St. Vincent and the Grenadines has not seen a corresponding increase in visitor spending even as the country has recorded more visitors year-on-year, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday says.
“Well, one of the challenges we have here with respect to tourism, is that even when people come, we have looked at the numbers where you have increased in numbers, but the spend is still going down,” he said on his party’s radio programme, New Times on NICE Radio, on Monday.
In his State of the Tourism Industry Address on Jan. 23, Minister of Tourism Carlos James, citing preliminary data, said air arrivals to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2023 had increased 35.7% while yacht visitors had risen 43%, year-on-year.
He further said that preliminary estimates showed that visitors spent EC$500 million in the country in 2023.
“For the very first time in our economy, preliminary estimates are showing that our total visitor expenditure for 2023 will surpass half a billion Eastern Caribbean dollars. This has never been reached in the history of tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” James said.
However, in his comments on Monday, the opposition leader said the country had not seen “a corresponding increase in spending that matches the increase in the numbers.
“So that even if you have more visitors, you don’t make as much money as with fewer. And that is, of course, the nub of it,” he said.
“We want people to come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We want them also to spend, we want them to be able to put money in the hands of local craftspeople, local entertainers, taxi drivers, and so forth.
“And the problem that we’ve got with this government is that they — I mean, I don’t know where the planning is, to be honest.”
Friday further said that taxi drivers on St. Vincent and well as those in the Grenadines complain about tourism sites falling into disrepair.
“… you haven’t fixed Fort Charlotte, which is one of the main sites, you’re fixing Belmont Lookout now, in the middle of the tourist season,” the opposition leader said.
“I hear him talking here in his monologue about fixing the Pirates of the Caribbean site.”
In his address, James also announced that the government will build a Pirates of the Caribbean themed park in Wallilabou, the community in which the first in the sequel was filmed 20 years ago.
“After so many years? good lord! This is what they don’t understand — that the opportunity cost, what is lost, cannot be regained,” the opposition leader said, adding that it is good that the government will build the theme park.
“But what took us so long when the taxi drivers have been saying this all time.”
He said that some taxis have stopped talking people to Montreal Gardens because the government has not repaired the road to the site.
“I mean, this is not doing a favour to the gentleman who runs the place. He has a right to expect that you will have public facilities, infrastructure that will bring people there, but it’s in our national best interest, because everybody benefits,” Friday said, noting that the site can be used in the tourism promotion.
Yes, you say the numbers are up and … that is the first thing you have to have. When the numbers come, what do they do? How do we benefit from it?” Friday said.
“And it shouldn’t be a situation where you have greater numbers of people, but the earnings are going down or not increasing in a proportionate way. This is something that is not being dealt with effectively by the present minister, and by the present administration,” the opposition leader further stated.
“I think this minister really is really out of his depth in this area. He doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.”
He said the government always looks “for magic solutions. Like you have one big project and that is the end goal rather than simply dealing with the nuts and bolts, as I say, focusing on people.
“You see people who are trying to make a living in this area, you need to go in there and find out how you can help them to do it.”
Friday said that when the government starts from this, “it grows in an organic way that people they start, they expand and they get the support and so forth.
“And you find ways in which you can make sure that the people who come and visit us here that they have a good time, they enjoy it, yes, but that they also leave something behind. That is to say, their US dollars, their British pounds, whatever, or max out their credit card.
“I mean, that’s how we benefit from tourism. And I think there’s a lot for us to offer. Our taxi drivers get very high marks from the cruise industry, for the professionalism of the drivers and the tour guides, and the friendliness and so forth, they get very high marks,” the opposition leader said.
“But that is working with very little. Where do you take the visitors when many of your prime sites here are shut down on the mainland and the ones in the Grenadines are left abandoned, just like the one on Fort Hamilton?”