Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says the Vincentian private sector has not been as responsive to the construction of the Argyle International Airport as his government had hoped.
The EC$700 million airport opened on Feb. 14, six years behind schedule.
Gonsalves told a press conference on Monday that his government had hoped that a private sector entity would have funded and managed the cargo terminal, but his government decided to do so in light of the lack of interest.
He further urged the private sector to invest in more hotel rooms in the country, which he said currently has about 2,200 rooms of various standards.
“The hotels have to work with The Tourism Authority. And I want to say to the hotels, please, get up and be activist,” Gonsalves told a press conference in which he said he was expecting, this week, a progress report from a Cabinet committee the government has set up to look into the construction of a hotel.
The prime minister said most of the nation’s 2,200 hotel rooms are in between Bequia and St. Vincent, adding that most of the time, there is 40-50 per cent occupancy on an annualised basis.
“Surely, you can work out packages now that you can bring people from further afield easily. Work with the Tourism Authority. And don’t want persons to complain that they are not seeing actions on this front. It is the Tourism Authority’s business but it is you also with your hotel. It is also your business. And it is the Hotels Association’s business.”
Gonsalves said his government has done something “very remarkable” for hotels and have given more concessions for hotels than another other government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
He said the policy of his government is that if a certain amount of money is invested and an establishment has at least 50 rooms, they are eligible for consideration for duty-free concession on food and beverage.
“There is a whole spate of activity which the private sector can be involved in in relation to the airport, the hotels and others involved in the tourism sector,” Gonsalves said.
He said most of the hotel rooms in St. Vincent were filled with the influx of persons who came into the country to attend activities relating to the opening of the airport on Feb. 13 and 14.
“I want everybody in tourism to hear me, I want the workers to tell their managers, I want the owners to know this, I want the people in the Ministry of Tourism and Glen [Beache] in the Tourism Authority, everybody to hear the message, because they know the message and I want to repeat it: we are open for business big time and to partner with the private sector. And we are going to be building more rooms,” Gonsalves said.
He said that while the private sector has not been as responsive as his government had hoped during the construction of the airport, this does not mean that the private sector is made up of bad people.
“You have a number of people who are risk averse. And I think some businessmen will tell you that and all kind of reasons why people make an investment decision, but there has to be a risk involved,” Gonsalves said.