The Vincentians will return via Argyle International Airport. (iWN photo)

Shifting the goalposts is a metaphor derived from goal-based sports that means changing the criterion (goal) of a process or competition while it is still in progress so that the new goal offers one side an intentional, though sometimes partially hidden, advantage.

That the 2017 stayover visitors arriving by air on the mainland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was 3.5 per cent lower than the year before while our closest neighbours all saw record number of stayover visitor increases between 2016 and 2017 — St. Lucia (+11 per cent), Barbados (+5 per cent), and Grenada (+7 per cent) — surely sent shockwaves through the hierarchy of the ruling Unity Labour Party which had spent so much political capital, not to mention hundreds of millions in capital loans, to finance building AIA, a facility that opened to much fanfare, party adulation, and the belief that the political match had been won on Feb. 14, 2017.

Based on my generous estimates in previous airport essays, especially my last one, that a meagre 1 per cent of expected 2018 stayover SVG visitors will be foreign tourists who would not be visiting the mainland if AIA had not been built. This works out to a pitiful 1,000 new international visitors expected to holiday in our country only because of the added convenience of nonstop flights from North America via Caribbean Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada, and Sunwing. More shockwaves.

There is no other way to explain the dramatic shifting of the goalposts of the new airport since these figures became known.

But a more subtle shifting of the goalposts has been going on from the beginning of AIA’s construction with the recognition that our tourism-challenged mainland would never see the realisation of its primary manifest function as a magnet for thousands of new international holiday visitors, a process that has been accelerated since the disastrous February 14, 2017 premonition that there might even be a decline in stayover tourist numbers.

This warning has now been confirmed with the revelation that the Caribbean region as a whole saw a 1.7 per cent increase in holiday visitors despite the devastation of two hurricanes in some of its most popular destinations.

Now, the goal posts have begun to shift in earnest.

The most visible goalpost shifts have been the diversion of attention away from AIA as a magnet for international tourism to its function as a stand-alone facility.

This first appeared in the 2017 Budget address when the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who was also Minister of Finance at the time, said that:

… the Unity Labour Party [ULP] has accomplished a veritable miracle by turning a long-held dream of a hopeful people into a reality….The AIA … is also a metaphor, a symbol, an alive testament to what a determined people, properly led … can achieve.”

To fill our people’s hearts with pride and joy has now been transformed from a secondary effect of the airport’s opening in 2017 to the primary cause of its planned construction in 2005 is clearly expressed in its Feb. 23, 2018 ULP View column titled “The AIA Is One Year Old” as printed in The Vincentian newspaper:

ULP diehards, members and supporters all came together [on February 17, 2018] to mark the anniversary of the largest capital project ever to be completed by a government, in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There was a feeling of pride, of achievement, of accomplishment, of ownership, of patriotism, about a project that has captured the imagination and attention of the country, since August 2005.”

This notion of false pride — “false” because the airport was cunningly designed to address a deep-seated feeling of inferiority rooted in the petty envy of our neighbours with international airports — has been expressed by many ordinary people as well.

The most recent of these was a comment by someone with the pen name “Jim Jordon”:

It is in studying Vincentian pride and culture where you will find the answer to the question: why build AIA? And as a Vincentian who has been travelling for a very long time … I am really happy that we have AIA and I spare no thought for the economic cost or the economic arguments for and against AIA.

Although damn the economic cost also surely informed Dr. Gonsalves’ decision to build an airport with money the country did not have, it is hard to fault him for his decision given that any leader worth his salt would have equally capitalised on what I have termed our childish “airport envy anxiety disorder”.

Indeed the barely hidden reason to build AIA has always been barefaced political aggrandisement: to win one election after another, a political goal that is as legitimate as it is widespread wherever in the world election to office is a prerequisite for gaining and maintaining power. The Prime Minister deserves congratulations for his brilliant hubristic perfection of this art. Bravo, sir, bravo!

Though transforming envy into pride — both of them deadly sins deserving divine retribution — is emerging as the primary reason to celebrate our new airport, other rationales have been offered as well so as to deflect attention from AIA’s failure to meet its stated tourist-attraction goal. These include, according to Cecil McKie, SVG’s Minister of tourism: (1) options to land from any direction; (2) fewer cancellations than at the shuttered E. T. Joshua Airport; (3) enhanced immigration and customs clearance; (4) larger cargo movement potential; and (5) an additional hanger.

The Prime Minister has even opined that AIA might soon symbiotically link cruise ships so that passengers from England who have docked at Kingstown would be able to return home by plane from Argyle, as if more than a handful of tourists would ever use this service.

There is no doubt that AIA has marginally improved air access. But except for the occasional cancellation of flights because of adverse wind conditions or flooding of the terminal, E. T. Joshua Airport was more than able to meet the limited needs of both our residents and visitors.

More particularly, the now shuttered regional facility faithfully, reliably, safely, and, yes, conveniently, saw the landing and takeoff morning, noon, and night, seven days a week, of over 200,000 flights carrying millions of passengers starting in 1961, with the single exception of an Aug. 4, 1986 tragedy when all 13 occupants of LIAT flight 319 lost their lives in a failed attempt to land during a severe rainstorm, an exemplary 56-year safety record if there ever was one.

To be sure, the AIA project has always had goals other than the primary one of stimulating the arrival of thousands more foreign tourists who were said to be dissuaded from visiting the mainland because of the inconvenience of having to transit through Barbados or Trinidad.

I address these other airport goals in my next essay.

***

This is the 75th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are here.

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 [email protected].

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 [email protected].

8 replies on “Shifting the goalposts at Argyle airport”

  1. simply put……… ah bunch of rubbish …..almost like giving a summary of a book before reading it from beginning to end

  2. Although I agree that the airport was a hugh economic mistake that is and will continue to cause economic devastation to SVG for over the next decade, I do not agree with your assertion that we have had less stay-over guests. Maybe you are referring to only 2017 overall? If you consider the last tourist season from November 2017 until Easter 2018 we had one of our biggest Tourist seasons in decades, to include stay-over guests! Do not misunderstand me: IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE AIRPORT! It has everything to do with the devastation of Natural Disasters that occurred to most of the other islands. I am curious how much of the Tourist Infrastructure of those other islands has already been rebuilt in just this one year. What can we expect this next season starting November?
    Certainly the government lies to us and says the rise in tourism has nothing to do with the hurricanes and has everything to do with the airport and the entire world is now discovering SVG and we will soon have to worry because everyone on earth wants to come to SVG and pay more money and get less after taking the glorious “practically free” Liat flights to our crime-free nation.

    1. At the time that I submitted this essay several weeks ago, I saw no official reports of how many visitors we had for the first quarter of this year; hence, all the data was for 2017 based on data in a previous essay (https://www.iwnsvg.com/2018/05/30/the-painful-future-of-nonstop-international-travel-to-argyle-airport/).

      But I do not dispute that we had a large increase in visitors from November 2017 to the present for the reason you present (and which I have acknowledged as well).

      If you have hard data on the January-March 2018 arrivals, I would be grateful if you would pass them on to me.

  3. Respectful of your opinion our country is our own and our opinion is ours. Sharing your opinion does not change ours. We believe what we believe and that’s not true false wrong or right its just opinions we all in titled to. Imagine if you had a different opinion of the airport would that have changed any thing I wonder.

    1. Actually, I have been far more concerned with facts rather than opionions in this series of essays. Yes, public opinions were very important in my analysis, in particular the widespread opinion that SVG has lots of potential for development and that we needed AIA to help fulfill that potential. But my personal opinions are neither here nor there in regard to the factual basis of my arguments.

      As far as your implicit suggestion that opinions cannot be changed when confronted with facts showing the opinion to be based on false assumptions or evidence, this view applies only to hopelessly closed-minded and ignorant people, also called “opinionated people.”

  4. “Our decision is based on the strong performance of this route when we launched it last year and we are proud to be the first North American carrier to serve the island, said Mark Gallardo, Vice President, Network planning, Air Canada.” SVG, profitable route for Cal airlines too. To God be the Glory.

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