Saturday, 19 August 2017 02:25:50 (AST)
 

Opinion

Lessons from Guyana for AIA

Drawing of the expansion at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).

By C ben-David

“I would expect that we would begin to see regular flights [from Argyle International Airport (AIA)] for the next tourist season, which is the November tourist season” (Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister, St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG], March 27, 2017).

If we want a preview of AIA for, “regular flights for the next tourist season, which is the November tourist season,” and many tourist seasons to come, there is no better place to look than Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), the national airport of Guyana.

Located 41 km (25 mi) south of the capital, Georgetown, the airport was born in 1941 as a World War II American airfield. The 99-year lease of the facility by the United States was formally terminated on 26 May 1966, Guyana’s day of independence from Great Britain, thereby granting the new country a debt-free airport.

CJIA is currently undergoing a US$200 million modernisation and expansion expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Despite its long history and plans for future growth, the airport has always had difficulty attracting enough airlines, especially reputable ones, an issue that has plagued AIA for at least seven years preceding its Feb. 14 opening.

Both Insel Air and Flyallways Airlines recently ended their service to Guyana when financial and airworthiness issues saw them grounded. Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is now the only regular scheduled carrier plying the New York-Georgetown route. But their round-trip airfares from JFK airport are at an all-time high again and the government has failed to contract with established North American carriers. A typical CAL New York-Georgetown return flight costs US$1,100; a similar CAL round-trip flight from New York to nearby Trinidad costs US$574, or less than half that amount.

The same price differentials hold for non-stop travel to St. Vincent Island. As of July 3, the cheapest one-way, non-stop flight from Toronto to St. Vincent Island (SVI) via Air Canada on Dec. 14 is EC$2,500 while the cheapest one-way ticket to nearby Barbados is EC$741, or 3.4 times less. Comparing the same “Economy Latitude” services fares for Dec. 14 still sees a price differential of EC$510 for a single ticket.

What these price differentials mean is that budget conscious travellers — a cohort that has always made up the bulk of flyers all across the globe — departing from Toronto would readily choose to transit through Barbados on this and other dates like it, debunking the “convenience enhancing” argument for the construction of AIA in the process.

One of hundreds of Guyana’s waterfall features.

As for Guyana, Fly Jamaica and Dynamic Airlines, both discount charter companies, also ply the New York-Georgetown route while reincarnated Eastern Airlines, now only a charter outfit, flies nonstop from Miami. But the service of all three has featured chronic delays and cancellations.

Dynamic Airways, a non-scheduled US-owned airline that services the New York- Georgetown route about four times weekly, is notorious for being late, cancelling flights, and stranding passengers. On April 13, 2017, it was ordered by the United States Department of Transportation to pay US$120,000 in penalties for terminating several flights, failing to notify passengers in a timely manner about delays or cancellations, and refusing to issue refunds. Still, its low fares attract lots of budget passengers as do those of the other charter operators.

Guyana has such poor air service based on the law of supply and demand. It is simply a small market for visitors: only 207,000 tourists and other overnight guests arrived in 2015. Compared to us, if it is assumed that half of these flyers were visitors from outside the Caribbean and South America, this figure would still be over five times the 20,000 or so international visitors who landed at E. T. Joshua Airport in 2015 (see essay number 33 below).

Even with so many more annual stopover airline holiday visitors than us and a sustained growth in annual arrivals, something we also lack, most international flights to Guyana connect through Jamaica, Barbados, or Trinidad, as do all flights from Europe.

That President David Granger’s administration has yet to attract a reputable North American carrier to Guyana since coming to office in May 2015, despite the millions being spent to modernise and enlarge the airport, should be a warning to us as well. So should the fact that Guyana’s mega oil discoveries and a US$5 billion investment by ExxonMobil to extract and market its petroleum resources may soon give the government a bargaining chip to attract foreign carriers that we lack.

Guyana is also plagued by its New York-bound planes being used to transport cocaine (see essay number 46), why Delta Airlines pulled out in 2013. Efforts to get Delta back have failed, as have attempts to get popular JetBlue to service the country.

Given that SVG’s tourism authority has been able to secure a meagre 17 Air Canada return flights from Toronto between Dec. 14, 2017 and April 12, 2018 on that airline’s smallest plane capable of flying nonstop to AIA (see essay number 54 below) and a paltry seven return Sunwing charter flights from Toronto between Oct. 22 to Jan. 14 says that we are destined to replicate Guyana’s air transport woes but on a much larger scale. Based on my earlier estimates (see essay 54 below), these 24 flights, if fully occupied, would add a mere 600 additional foreign tourist visitors who would not be flying to the mainland save for the alleged convenience of being able to fly nonstop from Toronto.

Our very own illegal drug problem has been the trans-shipment by plane and boat of marijuana and cocaine: SVG has always rated as the top marijuana producer in the Eastern Caribbean and cocaine from Venezuela and Trinidad easily find their way here for local consumption or transit elsewhere.

A thundering waterfall in Guyana.

Guyana’s other bargaining chip to get more brand-name carriers to service its airport, one we also lack on the mainland, is the vast potential to enhance and promote its nearly limitless and largely untapped eco-tourism and traditional mass tourism resources which feature: an Atlantic coastal belt that stretches 270 miles and contains a pristine white sand beachfront and diverse coastal and ocean ecosystem, including Shell Beach which extends some 90 miles along an undisturbed coastline in northwest Guyana and 63 Beach Berbice on the southeast Atlantic coast which stretches for 10 miles; the North Rupununi Wetland which covers 54,000 acres — over half the area of St. Vincent Island (SVI) — and is home to 400 species of fish; tens of thousands of acres of untouched savannahs which support hundreds of species of wildlife, including jaguars; river resorts which provide many amenities, often including private beaches; an immense tropical forest area of 37 million acres — 43 times the area of SVI — much of it ideally suited for wilderness tourism; and more than 300 glorious waterfalls of all shapes and sizes.

Shell Beach, Guyana.

Guyana’s current airport troubles, together with its long-term potential, give no reason to be optimistic about the success of AIA, a facility for which the Prime Minister has spuriously used, “…. the limitations of air access … due to the absence of an international airport” as its main public relations selling point since 2005. Even if we increased our international vacation passenger numbers to 50,000 a year over the next decade, a miracle of biblical proportions if there ever was one, but still half of convenience-challenged Guyana, we would still be hamstrung with an airport with only a handful of regularly scheduled and charter nonstop flights from North America every week, hardly sufficient to address AIA’s EC$400 million debt and EC$20 million annual operating costs.

Unlike Guyana, we have no bargaining chips except to grant crippling concessions to regularly scheduled carriers and exorbitant upfront fees for occasional charter flights, both of which would add to our country’s ruinous debt. This is why the experience of Guyana and the contents of Glen Beache’s recent speech in Montreal teach us that AIA is an airport without a cause (see essay 11).

***

This is the 57th 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?
  55. St. Vincent’s mainland tourist attractions
  56. How St. Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up lessons 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

IWN Conversations

15 thoughts on “Lessons from Guyana for AIA

  1. Pat Robinson Commissiong says:

    I agree with all that you say. However, there is one sentence that is, I think, somewhat ambiguous and so needs some clarification. It is that “Atlantic coastal belt that stretches 270 miles and contains a pristine white sand beachfront”. That suggests a gloriously long “pristine white sand” beachfront. Yes, there is a very beautiful shell beach on the Essequibo coast; and Guyanese do like No. 63 beach, but I doubt that the tourists who are enjoy the Grenadines’ beaches would find it exactly a great attraction. Howver most of the 270 miles is anything other than “pristine white sand”. Much of it is silt deposited in the Atlantic by the two major rivers to the east and west of Guyana, the Amazon in Brazil and the Orinocco in Venezuela. And most of the oceanic beachfront is either a brown sand or plain mud, with mangrove swamps.
    White sand in Guyana typically lies 30 to 60 miles inland, a fact little known in SVG. (I remember when James Mitchell suggested importing white sand from Guyana instead of taking sand from SVG’s beaches, many boat owners objected because the ‘sea salt will rust the boat’. Guyana’s white sand belt represents the sea coast millennia ago, and any salt that it once contained has been leached out by intertropical rains eons ago.) The present coastal belt is essentially clay from the silt laid down by those same two rivers. The Dutch and the British found it good for growing sugar cane. White sand it is not.

    • C. ben-David says:

      Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t mean to imply that the entire coast was composed of sandy beaches but that it “contains” sandy beaches. Yes, most of the white sand is inland.

  2. Saadiss says:

    How many more ways can one conjure up to keep making the same basic point over and over again?

    We got it, since your FIRST “essay”… You are not a fan of AIA. But it’s time to retire the series, you like the Susan Lucci of essay writing. What you waiting for, a Pulitzer, c’mon man.

    • Borg says:

      Saadiss, you are convinced from the first essay but it seems others are not. I still find the information good. It often leads one to consider if there is any way for us to rescue AIA, although it seems not. We certainly made an error by building AIA and I wonder how long we are going to be able to afford the cost of operation.
      Saint Vincent is plagued by poor planning and even poorer Financial Management.
      We have a dim future, No jobs created, increasing taxes, declining industry and a Government that never stops spending money we do not have, exploding debt for future generations

    • Veridical says:

      Saadiss,

      Mr. Gloom , hopefully will retire when he gets to 100 essays of Badmouthing SVG ; however I seriously doubt that he will stop at 100 . He continuously talk about mainland SVG having little to offer
      Tourists . He has never ever considered the fact that the NDP was
      in Office for 17 freaking years , not 17 weeks , or months , 17 years
      . Obviously had it built an International Airport , all the nonsense
      he writes about would by now have been non existent .

      He rails about the fact that some beaches have Black sand ; and the volcano ; Hawaii has those same features . He apparently expects that instantaneously Tourists will come to mainland SVG .
      I have never ever heard about a Baby after birth walking & talking .

      Now the talk is about the cost of the Airport , the Doom & Gloom
      about the Airport , has now shifted to the cost . I get the impression that some people mistakenly believe that the cost is to
      high , my retort to that is this ; if during the 17 years the NDP had
      built an Airport , obviously the cost would have been less than the
      cost of the AIA .

      Obviously also , if the NDP had built an International Airport , there would by now be more Hotels , and Tourists in SVG . Unfortunately
      this fact has escaped his mind . Those of us who live in the Diaspora are grateful for the AIA , because it means that WE no longer having to be insulted in Barbados , and persons stating that
      there are no more Seats on LIAT , so One has to overnight in Barbados .

      Mr. Gloom has a right to express his Opinion , never mind that it is
      wrong ; hopefully one day he & others will eventually see the Light ;
      I am reminded of the adage :

      ” THERE ARE NONE SO BLIND AS

      THOSE WHO REFUSE TO SEE ” .

      • C. ben-David says:

        Too bad you and the other dunces in the diaspora don’t know that both Cato and Mitchell looked into building an international airport and found out it was not feasible. Gonsalves did the same, was given the same information not to proceed, but went ahead anyway because this was the politically expedient thing to do based on “Labour love.”

  3. Peter Appollo says:

    C’ben David,
    you have all the ideas and reasons why AIA will fail,and by extension SVG. Can you direct us to an office where you made suggestions of how to make svg develop.Please,tell us.

    • C. ben-David says:

      You blindly assume that we can make SVG develop, an assumption with no logical or empirical basis. Some countries are simply doomed to struggle along at a low level of development. We are one of them.

      • Peter Appollo says:

        Only you and your bad mouthing know that some countries can not develop, yet you spent so much time looking for empirical evidence, which are foreign to us to deter potential investors,so that your wishful thinking can materialised.your efforts will FAIL, because your motives are wrong. You should not use the word WE, in relation to SVG, because you are not a Vincentian. you are a sick bad minded neighbour.

  4. Tomas Chlumecky says:

    I think that some of the Caribbean islands should set up their own airline to serve “strategic” destinations, like Cayman Airways does with its B737’s, and not be over reliant on foreign carriers.
    Guyana needs regular connection to Miami and New York, St. Vincent should have at least 2 daily flights to San Juan, the biggest hub in the Caribbean where airline tickets are cheaper to/from and lots of connections to North/South America and to Europe.
    STOP paying foreign airlines subsidies/marketing costs, etc. a “virtual” airline done properly, strategically can be started quick and cheaply, the Government runs the commercial end (sales, marketing, picks routes, frequencies, times and fares), and a foreign carrier looks after all operations, flies when and where you want at a fixed cost, painted anyway you want.
    That is the smartest approach, though smartest in the Caribbean is usually not the way governments go.

    • C. ben-David says:

      You are years behind the time. American Eagle flew nonstop from San Juan to Arnos Vale for some time using fairly large aircraft but this service was cancelled due to a lack of passengers.

      Let us face the reality that St. Vincent Island has never been nor will ever be a popular tourist destination.

  5. Peter Appollo says:

    C’ben – David,
    It looks like you can’t remember where you left your suggestions , how to develop SVG.

    • C. ben-David says:

      Nothing is wrong with my memory; a lot is wrong with your hypothesis that there are realistic ways to make St. Vincent Island develop.

      • Peter Appollo says:

        C.ben- David, If we follow your logics SVG is best as it was 500 years ago .Yet you continue to ‘BAD MOUTH’ God’s gift to us.Why don’t you accept God’s gift and make the best of it , instead of 56 negative articles about SVG.

  6. C. ben-David says:

    Peter Appollo, nothing I have written could ever deter potential investors who, if they are legitimate investors rather than the con artists who have all too often succeeded in ripping us off, would do their own due diligence to determine whether they should spend their money here or go elsewhere.

    Indeed, we have had many invited here over the past five year who have said, “thanks, but no thanks” to building resorts and hotels, testimony to the fact that our mainland (as opposed to our Grenadines) has little tourism potential, a fact of nature and an act of Almighty God over which we have no control.

    I have never “bad mouthed” our beloved country, as you claim; all I have ever done is point out the obvious limitations to tourist development on the mainland.

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