TORONTO — Now that its brand new Argyle International Airport is up and running – with an annual capacity for 1.4 million passengers – St. Vincent and The Grenadines wants to build some new hotels.
Not too many, of course. St. Vincent and The Grenadines will never be a mega-resort, millions-of-visitors destination, nor does it want to be. With 2,200 rooms right now, it’s aiming for 3,500 to 4,000 rooms in the near future.
Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and The Grenadines Tourism Authority, has his eye on several top brands, including one that, like Beache himself, has roots right here in Toronto: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines is also in talks with several Canadian tour operators including WestJet Vacations and Air Canada Vacations for direct flights. “Whoever gets in first, that’s the one that going to get the support,” said Beache.
Argyle International Airport opened with much fanfare this past February, after eight years and a US$275 million investment. It has a 90,000-foot runway and was built with future extensions in mind.
With the new airport St. Vincent and The Grenadines can now handle wide-body planes, the lifeline for any destination hoping to grow demand for its tourism product with direct flights.
Canada is a coveted market for St. Vincent and The Grenadines. “Canada has always been an exciting market with a lot of potential for us,” says Beache.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines gets 80,000 visitors per year right now, including about 8,000 Canadians. “Canadians tend to travel more and be more adventurous than their neighbours to the south,” he said. “Canada has always been a steady performer. I think we need to up our game and make sure people know what St. Vincent and the Grenadines is about.”
St. Vincent and The Grenadines also gets cruise passengers and plans are in the works to extend and expand the main port as well, near the capital of Kingstown, he added.
While St. Vincent and The Grenadines is a small destination fighting for market share and visibility in a very packed space, social media is changing how people choose their vacation spots and that’s working to the islands’ favour, says Beache. “So much of travelling is about bragging rights right now,” he says. “People want to be able to post their vacation pictures on Instagram and say, ‘I got to go somewhere that no one else did’.”
Right now St. Vincent and The Grenadines are gearing up for Vincy Mas, the annual carnival celebrating its 40th anniversary with a 12-day event June 30 – July 11. Chartered direct flights will be heading down for carnival and more charter flights will be available in the fall and winter months. As for who goes in first with direct scheduled flights, it’s a matter of wait and see. “Getting direct flights opens up a lot of opportunities for us,” says Beache. “It’s exciting times.”