, for that matter, a “positive” – on anything. Questions are merely questions, although the varying interpretations of the answers to those questions will certainly be vigorously debated!

    Congratulations are in order for these first arrivals at AIA, whatever the “numbers”… The Vincentian people, whatever their party affiliation, deserve enormous credit for their patience, their sacrifices, and their indomitable optimism.

    1. I am positive that the government knows exactly how many arrived that day, it is not rocket science, nor is it LAX or some other airport. They are just too embarrassed to tell.

      1. Even LAX can tell you at a moment’s notice how many passengers arrived and departed on any given day in any given hour. The government doesn’t want us to know how many people actually came. They need the tour operators to count the ones that did not go through customs and immigration? Like the stowaways who hid under the seats or the illegal immigrants? Please, they really think people are that stupid?

  3. The government has a right to massage these figures any way they want for political purposes by, for example, rightly stating that the late announcement of flights prevented more people from coming. But the government does not have the moral right to keep the numbers to themselves. These should not be state secrets, especially when the Comrade has shouted that the success of the airport depends on us all.

    If the numbers are not released or appear to be grossly and falsely inflated, this would speak both for itself and the probable success of AIA.

    But the most burning question continue to be why did the AIA opening happen at this particular time? Why didn’t the Comrade simply wait until the first regularly scheduled non-stop international flights began, even if this was a once a week flight by a single airline? He could simply have said that we have to start somewhere and this is as good a start as any.

    The ludicrous present situation of no regularly scheduled non-stop international flights except on February 14 and 21 suggests that there is another agenda afoot, perhaps one having to do with the pending decision in the electoral petition challenge in Central Leeward to be heard in St. Lucia by the Supreme Court in a couple of weeks.

    In little SVG, politics isn’t everything, it is the only thing.

    1. Good thoughts to ponder. As you know politics is perception which begets deception in most cases. Unfortunately the ability of the government to delay,delay,delay any real decision about the cheating they did in the Central Leeward has made it almost a forgotten issue. I believe the supreme leader would have waited until a few days before the court hearing or announced the opening and incoming flights months before, but scheduled to happen just days after the court hearing; to make the electorate think it is just coincidence such as the “Lives to Live” handing out of building supplies always coincides just before an election. Ralph is the master of “stroking” the electorate around election time in order to get the maximum effect. That effect of the airport may be somewhat worn-off unless they can make us think that the airport is a great hit AT election time. You may be right, but the “opening” months before any election would not be as effective as weeks.

  4. To the best of my knowledge, the Sunwing flight was on a Boeing 737-800 aircraft which can carry 189 passengers. Of the 131 passengers who landed, many were media from SVG, government personnel headquartered in SVG and Toronto, and several other officials or hangers-on — all of whom had their fares paid for and should therefore not be counted as fee-paying customers.

    This would suggest that the aircraft landed here only slightly more than half full which would mean that Sunwing would have lost a lot of money on the flight save for all the seats have been paid for in advance by the government of SVG.

    If true, this also means that we are not off to a propitious start with this shot-in-the-dark airport, an outcome a few of us Doubting Thomases have long predicted, even though this would be explained away by party bigwigs as a result of the last minute sale of tickets.

    As for the other flights on both February 14 and 21, I suspect far worse numbers which will also be rationalized on the same grounds.

    So what explains this hasty and premature opening of the new airport?

    Ask Ralph.

  5. Before responding , I would like to know what is the purpose & relevance of the author of this article is seeking to obtain . First he has written 0ver forty articles critical of the Airport & the
    lack of Hotels , White Sand Beaches , Black Sand Beaches aint his cup of tea , never mind the fact that Hawaii has Beaches with Black Sand . Scenic Places where Tourists can visit etc . on the mainland .

    The critics of the AIA of which the Author is a member , stated that the AIA had to get certification from the FAA , the USA based Authority . Then there was problem regarding the Crosswind . Then there was talk about the AIA costing over a Billion Dollars . Please Get Over
    it . the AIA is now open .

    Now there is the carping about Airlines not coming despite being told that the Airport has to be fully operational , before Campaigns can be had to lure Airlines , & place Ads ; Brochures , and TV ads . The fact is as the Author fully well knows , it will be sometime before these get into high gear .

    The Building of the AIA and what had to be done to accomplish the AIA all but the staunch Critics recognize as a tremendous feat ; and nothing that the Government stated regarding the arduous task of buy houses , flattening mountains . blasting solid rock for weeks , spanning the
    Yambou River , removing the Catholic Church and its Cemetery ; Safely removing the Carib Carvings without being damage was itself a feat , finally done by the Argentinians , after delays caused by the Egyptians & the Mexicans .

    Trying to compare the AIA that has just opened to other International Airports in the Region , in my opinion is asinine , Potential Tourists have to become aware that the AIA is operational , and that unlike some Airports in the Region it is Handicapped accessible even in the Parking lot .This may seem unimportant , but it is ultra important .

    1. I will attempt to reply to this, and other related posts, all at once, from my POV as a US “tourist” with more than two decades’ experience visiting SVG, and holding great affection for your country..

      First, let me say that US citizens have apparently been more reluctant to travel abroad for a number of years recently, due to fears of “terrorism” in general. The recent “travel ban” proposed by our current head of state has, IMO, had little additional impact on that.

      Secondly, travel to the Caribbean has been the least impacted by this. The recent announcement by Virgin to add twice-weekly flights to Barbados from Heathrow, in addition to its other flights, would support this position. I do understand that this must come as a discouraging piece of news following the recent opening of AIA.

      The Grenadines have always been, in my experience, the primary tourism “draw” for SVG. They are like nowhere else in the Caribbean. Getting to these beautiful islands has never been easy, and that has never stopped people from getting to them.

      Rapid, safe, and comfortable transit from St. Vincent to the Grenadines would be welcomed. The same between the islands would be equally welcomed. (How often do visitors to one island wish to visit the others, and how difficult is that, especially now that the “fast ferry” is no longer available?)

      Argyle can only be seen as a first step… What SVG does to improve the experience of visitors who arrive remains to be seen. We wish you all the best.

    2. I do not find the article critical in any way; it just states facts. You assume you know the author…who is it then? If it is Kenton, I find he has remained unbiased. The problem with too many Vincentians is that they do not want to hear opposite opinions. We should only write how great we are and if we are not great it is because of the weather or someone else’s fault but never ours, we do everything the right way, never make mistakes, and everything is peaches and roses. We will always be losers until we begin to fact reality. We should celebrate the things that are great about us and the country and try to improve those that are not, but please stop celebrating stupidity and failure and promoting fake news. Yes, we are stuck with this airport and now have to think of a way to make it actually work instead of it being used as a deceptive election ploy.

  6. If McKie is correct about 250 passengers deplaning on February 14, this grand opening has to be considered a failure from both a financial and public relations perspective.

    The three flights from the North American mainland — Caribbean Airlines and Dynamic Airways from New York and Sunwing from Toronto had a total capacity of 633 passengers which means that only 40 percent of seats were occupied by fee-paying passengers and dignitaries. I have seen no record that the Caribbean Airlines even returned on February 21 to pick up returning passengers. Overall, this means that the flights were a financial disaster for the government, ultimately meaning we taxpayers.

    From a public relations perspective, such a paltry figure of arriving passengers — even if the government tries to explain it away on various grounds — is a very poor “metaphor, a symbol, an alive testament to what a determined people, properly led, and supported by a wave of principled internationalist solidarity of friends and allies, can achieve” (Ralph Gonsalves).

  7. Keep it legal and you won’t have a problem. No country is duty bound to admit citizens of any other country on its soil, not to mention providing for their every need. If you cannot enter legally into another country stay home and fight with your own government. How many illegal immigrants – yes, illegal immigrants – from St. Vincent and the Grenadines are in the US not working and living off the government? If you are so unhappy, don’t cuss Trump, go home and ask Ralph to provide for you. That is where you will NOT be an illegal immigrant. You will be a citizen entitled to all the benefits afforded to citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, however little or however much that may be.
    And for those of you immigration lawyers out there telling LEGAL immigrants that they can’t travel, stop the lies. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not involved, not except it moved to the Middle East when I wasn’t looking. People wake up. They are trying to make a buck. Go to their office and tell them you are legal and want to travel home. They charge you by the minute by the time you first open your mouth. Then they tell you what you already know, that you are NOT an illegal immigrant and can travel. You see, as soon as they set up a lawyer/client relationship with you they are legally and ethically bound to tell you the truth, so they should tell the truth or face serious consequences, up to and including disbarment. If they don’t have that relationship with you they can’t charge you and can get away with pretty much anything. But how many lawyers do you know who wouldn’t try to squeeze a buck out of a stone?
    Think on these things.

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