Letter: Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry

Letter: Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry

Dear Sir:

As the heated discussion of the sale of a meagre 36 acres, or five percent, of the 681 acres of Crown land at the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area on the mainland of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to a Canadian construction company continues unabated, little notice has been paid to what should have been an equally controversial announcement, namely, a visit “… from high-ranking members of the Sandals Resort to view the property at Mount Wynne/Peter’s Hope” (Searchlight newspaper, September 27, 2016, p. 12).

This is because a Sandals resort at Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope would surely take up much more beachfront, if the other 21 Sandals Resorts International (SRI) seaside properties in the Caribbean are any example.


A typical Sandals Resort on a large expanse of white sand beach

Secured by minister of economic planning, Camilo Gonsalves, the visit was presumably solicited and financed by the government of SVG. Paying for such a trip is not an issue because funding such junkets is common in the hospitality industry. What is uncommon is the probability that upscale SRI would ever construct and operate a holiday complex on St Vincent Island (SVI). No, “uncommon” is an understatement: if Sandals built its next resort on SVI, this would be a miraculous feat reminiscent of John 20:2-29.

This piece of scripture teaches how one of the Lord’s disciples, Thomas, later known as “Doubting Thomas”, was so skeptical when he first heard that Jesus had risen from the dead that he told his fellow apostles, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Yet when Jesus later appeared and invited Thomas to touch His wounds and behold Him, this skeptic immediately renounced his disbelief by saying, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus then said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.”

Of the many interpretations of this parable, the one relevant here is that in our earthly world where we are all mere mortals — just like doubting Thomas — destined since The Fall (Genesis 3) to live in a flesh-and-blood sinful reality, it is prudent, even life preserving, to first see and then believe rather than blindly believe but never see.

But this down-to-earth exegesis only haphazardly applies to our Vincentian people, both at home and abroad, who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, continue to cling to a pre-scientific and childish belief in modern-day marvels.

This includes Argyle International Airport’s (AIA) number one self-declared politically-neutral cheerleader, Vinci Vin Samuel, who fled to the United States in 1972 to escape poverty and a lack of opportunity at home but still proudly boasts, “Yes I believe in miracles [the success of AIA] but SVG is long overdue for a developmental miracle…. All things are possible”.

No reason for placing so much faith in an AIA miracle is offered by this true believer, presumably because such a marvel would be an inexplicable act of God, just as mystifying as the absence of a wondrous event that would have allowed impoverished Vinci Vin to prosper in his beloved homeland.

What seems truly bewildering is not his belief in supernatural intervention in everyday human activity but how his belief in an AIA miracle is so irreconcilable with his proclamation that the Honourable Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves’ government has been “… incompetent and grossly negligent … in the project development, implementation and management of the AIA construction.

But I suppose that the power of belief in miracles, combined with blind nationalism, are sufficient to compel beguiled individuals to prostrate themselves before unquestionably the most “incompetent and grossly negligent” project in our history. Such also is the power of the prime minister to attract the support of “useful idiots”, the stock term for propagandists for a cause whose goals they themselves are not fully aware of – in this case, the continued reign of the Unity Labour Party riding high on the back of its proudly displayed Trojan horse at Argyle — who are used contemptuously by the leaders of that cause.

But wait, there was no delusion, earthly or heavenly, when on November 19, 2015, our “incompetent and grossly negligent” leader, surrounded by the non-doubting Thomases of our land, caused the heavens to unfurl to allow the landing of four aircraft at the partially completed AIA, surely a feat of biblical proportions!

But as exalted as his supporters see him, Dr Gonsalves is assuredly not divine even if he admitted in Parliament that “… if I am working obeah, I am working obeah for the Lord”, so he should stop blessing the rest of us – including credulous people like Vinci Vin Samuel — with empty promises of his miraculous works, including an amazing Sandals resort at Mt Wynne.

As I have already argued:

“Award-winning Sandals Resorts International (SRI), an upscale all-inclusive, globally respected, Jamaican-owned hotel chain with 15 Sandals, three Beaches, and other resorts throughout the Caribbean (Jamaica, the Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, and most recently Barbados and Grenada), would seem to be the perfect candidate for an upscale hotel and resort facility in the Mt Wynne/Peter’s Hope area. If SRI ever shows interest in investing in SVG, you can be sure that, even with all the interest-free loans, concessions, land grants, and infrastructure enhancements in the world, it would never be on our mainland” (see essay number 13 below).

Although obeahmen are reputed to do magical things, true Christian miracles originate only in Heaven: seducing Sandals into building a resort at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope would rank right up there with the Christ’s wondrous feeding of 5,000 people from just five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21).

Still, many of his supporters, together with non-supporting useful idiots like Vinci Vin, will cry that if the Comrade can compel four aircraft to land at Argyle – a modern-day miracle that should have put all the doubting Thom-asses in their damn place once and for all – getting Sandals to come to SVG would be as easy as kiss hand.

If it were only that simple. Two different governments have had no “luck” (an earthly form of heavenly miracles) over the past 25 years enticing developers to build hospitality facilities at Mt Wynne/Peters Hope except for a commitment (no one can verify) that Pace Developments, a medium-sized builder in Toronto, Canada, with no international presence, is going to construct 50 villas there over the next five years, a project not listed on its extensive Internet site.

Meanwhile, on November 8, 2016, prestigious Firefly Bequia Plantation Hotel officially launched the construction of 39 villas on 15 acres of beachfront in Bequia (Searchlight newspaper, November 22, 2016, p. 23), having promoted them on its Internet site, complete with plans and details, for weeks before.

My own earthly belief is that Dr Gonsalves carefully crafted the mainland tourism strategy understanding, more than most, the primeval mentality of our people, including those like Vinci Vin who have learning next to nothing living for over four decades in an intellectually sophisticated overseas country, and are surely now fervently praying for the prime minister to resurrect the just buried Buccament Bay resort from our growing graveyard of foolish and dishonest foreign investment adventures (see various stories in the Searchlight newspaper, Friday, December 15, 2016).

Still, the good doctor (holding a PhD from prestigious Manchester University) is no witchdoctor practicing West African black magic – indeed, like many of our closeted atheists and agnostics, he likely believes in nothing that he cannot see or prove using logic and science – even as his childlike and superstitious non-doubting flock and allied useful idiots cling tenaciously to a primitive understanding of the world, and even though he has spun the relation between foreign developers and developing countries on its head like some anti-Christian whirling dervish when he said:

“But we have to compete with other people for investment monies, you know. There’re some people who believe that St. Vincent is just there and because we love it, everybody would just love it and come and put their money in it. You have to actually go and hunt and look for the money and get people interested in the investment.”

In this earthly seeing-is-believing/look-before-you-leap world, the moneyed hunters are nearly always the foreign hospitality developers who scour the globe looking for properties that meet their high standards. The developing country’s primary role is to offer enough financial concessions (mainly cheap land and low taxes), zoning permits, and infrastructure enhancements to make these yardsticks economically feasible.

That is why no government has had to beg for God’s intervention to entice foreign developers to invest in the Grenadines, the best example being the independent and near-miraculous transformation of Mustique by the visionary developer Lord Glenconner, Colin Tennent, who purchased the rundown island in 1958 and turned it into a veritable heaven on earth for the rich and famous, a source of good employment for hundreds of our people for over five decades, and a cash cow for the government.


A heavenly Mustique infinity pool, earthly playground to the world’s elite

In the cutthroat doubting Thomas world of international tourism, seeing is believing, not the other way around.


This is the 39th in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport.

My other AIA essays are listed below:

1. Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
2. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada’s Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
3. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
5. Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
6. The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
7. Why Argyle won’t fly: Lessons from Dominica
8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
9. Airport envy Vincie-style
10. Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
11. Airport without a cause
12. The unnatural place for an international airport
13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
17. Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
18. Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
19. More proof that Argyle won’t fly
20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
22. The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
25. St Vincent’s place in the world of travel
26. Investing in St Vincent’s tourism industry
27. The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
28. Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
29. Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
31. ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
32. City lessons for Argyle International Airport
33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
34. No ticky, no washy – Argyle-style
35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
36. Hotel St Vincent 
37. Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles

C. ben-David