By C ben-David

The construction of Argyle International Airport (AIA), which began operating on Feb. 14, 2017, was premised on a 2005 assertion made by the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, that, “Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport. And tourism is likely to be our main foreign exchange earner for a long time to come.”

Realising “our country’s tourism potential” assumes that we possess a realisable tourism potential on the mainland (St. Vincent Island or SVI) together with an unrealised visitor demand thwarted for decades by the absence of an international airport. I have repeatedly challenged this assumption on many grounds such as pointing out that there are many highly popular Caribbean holiday destinations (and dozens of global locations) lacking a true international airport. These include the Florida Keys, several of the Bahamas Islands, two of the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Anguilla, Ilsa de Vieques, St. Barts, most of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and all but one of our Grenadines Islands (see essay numbers 31 and 43 below).

Dr. Gonsalves’ assertion may also be challenged by our seesaw tourist numbers over the past 16 years of Unity Labour Party rule whose current visitor figures are well below the average for this period (see Table 1 below), a finding that says the mainland has no inherent potential to generate a surge in tourist demand, the driving force behind hospitality industry infrastructure development across the globe.

This does not deny that international tourism is a huge and growing industry (albeit one with considerable short-term volatility and other intrinsic risks) with a long-term upward trajectory as wealth and income levels grow across the world, presumably the main macroeconomic indicators behind the Prime Minister’s decision to put what few eggs we have in a shaky tourism basket.

Yes, world and regional tourist numbers again broke records in 2016: global stayover tourist arrivals increased by 3.9 per cent compared to the year before; the Caribbean region did even better with its 4.2 per cent increase over 2015; and SVG did even better still with an increase of 4.5 per cent in stopover visitors from the year before (see Table 1). Although our overall country increase in yacht visitors was flat, this was not true of cruise ship passengers whose numbers increased by a welcome 10 per cent.

Table 1. SVG visitor arrivals by type, 2001-2016

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%
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%
2016        78,751        99,542     47,575     225,868 +10.2%
Total 1,272,962 1,500,246 1,009,859 3,783,067

Source: SVG Tourism Authority figures

(see http://www.iwnsvg.com/2016/07/20/the-argyle-airport-prophecy-what-the-numbers-say/).

But a closer look at these figures shows that our year-over-year and long-term performance are nothing to brag about. Nor do they present any reason to believe that the operation of AIA will serve “to fully realise our country’s tourism potential”.

First, the 225,868-visitor number for 2016 is 4.5 per cent below the 236,442 average for the 2001-2016 period. It is also 30 per cent below the 2007 figure, the highest during this interval.

Second, although the 10 per cent increase in cruise ship passengers included a whopping 23 per cent increase to the Kingstown terminal from 54,818 in 2015 to 67,508 in 2016, these figures need to be considered within the context of how many of these passengers chose to come ashore (“landed passengers”). Assuming that are our proportion of landed passengers was the same 17 per cent as Barbados, the only regional country that publishes these figures, yields a total of 11,476 persons who ventured ashore.

Third, the 4.5 per cent 2016 increase in stayover visitors who landed by aircraft is still over 800 people short of the 16-year average and 24 per cent below the highest arrival number in Table 1.

Fourth, stayover numbers from outside the Caribbean — the home of the international travellers AIA was built to attract — increased by less than one-half of 1 per cent from 54,147 in 2015 to 54,387 in 2016.

Fifth, a comparison of yacht visitors shows that the same 87 per cent of yachters anchored in the Grenadines in 2016 as in 2015, again highlighting that the tiny cays are a much more desirable destination than our much larger mainland which saw the landing of only 6,185 yacht passengers.

Though all three visitor streams reveal much about our tourism potential, the most direct figures pointing to the success or failure of AIA are the stopover arrival numbers. Regrettably, the breakdown figures revealing the exact number of genuine extra-Caribbean international tourists flying to our mainland to spend at least one night, the cohort of travellers AIA was built to capture in growing numbers, is not provided by the SVG Tourism Authority even though this and other relevant tourism data can easily be compiled from our Immigration/Customs Forms (http://www.iwnsvg.com/2016/09/25/who-really-lands-at-arnos-vale/ ). Still, based on my earlier estimate that 6,500 extra-Caribbean stayover tourists landed at Arnos Vale airport in 2015, the 2016 increase in arrivals would bring this number up to no more than 7,200.

Table 2. Mainland Landed Passengers by Boat and Plane, 2016

Year Stayover Tourists Landed Cruise Ship Passengers Landed Yacht Passengers Total
2015 6,500 9,319 6,171 21,990
2016 7,200 11,476 6,185 24,861
Per cent increase +11% +23% +1% +13%

Though the two-year snapshot may be twisted to say otherwise, with dismal figures like these in which only 24,861 bona fide tourists landed by boat or plane in 2016 (Table 2), there is no reason to suspect that these figures would substantially increase just because we have a new international airport at Argyle. As for the attraction of a new resort at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope to be built by a little-known Canadian developer with no Caribbean hospitality experience, its 275 rooms would barely compensate for the closure of the Buccament Bay resort.

There is lots of support for these assertions in my previous essays. The most recent evidence was provided by Jamaican-headquartered Sandals Resorts International (SRI), the world’s leading all-inclusive holiday chain, with 24 properties in seven Caribbean countries. SRI accepted what was undoubtedly a complimentary trip to assess the Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope site last year. The company’s decision to “Just Say No” to the concessionary gifts they were offered to build a resort there speaks for itself. So does the fact Sandals was finalising or implementing expansion of its luxurious offerings among our four main regional rivals — St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, and Tobago — at the time of their visit.

We will soon be yearning for the good old days of E. T. Joshua International Airport, a time when our ambitions were realistic, our debts controllable, our cost of living manageable, and our taxes affordable.

***

This is the 49th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:

    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. Vincent’s place in the world of travel
    26. Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
    27. The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
    28. Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
    29. Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
    30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
    31. ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
    32. Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
    33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
    34. No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
    35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
    36. Hotel Saint Vincent
    37. Why St. Vincent Island has so few tourists 
    38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
    39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
    40. St. Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
    41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
    42. Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
    43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
    44. Not all Argyle Airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
    45. The media’s take on the opening of Argyle Airport
    46. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle Airport
    47. Our Argyle International Airport ‘veritable miracle’
    48. From ‘poppy show’ to campaign rally: The Argyle Airport opening

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 news.iwitness@gmail.com

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 news.iwitness@gmail.com.

6 replies on “St. Vincent’s 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about”

  1. Now ben-David, do you see anyone else bragging about anything on this site? You are the king of braggarts with your phony PhD and superiority complex.

    In SVG we have learned to be thankful for what little successes we gain. Your constant attempts to undermine and demoralize our people will not halt our progress.

    Vinci Vin

    1. C. ben-David says:

      1. You are still smarting from the well deserved licks I gave you in a piece that was subsequently removed from this and other sites because it hurt your fragile feelings. Yes, I know that many of our people can’t get anything they write published by a respectable press and have to resort to paying people to get it printed, but this does not make such a practice acceptable within the established intellectual community. Yes, I also know that many people don’t realize that their naive support for some cause is used by others without their knowing it to further a quite different cause, a phenomenon which gains them the unenviable reputation of being a “useful idiot” for the hidden cause.

      2. Exactly what have I been “bragging about on this site?” Certainly not about the need for AIA which you have been bragging about since day one.

      2. I certainly do not have a “phony PhD.” This honour was awarded to me in 1974 from a leading university based on several years hard work and the writing of a two-volume dissertation which yielded many published articles in leading refereed journals, parts of which were later published as a book by a well known press. Before and since my retirement as a university professor (31 years), I have also written, under my real name, many essay and editorials published by leading newspapers and journals on a whole host of public policy issues.

      3. I do not consider anything I post on this or related sites a “publication” in the traditional usage of the term because it was not vetted by respected specialists in the field whose recommendation resulted in its acceptance or rejection. Everything on this site results from what is called “editor’s choice” based not on the quality of the submission but on whether it is libellous, obscene, or pornographic.

      3. I don’t have a superiority complex; I simply don’t tolerate fools gladly (a trait I share with our leader, the Prime Minster of our beloved but deeply troubled country).

      4. Exactly “what little successes have we gained?” What is the “progress” we have made that could be halted by my words?

      How can we talk about success and progress when we are always one step forward and two steps back, the reason we are a deeply troubled country?

  2. So Mr. C. ben-David, you keep on talking about all your great works and your accolades and referring to your real name. But what is your real name? Why are you afraid to publish it so that your claims can be verified? And why do you have to act like a cowardly dog while trying to assassinate other real people character?

    And how is poor Eugene? And your darling daughter?

    And God is Great! Even the devil spouts the name God at times.
    So will you live and die a cowardly dog?

    Vinci Vin

    1. As Jah is my witness, you would call me far worse names if you knew who I really was.

      Still, why did you never ask Peter Binose et al who they actually were?

      And why are you not asking Sandra Bynoe why she got his/her sex change/gender reassignment?

      Also, why did you call my writings outstanding in the past but now call me a fraud and a scamp?

      As for poor, hapless Eugene, you can see his likely fate by watching the outcome of his namesake on the next couple of episodes of “The Walking Dead.”

  3. C. Ben-David, you have proven to me that you are a liar, having lied that I have used Peter Binose as a ghost writer for the piece in which I called you a Judas Goat, and you disparaged the Life and Times of Dr. John Parmenas Eustace by placing the circumstances of its publication in negative context with intent at character assassination and damage to the value of intellectual property. You also appropriate photographs and publish them without giving the owners credit. You are roaming the internet as a cyber bully. You have lied about your daughter, a character called Eugene and much more on the internet. And you made false accusations against me while hiding in the shadows. As a wannabe Great Academician, haven’t you learned that an accused has the legal right to face his/her accuser and not a pseudonym? Will you throw off the mantle of a Fake News Purveyor, Cyber Bully, coward, liar, thief, and Judas Goat (possibly can’t reveal your identity because you are supping at the ULP political trough and would lose your supper if the PM finds out that you are the one who is senselessly badmouthing the AIA – a national investment that is already completed).

    So are you going to show your cowardly real name? Are you going to continue throwing potshots from the cover of a stolen identity?

    Vinci Vin
    PS: Yes, I mistakenly took some of your early writings as someone who was playing “devil’s Advocate”. I even asked others not to take you seriously at times. But on many occasions I went against the false and unflattering writings that you aimed at SVG, my Homeland, and at other writers. After all, I am a balanced, fair-minded individual who is not afraid to write under my own name.

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