Under the ULP administration, for sixteen years, tourism in SVG has declined due to:

  • Poor promotion and marketing strategies;
  • Unresolved conflict in Canouan;
  • Corruption and legal problems at Buccament;
  • Not enough monies budgeted for the tourism sector’s needs
  • People in charge who lack the capacity to perform, despite their large salary and benefits package

So the recent utterances by the CEO of Tourism Authority Mr. Glen Beache, at a town hall meeting in Canada comes as no surprise. Some of his statements were quite amusing, steeped in contradiction and “alternative facts”.

Mr. Beache stated that the government had missed several opening dates for Argyle, claiming that airlines such as WestJet and JetBlue were ready to come in October of 2015 and December of last year. However, here comes the contradiction, Mr. Beache indicated that, “We have to state the facts also. Airlines are not going to be coming into St Vincent and the Grenadines because they love us or because they think how beautiful we are. The bottom line is if they cannot make money they are not coming into the country.”

Didn’t they know that before?

Before the opening of AIA, many Vincentians expressed concerns about the lack of sufficient planning as it relates to a tourism strategy. Questions were asked about how we would improve our tourism product to encourage more visitors to visit SVG? What are the mechanisms being put in place to encourage and foster good foreign investment, boost our private sector including agriculture to encourage a sustainable flow of air traffic? Taxpayers had a right to ask these questions, and the government had a duty to answer them. But rather than being accountable to its citizens, ULP government turned on its propaganda engine and tagged the word NEGATIVE onto anyone who dared to ask questions. In an effort to silence their critics individuals were ridiculed, chastised and tagged with the all and ever popular label of being NEGATIVE. Yet, here we have the CEO of the Tourism Authority, Mr. Beache not asking but stating that certain things need to be put in place, after the completion of the airport. We gained independence in 1979, but in the year of 2017, we cannot think critically, logically or independently. Our daily jargon and thought processes are tarnished with partisan politics.

At the town hall meeting, Mr. Beache also pulled out the famous “follow suit card”. He stated that St. Lucia and other islands have higher yachting numbers because they have direct flights coming to their islands. However according to data from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, over the past 15 years the number of yacht passengers coming to SVG has suffered a massive decline, by approximately 40,000, as the graph clearly shows.

  • In 2000 SVG lead in yacht passengers to St Lucia by 65%.
  • During the year 2006 – 2007, the number of yachting passengers decreased by 38% and has maintained more or less a stagnant trend since then.
  • In 2015 St Lucia bypassed SVG by 9% and shows signs of continuous increase.

So to Beache’s point about direct flights: St Lucia’s international airport started operation nearly 50 years ago! So according to his logic, they should have had higher yachting numbers all along! But his logic is faulty: the facts clearly indicate that an international airport is not the single most important factor that determines the number of yachts coming to our country.

Beache also stated that the airlines would have to look at the numbers and forecasts before determining whether the route would be profitable. The question is, if the numbers and forecasting were substantial in 2015 and 2016 to land charters, what has changed? This leaves one to believe that WestJet and JetBlue never had intentions of coming as we were previously told by Beache and others.

“I can guarantee this, that we will have at least one major airline coming in from each of the big three countries. When I say that, I mean Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. “I think out of all the meetings that took place, British Airways was the most promising,” the Minister said.
“I think if we had finished negotiations in terms of certain things being put in place, British Airways was ready to sign on the dotted line.”
Glen Beache – September 2011

As a people, we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled and bamboozled. To this day, there are no international carriers which have announced flights to AIA. What is even more appalling is that Mr. Beache stated that the chartered flights which came for the opening, operated at a loss. And the plan now is to bring more chartered flights for Carnival and during the later months of the year, which will also operate at a loss!.

With our people so already financially strapped, can five loss-making chartered flights for a year pay for a facility that will cost more than $20 million a year to operate and maintain? What about the supposed $400 million dollars in debt that Vincentians already have to repay? The Gonsalves regime told Vincentians that airlines were lined up waiting to come and sold the fantasy of “build it and they will come!” Well, we see the reality now. Mr. Beache sees the reality and he is speaking about it, but his boss says he often speaks out of turn!

For the sake of our children and our children’s children we need to make AIA work. However, it is clear that the current “make AIA work team” is not up to the job. They are looking at the wrong signals and paying attention to insignificant matters. Mr. Beache mentioned the impact that “negative” comments on social media can have on our airline industry. Mr. Beache and his team need to look at the 2012 Florida Cruise Caribbean Association Analysis Report, where out of 21 countries SVG ranked very low and in some instances last on the desirable end for many of the satisfactory questions asked.

We need to define and build our tourism product, and like it or not, there is no tourism in SVG without the Grenadines, but sadly there has not been any real investment in tourism in the Grenadines. However, there seems to be a huge misconception that we need the AIA in order to boost tourism. In fact, many tourists travelling by air fly directly to the Grenadine islands instead of going to the mainland first. For instance, it is more convenient for visitors to travel to Barbados and take a half hour flight directly to Bequia than to fly to Argyle, take a 20-minute drive into Kingstown and then an hour ride on the fairy. To make AIA work, we also need to focus on other industries to draw investment. One would think that AIA would be the gateway to markets for our agriculture and fishing sectors, but we seem to be so narrow sighted on tourism. To say the least, I am not surprised that there is no real discussion that deals with enhancing these sectors through AIA, as we have an EC$30 million facility in Owia sitting still. This leaves me to believe that we still possess a “monocrop mentality,” where we can seem to only focus on one thing at a time!

The irony of all of this is that I found Beache to be refreshingly honest in most of his statements during his town hall in Montreal. Is he now seen as NEGATIVE?

  • The inaugural flights into AIA were not sold out as they had said they would be.
  • The charter flights operated at a loss, and the shortfall had to be paid by the taxpayers of SVG.
  • After five years of negotiations, he has failed to convince any international carrier to make regularly scheduled flights to the airport.
  • Airlines will only come to SVG if they can make money.
  • SVG only has 2200 rooms.
  • They have missed many deadlines which resulted in missed opportunities with airlines.

No Mr. Beache, most of us are not experts, but you claim to be. Yet time and again you and your government have failed Vincentians on this project. With all of your expertise, you have failed.

We will continue to ask the questions and press this ULP government for answers. Labelling us as negative will not silence us. Fancy talk and tailored suits are not always the answer. To make AIA and SVG work, we must speak the truth and account for our actions, even when it does not align with our party’s position. Country first.

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PRO Lavern King. PO Box 1300, Saint Vincent, Kingstown VC0100