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The airport and beyond

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Fri Feb 27, 2015

by: CI Martin

Setting a date for the completion of the airport has been a high-risk strategy. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the world over, projects of this kind often run into problems that could not have been foreseen at their outset. Recently the BBC ran a programme pointing out that the Victorians contributed a great deal to Britain’s development. They did so by building much of the infrastructure: railways, canals, roads and bridges. Many of their projects succeeded, but some failed. Many were over budget and completed long after the date forecast. So much so that the BBC was moved to call the programme ‘Build and be Damned.’{{more}}

Secondly, our airport is literally being built on a wing and a prayer. SVG has never been able to fund most of its capital projects. Far from being able to finance our development projects, we have had to rely on aid even to pay the public service. In pre-independence days it was called grant-in-aid and was supposed to stop when we became independent, but in fact crept back in as budgetary aid from the EU. So, when we came to a massive project such as the airport, we had to look for new sources of assistance — the Coalition of the Willing — Venezuela, Cuba and Taiwan, among others. Selling the land on which the existing airport stands was seen as a means of helping to finance the new airport. But ET Joshua cannot be closed until Argyle is commissioned.

Given the size and nature of the project, as well as our uncertain sources of finance, even the Almighty would have had difficulty in accurately forecasting a completion date. Now the mantra of all Vincentians on this subject should be “We have started and so we will finish.”

The completion of the airport would not resolve all our difficulties. If it were so, all the OECS countries, Dominica apart, would have no problems. They already have jet airports. The airport is only one of several steps, albeit a very important one. We have to get the planes and the people to come. We have to have the accommodation and things for the visitors to do. We are in for the long haul. Expect no quick fixes.

Getting on the airlines’ itinerary will take time and money. One may even hope that an enterprising Vincentian airman may start his own charter flights. Expenditure on tourist promotion needs to be increased, perhaps at the expense of other items in the budget. It would be interesting to compare the size and ways in which other OECS countries spend their promotion budgets with our own. Greater use should be made of the diaspora. Already a surprising number of Vincentians live both here and abroad. They often bring visitors in tow. This must be encouraged. What the Austrians call ‘Pensione’, whereby householders have additional rooms in their homes to accommodate paying guests, is becoming more widespread here through the medical students.

Hotels exist and more are being built Canouan may have stalled, but Bequia continues to thrive. Nothing demonstrates the ‘seachange’ that has taken place in the Vincentian economy as the Grenadines wharf. In the old days it was the ‘Friendship Rose’ making its daily return trip from Bequia with a less frequent visit to Union Island’. In those days, further along the waterfront, one would see banana truck upon banana truck filling the Geest boats with fruit for the UK. Now the banana trucks are virtually non-existent. The Grenadines wharf, however, now berths ferries for each Grenadine island, with Bequia having several, all bigger than the ‘Friendship Rose’. And when a cruise ship is in, the whole area becomes a hive of activity.

SVG does have its share of tourist attractions. These include the sites identified and developed with EU assistance, the Garifuna and the petroglyphs. Battowia, with its undisturbed environment, makes SVG the leading seabird breeding site in the Eastern Caribbean. Clean air, beautiful scenery and a comparatively peaceful atmosphere are at a premium in the world today.

I am grateful to the Hon. Arnhim Eustace for mentioning in his Budget Address that I had been a member of a commission that ranked SVG tops in tourist attractions in the OECS. Let me hasten to point out that this was not me trying to push my own island. The idea came from the commission’s chairperson, Sir Allister McIntyre, formerly vice-chancellor of UWI and acting head of UNCTAD. He reached the conclusion after much discussion with one of the leading tourist experts in the region.

Having emphasized the positives, we should not gloss over the negatives. Even some Vincentians now do not like Kingstown. Probably, this is because of the congestion and the displacement of our old-time houses by concrete boxes, among other things. Hopefully, in the long run, the implementation of the plan prepared for Arnos Vale by Professor Jack Diamond would alleviate the situation. Recent articles in the press suggest that we have at last woken up to the fact that we cannot have pigpens all over the place, particularly in the tourist areas. Zoning will have to be taken seriously.

Whatever its advantages and disadvantages, SVG is what we have. We must promote and develop it to the best of our abilities.

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