Hon. Andrew Fahie says that since he became Premier he has had a change of position as it relates to airport development in order to improve the Territory’s airlift capability.
The subject of airlift was broached at a town hall meeting with cruise line executives on 2 October. The conversation was raised by a resident who questioned the possibility of the British Virgin Islands becoming a homeport for cruise ships.
In responding to the question Sandra Weir, the VP of Destination Development and Government Relations for Norwegian Cruise Line explained that such an undertaking would require proper hotels and airlift.
Weir told the enquiring resident: “We need airlift, that is your most important thing. Being a homeport, you need airlift. You need good hotels for the people to stay in, because they do want to come in a day or two before, everybody is worried about missing their ship. They want to make sure they are here and with plenty of time they want to explore the islands, they need some good land background; so if you need to work on anything you need to lengthen those runways,” she explained.
The Norwegian cruise line representative further questioned why the Territory was not in a position to accept direct flights from the United Kingdom: “Christine and I have been saying the whole time why don’t we see direct flights from the UK here, because we have all been getting a lot of UK customers. You create that demand. You get them here and we will come pick them up, but we need to rely on you to create that,” Weir said.
Incidentally, earlier this month: in the Cayman Islands, plans for a $200 million cruise berthing facility were heavily criticised as they would increase the annual figure of cruise ship visitors to over two and a half million (2,500,000) which is deemed by many as an unsustainable volume of tourists. In December 2018 the Cayman government received “formal financial commitments” from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corporation to help build the planned cruise berthing facilities in George Town. This was viewed by many with skepticism then, and more so now.
Meanwhile in the BVI, the question and response on the subject of expansion attracted a comment from Premier and Minister for Finance, Hon. Fahie who explained that since taking office he has been pondering the matter of how to improve the airlift situation in the Territory.
In noting where he now stands on the subject Hon. Fahie said that he has been encouraged by more than one group to improve the airlift situation and attract larger hotels in the Territory: “I am so glad that you mentioned about the airlift, because that has been one of the areas the cruise lines have been stressing. Also, in terms of larger hotels they have been stressing that, also in the financial services industry with economic substance coming on, they have been stressing that. As you know we are moving towards medical schools they have been stressing that,” Hon. Fahie said.
In previous discussions on the subject of airlift the topic of airport runway expansion often comes up and over recent years there has been a split among residents as it relates to those who are for and those who are against such development.
The BVI Premier admitted that he was one of the people who was not very convinced prior to the election that the airport development needed to take place now: “I just want to let people know that it is a conversation that we have to have. I know that for some it is not a topic that some want to hear; and I must admit that as Premier when I ran I was 40 percent for it and 60 percent against.”
However, Hon. Fahie said that his position has now changed based on the evidence for the development that he has seen.
“We would discuss it and look about the pros and cons of it for our economy, but I am glad that it came up… not from me; but I needed to piggyback on it to let you know that all of the industries are pointing in this direction, so it is a conversation very soon that we must have,” the Premier added.
Pundits feel that the BVI has first and foremost to go through substantial and tangible recovery, financially, socially and infrastructurally before considering major plans and investments like airport expansion. Foreign investors building huge hotels has been proven to be partly beneficial to the BVI because the profits go abroad and the staff often consists of imported labour while BV Islanders are on the dole. Books on the subject have been written by Dr. Michael O’Neal (2012) and Dr. Pierre Encontre (1989).