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Where is the assistance and encouragement for tourism development?

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Editor: I write to you as a stakeholder in this country, the proprietor of Montreal Gardens and a happy Vincentian by naturalisation. As such, my love for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and my desire to see it prosper and flourish are deep and sincere.{{more}}

When a number of natural disasters wreaked havoc on the local banana industry not so long ago, tourism appeared to offer one of the best opportunities for the country to strengthen its economy. Many a politician has been heard to publicly echo these very sentiments and the Government has declared this to be a primary focus of its efforts and resources. No doubt, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is rich in natural beauty, with many quaint and charming natural attractions and spendid sites to experience and behold. With no pretense of impartiality, I believe that the Montreal Gardens was ranked number two on TripAdvisor.com (a popular travel website) of thirty-two attractions on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

That being said, with revenue earned from this operation coming mainly from visitors to this attraction (predominantly tourists) and to a lesser extent from the sale of cut flowers locally, maintaining the Gardens as a viable operation is becoming more and more challenging. In such circumstances, one would expect the Government to provide, at the very least, the basic infrastructural support and maintenance to which citizens are entitled. Shockingly, I have personally experienced apathy and even outright hostility, from those in positions of authority, to requests for assistance, specifically to repair the road leading directly to the Montreal Gardens, especially in the higher reaches where unpaved stretches and large potholes are the norm. The consequences of this state of affairs affect not only me personally, but those I employ, their families and the country as a whole.

It therefore baffles me that, in response to my sincere and warranted request for assistance with the maintenance of the said road to Montreal Gardens, the Parliamentary Representative for Marriaqua, the Honourable Girlyn Miguel, could remark that I am “complaining” and that I am not “the only pebble on the beach”. I most recently approached the minister about having the usual road gangs sent out to cut and trim the heavy growth of bush on both sides of the road that has, in effect, narrowed the unobstructed portion of the road surface to less than six feet. The Minister’s response on this occasion left me speechless. She said: “Mr Vaughan, we have other priorities!”

The last time that I can recall any maintenance work having been carried out along that road, including trimming of bushes and digging out and clearing of the unpaved roadside ditches, was approximately five years ago. Consequently, what were once pothholes have now become craters; out of control roadside bushes have all but taken over the roadway; and garbage, silt and debris, with nowhere else to be channeled, end up on the surface of the already rough road. The truth of the matter is that the condition of the road is so bad that many coach, van and taxi drivers have stated their intention to not return to the site until the roads are once again in motorable condition.

I am in no way whatsoever politically involved in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and so I wonder whether my experience is unique. Are other well-intentioned individuals here treated with such disrespect from that high a level of officialdom? How can we claim to be promoting tourism in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines when these most basic of needs are not met; when the response of those in authority to a concerned citizen’s reasonable requests is to be dismissed, rebuffed and insulted? Where is the impetus for investment in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines? If there is supposed to be a renewed and revived thrust toward tourism by the Government, where is the assistance and encouragement? Why the laissez-faire approach by the Government officials? Do they believe that the national treasures we possess will sustain our struggling tourism sector without the necessary support from the Government?

While self-help by citizens and investors is a good thing, the declared aim of a successful tourism industry will not happen without effort and commitment by all concerned. As long as all stakeholders adopt an attitude of mutual respect and shared goals, as long as there is beneficial cooperation, as long as there are collaborative and sustained efforts by Government, citizens and investors alike to develop, improve and enhance the attractions that exist, the future of tourism in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, I believe, will be much brighter.

It was never my intention to air this matter in the media, but given the circumstance, there was no other form of redress. Notwithstanding all that has been said, I remain hopeful that those in authority will see it fit to not only do something to improve the condition of the road leading to one of the main tourist attractions in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, but will truly give tourism some precedence. I only hope that their efforts do not turn out to be too little too late.

Timothy Vaughan

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