The 32-island nation of St. Vincent & the Grenadines will mark a milestone early next year, when Argyle International Airport opens for business.
Runways, aprons and taxiways at the 275-acre airport — located in Argyle, on the main island of St. Vincent — are now 82% complete, with all remaining infrastructure work to be finished by December 2013.
The runway will be 9,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, while the planned three-floor passenger terminal will cover 145,000 square feet and handle 1.5 million passengers annually. Still to be built: the control tower, cargo facilities, firefighting and rescue station, a weather station, access roads and sea defense works.
Financing for the $240 million airport is coming from an interesting mix of countries including Austria, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Qatar, Turkey, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela. When completed, the airport will be able to accommodate Boeing 747-400 jets, allowing direct flights for the first time between St. Vincent and major markets including the United States, Canada, Europe and South America.
As such, the government expects Argyle’s opening to spur significant tourism investments. As such, tax concessions and other benefits are being offered to investors to develop a number of sites. These prime pieces of real estate include Mt. Wynne, St. Vincent (400-acre site for a hotel and 18-hole golf course); Young Island (13-acre site for a 30-room hotel, 200 yards off the coast of St. Vincent); St. Hillaire, Bequia (45 acres); Park Estate, Bequia (600 acres); Isle a Quatre (376 acres); Balliceaux (320 acres); Chatham Bay (99-acre site near Union Island) and Frigate Island (16 acres with 400 acres of seabed for a marina and resort development).
At the moment, the country has 99 hotel properties with a combined 2,114 rooms. Last year, St. Vincent received 207,997 visitors, down from the 231,121 who came in 2011. However, cruise ship calls increased from 119 in 2011 to 136 in 2012.
In nearby St. Lucia, the country’s tourist board has launched a new online, print and TV ad campaign called “Lift Your Senses.” Created by Boston-based travel marketing firm ISM, the campaign seeks to differentiate the mountainous, volcanic island through vignettes that pair key St. Lucia attractions with the five senses — sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.
“This captures what sets St. Lucia apart from other Caribbean destinations in a way that we believe will differentiate our island in a crowded competitive set,” said Louis Lewis, director of tourism for the St. Lucia Tourist Board.
But the Tourist Board’s hard work may be in jeopardy now, following a vicious attack against 55 passengers and two crew members visiting St. Lucia earlier this month.
The visitors aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Eclipse were enjoying an onshore excursion at Soufriere’s Botanical Gardens on Apr. 12 when three masked men robbed them at gunpoint. All their money and jewelry were taken in the attack, during which one woman reportedly fell and broke her leg.
A Celebrity spokesman denied that anyone had been hurt, adding that the tourists — most of whom were British — had been on a 14-day Caribbean tour that departed from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Meanwhile, Lorne Theophilus, the country’s minister of tourism, told local broadcaster DBS that another such attack could cripple St. Lucia’s tourism industry. He said it was an “unfortunate and horrible scenario” that left everyone aboard the 2,850-passenger ship “shaken.”
One British tourist wrote on the Cruise Critic forum that to make an impact, St. Lucia authorities would have to “wake up and crack down on crime.”