By Ivona Bradley
Now that the long-awaited international airport is finally open and in business, and airlines are being wooed as we speak, the focus has shifted to tourism, specifically tourism on the mainland (island of St. Vincent).
While tourism is not a new concept for the Grenadines — which have been welcoming tourists to their white sand beaches, calm seawaters and quiet genteel villas for decades — the main island has much work to do to attract tourists on the type of scale that tourism authorities have been promising for years.
The table below summarises a few key tourist attractions and activities (on the mainland) that are the norm for Caribbean tourism. At a glance, one can see that the island falls short on many fronts. Well-intentioned Vincentians will defend the status quo saying: “We don’t want to corrupt our island with immoral activities such as gambling, nudity, smoking ganja or gay tourists”. The answer to that is tourists will simply go elsewhere. One can visit casinos in St. Maarten, enjoy nude beaches in Jamaica, topless swimming and sunbathing in the Dominican Republic, and be welcome in gay-friendly Dutch islands such as Curacao, Aruba, and Saba. Marijuana is being decriminalised or at the very least, ignored by authorities in many tourist destinations, Florida being the latest.
If “immoral” tourism is out, where does that leave St. Vincent? World-class five-star resorts? No. Gourmet dining? No. Wildlife? No. Festivals? Well, maybe. Most of the music festivals that are held here are on the islands of Mustique and Bequia. The biggest annual festival on the island, the Vincy carnival, tends to attract mostly Vincentians — here and from abroad — and not tourists per se.
On the plus side, the island does possess a plethora of natural beauty; rugged windward coastline, waterfalls, lush mountains, rivers, mineral springs, safe drinking water and secluded beaches on the Leeward. It is well situated with a year-round warm climate with cooling tradewinds. It is also home to many artists and craftspeople.
So while St. Vincent won’t attract animals lovers, naturists (i.e. nudists), gamblers, gays or tourists wanting luxury or all-inclusive resorts at this time, areas ripe for tourism development could be the beaches (make them clean, accessible, and provide basic services) nature parks (think Richmond Vale, Yurumei Horse farm, Soufriere, etc., on a larger scale) hiking/backpacking (create additional, well-marked and maintained hiking trails and campgrounds). How about a zipline? Then there are water sports such as diving and surfing including schools. With all the artists and crafts people on island, why not a centrally located and well-stocked arts and crafts centre?
The various tourism organisations along with the people of St. Vincent need to put on their “thinking caps” and hone in on the tourism product(s) that will generate interest and ultimately add significantly to the national economy, while at the same time preserving and promoting the ecology. It’s not good enough to simply boast a new airport and a catchy slogan. After all, every Caribbean island already has that. St. Vincent needs to find its own unique tourism niche and offer the tourist something special and fresh that other islands don’t, or at the very least, offer the same in an original, affordable and inspiring way.
|Beaches||LIMITED||While there are several picturesque swimmable beaches on the Leeward side of island, they are difficult to find, difficult to get to and provide few, if any amenities. The small beaches in the Villa area are over-crowded with limited shade and amenities. Beaches on the Windward side, while very picturesque, are unsafe for swimming and water sports, and access is difficult.|
|Diving/snorkelling||LIMITED||Diving is very good, but the island lacks a decompression facility, people have to be evacuated to other countries for treatment.
Snorkelling, especially off beach is limited due to destruction of reefs and sea life.
|Luxury/Duty Free shopping||NO|
|Archeological/Historical sites||LIMITED||A few sites exist, such as Fort Charlotte and Duvernette, but these aren’t very well maintained and lack extensive artefacts|
|Nature, Eco Tourism (i.e. whale watching)||LIMITED||A few nature trails exist, but they are difficult to find and get to. Nature watching is limited due to legal hunting of wildlife including sea mammals.|
|Botanical Gardens||YES||Two lovely gardens exist. Montreal Gardens is difficult to get to due to poor roads and quirky opening hours.|
|Sailing, yachting||YES||Several charter companies exist, but most of the sailing and yachting is done outside of the main island.|
|Gastronomy, Gourmet dining||NO||While there are a handful of tourist class restaurants on the island, there aren’t any that can be labelled “gourmet”.|
|All Inclusive Resorts||NO||The only A/I resort (Buccament) is currently closed.|
|Attractive, walkable tourist friendly capital||NO||Kingstown lacks clean and tourist-friendly outdoor cafes and bars, there is no green space, and the smell of urine is ubiquitous.|
|LGBQT friendly||NO||Homosexuality is still illegal.|
|Legal Marijuana||NO||People are still arrested for possession.|
|Nudist, “au naturel’ beaches||NO||Nudity and topless bathing is not legal.|
|Year round warm climate||YES|
|Safe drinking water/mineral springs||YES|
|Animal control||NO||Animal cruelty law is not enforced. No leash, microchip nor spay/neuter laws exist for dog control. Dogs and cattle roam freely. No animal shelter exists.|
|Surfing/Surfing school||NO||The small surfing school at Blue Lagoon has closed.|
|Horse Back Riding||YES|
|Arts and Crafts||YES||Difficult to find, no central art/crafts market exists|
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