One of the four Sandals resorts in St. Lucia.

By C ben-David

It is well-established that St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG] has the most diversified and fascinating tourism product in the Caribbean” (Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, An Apex Moment, Commemorative Magazine, Interactive Media Limited, February 14, 2017, p. 13).

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In my last submission (see essay number 55 below), I argued that although we have some nice tourist attractions on St. Vincent Island (SVI), only a couple come close to matching or exceeded what is available in the nearby islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, and Tobago. But even these pale to insignificance compared to the many outstanding eco- and mass-tourism attractions in popular circum-Caribbean destinations like Florida, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Martinique, and Dominica. If extra-Caribbean tropical areas are including, SVI becomes a tourism nonentity.

As for the Prime Minister’s words above, written in an essay to commemorate the opening of Argyle International Airport (AIA) on Feb. 14, if any reputable tourism body has ever claimed that SVG has the “… most diversified and fascinating tourism product in the Caribbean,” it would be about the combined 32 islands and cays that make up our country, a spurious vacation grouping if there ever was one since the Grenadines are unaffected by AIA if only because the cheapest, most convenient, and most frequent air access to the Grenadines — where our most popular tourist attraction lie — would remain flying there from Florida, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, or Trinidad. Conversely, if the Prime Minister were referencing only the mainland, his assertion would have guaranteed us an international airport fully financed by our British colonial overlords in the 1960s to supplement or replace the regional one at Arnos Vale that has now been abandoned.

Notwithstanding these considerations, a complete analysis requires assessing how the attractions I listed in my last essay compare to those of our neighbours. This cannot be done with complete accuracy given the absence of hard data judging their quality using side-by-side impartial rankings by tourists and travel experts who have visited several different islands.

Nevertheless, some indirect and telling comparisons are possible based on the following data.

First, a search for SVI among lists of the world’s 10, 20, 50, and 100 most desirable tropical islands comes up with no results; neither does SVI appear on any assessment of tropical islands with the world’s 10, 20, 50, or 100 best beaches. Both rankings, however, name some 20 other Caribbean islands.

Second, a recent study by Business Insider, a popular online commerce site, using an “accessibility, average cost of a hotel room, number of attractions, and a beach density index score” to rank 25 Caribbean islands saw SVG in last place behind Anguilla (23), Dominica (21) Monserrat (15), and St. Barts (7), all islands without international airports.

Third, the huge Microsoft msn.com portal does not mention SVG in its list of the top 25 Caribbean tourist islands while naming five others – US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Anguilla, Monserrat, and St. Barts — with no international airport.

Fourth, though there is no mention of SVI, our famous Tobago Keys makes the “10 Under the Radar Caribbean Islands” list — none of which have an international airport — compiled by travel site Destination Tips (destinationtips.com) which describes it as, “… a dream destination for yacht charters, scuba divers, snorkelers and fishing enthusiasts. It boasts heavenly lagoons, teeming coral reefs and turquoise waters full of green turtles and tropical fish.”

Fifth, of the 11 top-rated tourist attractions on SVG listed by the popular travel site PlanetWare.com, eight are in our tiny but captivating Grenadines, which the website rightly calls the country’s “real highlight.” (The three on the mainland are Kingstown, the botanical gardens, and the leeward highway.)

To supplement these qualitative assessments, a more direct comparison based on the sheer number of local tourist attractions can be made from data gathered by the world’s largest Internet travel site, tripadvisor, using its “things to do” listings (see Table 1).

Table 1. Tripadvisor’s “things to do” on four Caribbean islands

St. Vincent Island Barbados St. Lucia Grenada
Nature & Parks          25          60          82          45
Sights & Landmarks          14          52          31          28
Outdoor Activities          16        161        164          58
Tours            9        136        173          62
Total “Things to Do”          67        409        450        193
2015 stopover visitors 50,271 591,872 344,908 140,735

Table 1 shows how few “things to do” there are on our mainland compared to our closest three neighbours, an observation that corresponds to the view of many of our own people who often complain about how boring life is on the mainland. The data also show a rough correlation between “things to do” and the number of stopover airport visitors, the inconsistency between Barbados and St. Lucia being partly linked to Barbados’ much larger population and how this reflects the holiday and other visits by Bajans residing elsewhere. This discrepancy also reflects Barbados’ relatively small number of off-beach attractions: it is a country primarily known as an idyllic destination for a lazy beach vacation. The island has 61 impressive white and pink sand beaches totalling over 70 miles (110 km) in length; St. Lucia has 23 beaches, several of them less than ideal. Conversely, St. Lucia has far more off-beach attractions of all types (as reflected in the above figures for “nature & parks” and “tours”).

Those who would argue that the greater number of “things to do” in Barbados, St. Lucia, and Grenada reflects the long-standing presence of their international airports need to know that nearly all of the “nature & parks” and “sights & landmarks” were in place long before an international airport was ever dreamed of; that, except for many “outdoor activities” in Barbados, the foundation or potential for most of the rest was long present on these islands; and that the “tours” are a product of increased tourist numbers, not the other way around.

So, where does all this leave our mainland? First, we clearly have comparatively few first-class attractions. Second, we lack the miles of white sand beaches to compensate for the absence of many other “things to do.” Taken together, this explains why our tourism numbers are so low compared to Dominica (see essay number 37) which also lacks white sand beaches and an international airport but partially compensates for this with its huge array of far superior eco-tourism attractions (see essay 7).

Simply stated, whether we like it or not, our big island tourist delights – as nice as some of them may be — are simply insufficient in number, quality, and variety to attract thousands more overseas holiday visitors regardless of the presence of a brand new international airport at Argyle or the construction of a new resort at Peter’s Hope.

 


A typical Tobago beach, highlighting that we have nothing comparable on SVI.

There is no shame acknowledging that the mainland is not a desirable tourist destination compared to other places, including most of all our very own Grenadines. This is just a fact of nature over which we have no control. What is shameful is our refusal to accept the beautiful and beloved island that God has given us for what it is by making the most of its non-tourism potential.

At the end of our long, convoluted, and expensive road to Argyle airport we are bound to find that having built it, they — the international airlines, the prestige hoteliers, and the affluent First World tourists — will still not come in sufficient numbers three, five, or 10 years from now to have made the effort worthwhile, confirming my assertion that an international airport is neither necessary nor sufficient to precipitate a flourishing tourist industry.

Shame on us for having been fooled by our political, economic, and intellectual elites into believing otherwise.

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This is the 55th 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
    49. St. Vincent’s 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
    50. Going forward or marching in place? Lessons for Argyle airport
    51. The Visible Hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
    52. St. Vincent Island doesn’t need any more hotel rooms
    53. Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for AIA
    54. Is Air Canada also a ‘huge game-changer’ for AIA?

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.

7 replies on “How St. Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up: lessons for AIA”

  1. Assuming even half of the information you provide in your essays are true, we were really fooled by our political establishment. The SVG Government seems preoccupied in spending money the country does not have but never supports any other industry except tourism. And all that support does not seem to be helping the country. SGV is certainly one of the most expensive countries in the Caribbean and we get less for our money than if we would live on St Lucia. What a confused government we have!

  2. C. ben-David says:

    Assuming 95 percent the information I provide is true — allowing for unintended errors in fact or interpretation (even though the five percent is more than I would actually concede without evidence to the contrary) — says that we are well beyond the level of being fooled and on the road to hell in a hand basket as far as our economy is concerned.

    1. That is a good question. There are probably a number of different directions the country should go but it looks like tourism is not right for us. Is there a way we can make the airport be moderately useful in some other way? Obviously our problems are because of poor government in SVG starting long ago.
      C. ben should write a few essays concerning some of the ways on how we can salvage all the mistakes of bad government.
      C. ben seems to be better able to gather and apply information much better than the top clowns in the organization we call government.

  3. I have always lamented as a youth, that things that ought to be done in this country of ours is spat upon and kicked about. Please don’t persecute me for saying this. ?

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