“How St. Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up: Lessons for Argyle Airport”

PlanetWare: Bequia

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“It is well-established that St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG] has the most diversified and fascinating tourism product in the Caribbean” (Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, An Apex Moment, Commemorative Magazine, Interactive Media Limited, February 14, 2017, p. 13).

Despite this assertion by the Prime Minister, it is my contention that although we have some nice tourist attractions on St. Vincent Island (SVI), only a couple come close to matching or exceeded what is available in the nearby islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, and Tobago, which is why are mainland holiday visitor numbers have always been so low.

One of the four Sandals resorts in St. Lucia.

If the Prime Minister’s words, written in an essay to commemorate the opening of Argyle International Airport (AIA) on February 14, have any accuracy, they would be about the combined 32 islands and cays that make up our country, a spurious vacation grouping if there ever was one since the Grenadines are unaffected by AIA if only because the cheapest, most convenient, and most frequent air access to the Grenadines where our most popular tourist attraction lie would remain flying there from Florida, Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, or Trinidad.

Conversely, if the Prime Minister were referencing only the mainland, his assertion would have guaranteed us an international airport fully financed by our British colonial overlords in the 1960s to supplement or replace the regional one at Arnos Vale that has now been abandoned.

Notwithstanding these considerations, a complete analysis requires assessing how the attractions we have on the mainland compare to those of our neighbours. This cannot be done with complete accuracy given the absence of hard data judging their quality using side-by-side impartial rankings by tourists and travel experts who have visited several different islands.

Nevertheless, some indirect and telling comparisons are possible based on the following data.

First, a search for SVI among lists of the world’s 10, 20, 50, and 100 most desirable tropical islands comes up with no results; neither does SVI appear on any assessment of tropical islands with the world’s 10, 20, 50, or 100 best beaches. Both rankings, however, name some 20 other Caribbean islands.

Second, a recent study by Business Insider, a popular online commerce site, using an “accessibility, average cost of a hotel room, number of attractions, and a beach density index score” to rank 25 Caribbean islands saw SVG in last place behind Anguilla (23), Dominica (21) Monserrat (15), and St. Barts (7), all islands without international airports (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-25-best-caribbean-islands-ranked-2016-2/#25-st-vincent-and-the-grenadines-1 ).

Third, the huge Microsoft msn.com portal does not mention SVG in its list of the top 25 Caribbean tourist islands while naming five others – US Virgin Islands, Dominica, Anguilla, Monserrat, and St. Barts — with no international airport.

Fourth, though there is no mention of SVI, our famous Tobago Keys makes the “10 Under the Radar Caribbean Islands” list — none of which have an international airport — compiled by travel site Destination Tips (destinationtips.com) which describes it as, “… a dream destination for yacht charters, scuba divers, snorkelers and fishing enthusiasts. It boasts heavenly lagoons, teeming coral reefs and turquoise waters full of green turtles and tropical fish.”

Fifth, of the 11 top-rated tourist attractions on SVG listed by the popular travel site PlanetWare.com, eight are in our tiny but captivating Grenadines, which the website rightly calls the country’s “real highlight.” (The three on the mainland are Kingstown, the botanical gardens, and the leeward highway.)

To supplement these qualitative assessments, a more direct comparison based on the sheer number of local tourist attractions can be made from data gathered by the world’s largest Internet travel site, tripadvisor, using its “things to do” listings (see Table 1).

Table 1. Tripadvisor’s “things to do” on four Caribbean islands

St. Vincent Island Barbados St. Lucia Grenada
Nature & Parks          25           60           82           45
Sights & Landmarks          14           52           31           28
Outdoor Activities          16         161         164           58
Tours            9         136         173           62
Total “Things to Do”          67         409         450         193
2015 stopover visitors  50,271 591,872 344,908 140,735

Table 1 shows how few “things to do” there are on our mainland compared to our closest three neighbours, an observation that corresponds to the view of many of our own people who often complain about how boring life is on the mainland. The data also show a rough correlation between “things to do” and the number of stopover airport visitors, the inconsistency between Barbados and St. Lucia being partly linked to Barbados’ much larger population and how this reflects the holiday and other visits by Bajans residing elsewhere.

This discrepancy also reflects Barbados’ relatively small number of off-beach attractions: it is a country primarily known as an idyllic destination for a lazy beach vacation. The island has 61 impressive white and pink sand beaches totaling over 70 miles (110 km) in length; St. Lucia has 23 beaches, several of them less than ideal. Conversely, St. Lucia has far more off-beach attractions of all types (as reflected in the above figures for “nature & parks” and “tours”).

Those who would argue that the greater number of “things to do” in Barbados, St. Lucia, and Grenada reflects the long-standing presence of their international airports need to know that nearly all of the “nature & parks” and “sights & landmarks” were in place long before an international airport was ever dreamed of; that, except for many “outdoor activities” in Barbados, the foundation or potential for most of the rest was long present on these islands; and that the “tours” are a product of increased tourist numbers, not the other way around.

So, where does all this leave our mainland? First, we clearly have comparatively few first-class attractions. Second, we lack the miles of white sand beaches to compensate for the absence of many other “things to do.” Taken together, this explains why our tourism numbers are so low compared to Dominica which also lacks white sand beaches and an international airport but partially compensates for this with its huge array of far superior eco-tourism attractions.

Simply stated, whether we like it or not, our big island tourist delights – as nice as some of them may be — are simply insufficient in number, quality, and variety to attract thousands more overseas holiday visitors regardless of the presence of a brand new international airport at Argyle or the construction of a new resort at Peter’s Hope.

A typical Tobago beach, highlighting that we have nothing comparable on SVI.

There is no shame acknowledging that the mainland is not a desirable tourist destination compared to other places, including most of all our very own Grenadines. This is just a fact of nature over which we have no control. What is shameful is our refusal to accept the beautiful and beloved island that God has given us for what it is by making the most of its non-tourism potential.

At the end of our long, convoluted, and expensive road to Argyle airport we are bound to find that having built it, they – the international airlines, the prestige hoteliers, and the affluent First World tourists – will still not come in sufficient numbers three, five, or ten years from now to have made the effort worthwhile, confirming my assertion that an international airport is neither necessary nor sufficient to precipitate a flourishing tourist industry.

Shame on us for having been fooled by our political, economic, and intellectual elites into believing otherwise.

ben-David

3 Comments

  1. Speaking from experience I’m vincentian by birth st.vincent has a lot of beautiful places but they’re only to go in the day there’s no activities at night other than Club’s. And with all the violence going on now in st.Vincent and the Grenadines it’going to be even more difficult to get tourist to come there half the people in svg don’t want to be there. Everyday someone is being killed and don’t even get me started with the law

  2. This article is silly. Just because there aren’t a lot of tourist attractions now, it does not mean that new tourist attractions cannot be built. SVG has plenty to offer. The government or perhaps private corporations just need to step in and invest in the development of additional resorts, tours and attractions. The dark sand beaches, dark blue waters and the rolling green hills don’t make SVG inferior, but rather they provide a unique backdrop to vacationers. And can be marketed as such. SVG could certainly capitalize on the beautiful natural landscapes by increasing the number of Eco-tourism activities (I.e. Zip-lining, cliff diving, biking, hiking). The island could also focus on improving and upgrading existing attractions like the botanical gardens, dark view falls and owia salt pan. SVG has lots of potential unlike the author seems to imply. The island just needs to step its game up and fast. Hopefully starting by re-opening Buccament under new management- it’s an absolutely gorgeous property on the mainland. There should be many more like it.

  3. There are many Uncontrollable factors that have hindered the
    Development of SVG , particularly the Mainland . First of
    all in my opinion , is the Terrain , it has more than its fair share of Mountains & Hills .

    Then there is the Volcano that is not extinct , and has made
    some of the Beaches having Black sand .Now this is a fact , not Fiction . My take is that most Tourist would prefer to
    going to beaches with White Sand rather than Beaches with Black Sand .

    My belief is that there is another element that must be factored into this equation , that was beyond the control of
    the People of SVG .
    This has to do with the fact that the Original Inhabitants
    fought wars against the British . As a result these Wars impeded the development of SVG . Unlike say Barbados , that benefitted from its geographical location , that fact is manifested by the names of Towns & Villages . They all have
    English Names . In SVG , there are French & English names .

    It is very well known that Barbados & Antigua are relatively
    very flat , so those islands ability to build Airports , that obviously enhanced their Tourist Industry . But those
    who love disparaging St. Vincent’s lack of Tourists & Hotels love completely ignore these facts .

    This obviously has resulted in the Government spending much more money than Barbados & Antigua spent to build their Airports ; to build the Argyle International Airport . Then we have the Critics who claim that there are no big name Hotels on the Mainland , and bleat about the paucity of Airlines coming to the AIA .

    Completely ignoring the fact that the AIA has only been open a few months ago , and it will take some time before a lot of Tourist visit mainland SVG . As I have stated before , it
    is absolutely asinine to expect Hoteliers & Hotel Chains to build Hotels in any Country if their is no easy access to transport their guests to & from St. Vincent . One does not have to be a genius to understand this fact . Yet many persist in this utter Stupidity .

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