Air arrivals to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2023 increased 35.7% while yacht visitors rose 43% year-on-year, Minister of Tourism Carlos James says, citing preliminary data.
“While air arrivals steadily grew, unreliable and somewhat inconsistent regional air service continue to prevail and severely affect regional travel,” he said in his State of the Tourism Industry Address, on Tuesday.
He said the government is expecting improved inter-island and regional airlift as small airlines expand their fleet to accommodate the growing demand for travel.
“Year-round flights will now take place from Air Canada,” the minister announced, adding that after two years of suspended services from Toronto to SVG during the summer, the government has negotiated a year-round service from Toronto.
The minister said the summer schedule will run April 7 to Oct. 27, with weekly service out of Toronto.
“We negotiated and worked closely with Air Canada and also shared that responsibility with some of our sister islands — Grenada — and we collaborated to ensure that we had year-round service to our destination,” James said.
“Every source market, we will now have a year round service coming to St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
He also announced more flights from Miami, adding that as of November, American Airlines will move back to six flights per week — excluding Wednesdays.
James announced that JetBlue will start flying to St. Vincent this year, adding that the government is still in negotiations with three other carriers to begin flying to St. Vincent by year.
“Of course, due to the negotiations, I will not announce the other carriers. But I can safely say that JetBlue will be landing in St Vincent and the Grenadines 2024,” James said.
Commenting on stay-over arrivals and accommodation, James said:
“Despite these steps in our recovery, our stay over arrival numbers are still relatively low and will improve with the expansion of our hotel room stock.”
He said he personally appreciates the efforts of local hoteliers and urged them to sign up with the vacation arms of international carriers that fly to SVG in an effort “to boost airlift capacity to our islands”.
The tourism minister said that airlines that fly to small Caribbean destinations can make a lot more money flying domestically in their markets.
“To come here, it’s additional cost. And it’s also additional resources. To balance off what they consider to be the economies of scale, the bookings with the vacation arms of these airlines are what drive the numbers,” James said.
“So, airlines are attracted to new destinations once they are able to book to the hotels, through their vacation arms within the jurisdictions they’re traveling and simply put, a lot more of our hotels must sign on to these vacation arms.”
He said he was saying this “because we have to remove this idea of an offseason and an on season. It’s important that we move in the direction of year-round tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
James said that within the next two years, “we intend to add 1,000 rooms to the destination”, adding that the opening of Sandals and Holiday Inn Express will add at least 425 rooms this year.
“But also, the expansion of hotel Alexandrina. I’m happy to include a local hotelier with the big names as expanding and doing a lot of good work.”
‘50,476 yachting calls to the destinations’
Meanwhile, James said that of the “top yachting destinations” in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States — primarily Antigua, Grenada, St. Lucia and SVG — SVG led in arrivals over the period 2018 to 2022.
“Average yacht passengers were 39,767, which is about 6% higher than the second-best performing destination,” he said, adding that SVG was the leading yachting destination during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.
SVG and Barbados were among the few Caribbean countries that remained open to visitors during the pandemic.
James said that in 2023, SVG saw a 43% year-on-year increase in yachting.
“We’re now at a figure of 50,476 yachting calls to the destinations. This sub sector is expected to expand further in 2024.”
He said that all categories of visitor arrivals “continue to show strong and robust growth” in 2023 with year-on-year increases.
“Stay overs were up by 35%; same day were up by 83%; yachting up by 43%; cruise currently up by a staggering 120%,” he said.
“Collectively, the preliminary data shows that 2023 outperformed 2022 by 83.2%, almost doubling the previous year’s performance. This is our tourism response and the hard work of all of the stakeholders that they put in during our build out during our recovery.”
James delivered the address two weeks after he and other members of the Cabinet did not debate the EC$1.6 million budget for 2024 after the finance minister wrapped up the debate prematurely at the urging of the prime minister.