A cruise ship tender battling the chop in Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

By C ben-David

After two major hurricanes, Maria and Irma, tore through the Caribbean in less than two weeks this September, some of the most idyllic — and tourism-dependent — destinations were devastated. On some islands, hotels are shuttered for repairs until next year and cruise ship lines have quickly changed itineraries for this holiday season.

Every adversity is said to have a bright side. For we in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), the devastating losses suffered by many of our unfortunate northern neighbours have translated into a boom in our own country’s tourist industry, if only because thousands of people who yearn for a winter holiday filled with sun, sea, and sand have fewer Caribbean destinations to visit.

According to SVG’s embattled Minister of Tourism, Sports, and Culture, Cecil McKie, the country is expected to receive 20 cruise visits in seven days, beginning Sunday, December 3:

On Sunday, we had three calls — Kingstown, Bequia, Mayreau; Monday we had a call to Mayreau; Tuesday we had two calls — Canouan and Tobago Cays. Wednesday … we also have calls to Tobago Cays and Bequia. Thursday, another call to Kingstown and one at Bequia; Friday five calls to Bequia and one to Mayreau. On Saturday one to Kingstown and on Saturday we have two calls,” the Tourism Minister revealed on Dec. 6.

Minister McKie also disclosed that during the period Nov. 26 to Dec. 2, 2017, there were 12 cruise ship calls in six days to SVG and that the 2017-2018 cruise season is expected to be the best ever for our country with 114 cruise ship visits to SVG, an increase of 133 per cent over the 2016-2017 cruise season, when there were 48 cruise ship visits.

But as is usual with our rollercoaster tourist industry, going back to the ill-advised decision announced by our Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, on Aug. 8, 2005 that his government intended to build a new international airport at Argyle, there are several flies in the ointment.

Apart from the fact that this explosion in cruise ship visits would be a one-off occurrence, save for some future repetition of such terrible weather events, an examination of the SVG cruise ship numbers and destinations reveals that 85 per cent of the 20 cruise ship visits between December 3-9 were to the Grenadines, a region with no cruise ship terminal or allied infrastructure. Stated otherwise, less than one in five of the dockings were at the Kingstown cruise ship terminal, the only facility in the country dedicated to the inclusive service of large cruise ships.

The third fly in the ointment is that the number of vessels that called at Kingstown is well within the normal historical range for this time of year.

These figures raise the question of why relatively few cruise ships are going to stop at the Kingstown terminal during a season marked by the closure of their normal ports of call? Conversely, why are so many more going to visit the tiny Grenadines instead when going ashore there means the inconvenience of waiting for and traveling on a small crowded tender?

There are some 1,200 cruise ship ports of call around the world, including five in SVG (Kingstown, Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island). Deciding which to visit, given all this choice and fierce competition between destinations, is in the hands of cruise ship executives and planners. These specialists, who are constantly lobbied by host countries and other interested bodies, base their decisions on such factors as port fees, mooring costs, availability and attractiveness of shore tours and recreational facilities, passenger destination awareness and interest, previous visitor ratings, passenger safety, and port profit/loss calculations, among other considerations.

Though the Caribbean cruise ship companies had to alter their schedules for the 2017-2018 season in haste, their years of experience servicing the region told them that the Grenadines presented far more attractive ports of call than the much larger mainland despite the existence of the full-service terminal at Kingstown.

The three flies in the ointment — that the cruise ship bonanza is a near once in a lifetime event; that most of the windfall will be felt in the Grenadines; and that the impact on the mainland ’s tourist industry will be minimal — are simply more proof of what I have repeated in 65 Argyle airport essays (https://www.iwnsvg.com/2017/12/03/argyle-airports-opportunity-cost/ ), namely that it was foolish to build a tourist-oriented international airport at Argyle because the mainland of SVG has little tourism potential.

This is the 66th 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
  57. Lessons from Guyana for AIA
  58. The world’s best tourist islands: Lessons for AIA
  59. Explaining Argyle airport on St. Vincent Island 
  60. Explaining Argyle airport: A clash of axioms
  61. Questions and answers about the Argyle airport puzzle
  62. More questions and answers about the Argyle airport puzzle
  63. Explaining Argyle Airport: Concluding remarks
  64. A ‘loaded question’ logical fallacy: Argyle Airport’s legacy
  65. Argyle airport’s opportunity cost

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


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