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Senior tourism official ‘embarrassed’ over long delay in airport opening

airpoKINGSTOWN, St. Vincent--Tourism Authority Chief Executive Officer Glen Beache says changing dates for the completion of the EC $700 million (One EC dollar=US $0.37) Argyle International Airport is proving to be a challenge for negotiating with airlines.

"Honestly speaking, it can be embarrassing. [I'm – Ed.] not going to lie about that, because obviously airlines make their itinerary at least a year in advance," Beache said.

The Argyle International Airport, which was initially scheduled to open in 2011, has missed several completion deadlines and Beache, a former tourism minister, told a news conference that the latest operational date given to him by the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC), which is building the airport, is October this year.

Beache said that over the past three years British Airways has sent at least two teams for first-hand visits regarding the completion of the airport.

"We've been on their radar for a while," he said, adding that Virgin, which also services the United Kingdom market, "has sought us out on a few issues that they would like to see taken care of and see how we can help them and so on."

He said Virgin has changed its marketing strategy, trying to fill the front, rather than the rear of their aircraft and that the airline is more interested in attracting high-end passengers, which suits the Vincentian destination.

"Since they have done that, they have shown a lot more interest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines than previously," Beache said.

"I mean, it hinders, because they have to push back where their planes have to be and how they want to do it," he said of the impact of the delays in completion of the airport on airlines interested in flying to the new airport.

"There is interest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but we need to make sure that we are ready and that we get it right from the start – our customer service is up, Customs, Immigration, our baggage-handling, all of these things.

"This is a new frontier for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Running Argyle International Airport is not going to be the same thing as running ET Joshua," he said.

Beache added that the date he gave for the completion of the airport was based on information from the IADC.

"... that was the date I was given, so that was the date I quoted as the completion of the airport, and that's what I have to go to the airlines with," he said in an apparent reference to the December 31, 2014, completion date.

Beache responded to commentators who had chastised him over a statement he made last year about the negotiations with the airlines being an eye opener for him. "Some people took me to task on this. I make no apologies for it. I think one of the things we have to learn in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is that we are not all experts on everything. And [in – Ed.] everything, we continue to learn," he said.

Beache said the Boyd Group International is assisting with the marketing of the airport.

"We have to understand certain things with the airlines. It is simply this – and I will repeat it again, because certain people seem not to like the fact that I said it: Airlines do not owe St. Vincent and the Grenadines anything, just like cruise lines don't owe us anything.

"They are not coming in here unless they can make a profit. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has no record of international travel because we have never had an international airport, so therefore it is a risk coming into St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a risk that the airlines would not take solely and wholly.

"Of course we are going to subsidise them. Part of the negotiations is how we subsidise them. How much of it is revenue guarantee, how much of it is market support," he said. ~ Caribbean360 ~

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