St. Vincent & the Grenadines: Moving Mountains For Tourism
Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw
It's the Caribbean island that, quite literally, moved mountains to make it easier for tourists to discover its turquoise waters, black and white sand beaches and string of 32 unspoilt cays.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines team. L-R: Glen Beache, CEO; Shelley John, Director of Sales – Canada; and Andrew Phillips, Assistant Director of Sales – Canada.
Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority (SVGTA), told travel advisors at a destination event at Toronto’s Weston Golf Course on 7SEP that the volcanic island had no choice but to move four mountains, relocate 140 homes, a church and a cemetery to construct the island's first international airport, which opened two years ago.
It took eight years to complete the Argyle International Airport, but it was worth the effort.
Tourism has grown steadily over the past two years, and the Canadian market is among the fastest-growing, especially since ACV began directly linking YYZ to SVG in 2017, said Beache.
L-R: Lorraine Rose with Uniglobe; Pauline Witter, Marlene Peters and Christine Crump with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers; and Joanne Bratton, Flight Center Independent.
According to SVGTA statistics, stayover visitors from Canada increased 9% to 6,532 between JAN-JUL 2019 over the same period last year.
"For the first time this year, we may possibly surpass 10,000 visitors from Canada," said Beache, adding that flights are already 60% booked for the month of DEC.
An eight to 14-day length of stay is most common, and Canadians have overwhelmingly selected private homes as their place of stay, the data shows.
Hitting The Sweet Spot
Being a relatively new tourism destination, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have a strong focus on sustainability, said Beache, and delivering "a true Caribbean experience."
"When your clientele visits St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I don't want them to look around and see so many visitors there that they feel like they haven't left Canada," he said.
Beache speaking at the dinner training event.
To hit that balance between tourism and tranquility, Beache pegs the "sweet spot" for the diminutive destination at a maximum of 4,000 rooms. Right now, it's at around 2,200.
"The ideal situation is that when clients want to visit, they must be put on waiting list for Air Canada to get it, so that the flights are full but that they still have that truly Caribbean experience," Beache said.
Complementing the existing roster of small boutique hotels, several notable "big box" hotels are hitting the market in the coming years, inching the destination up to that 4,000 mark. A 250-room Marriott will open in two years on Mt Wynne, a 93-room Holiday Inn airport hotel is in the works, and a Library Hotel Collection property will open, run by the group responsible for Toronto’s Hotel X.
Carving Out A Niche
According to Beache, St. Vincent and the Grenadines cater to four niche markets: sailing and yachting, diving, adventure/eco-tourism and romance.
About 50 travel advisors came out to learn all about St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
For diving enthusiasts, it's the only Caribbean destination that offers both volcanic and coral dive sites. The main island of St. Vincent is forged from volcanic rock from the La Soufriere volcano, which last erupted in 1979, so nearby dive sites are popular for cliff diving and eyeing up small critters.
The Grenadines – the 32 outlying coral islands – offer a completely different underwater experience, great for divers on the prowl for sunken ships and sea life.
Airlift With Air Canada Rouge
In 2017, Air Canada Rouge became the first Canadian and internationally recognized airline to fly directly to St. Vincent. What started out as seasonal flights garnered so much success that the route was made year-round as of 2018 and now flies twice a week during the winter months aboard an Airbus A319.
Juan Contreras, Area Sales Manager with Air Canada Vacations and Tony Celio, Manager, Speciality Sales with Air Canada.
Connections are also possible via Barbados or Port of Spain with Air Canada Rouge, with transfers by a regional airline.
Away-From-It-All Hotel Options
Two hoteliers were on hand to share information about their respective hotels.
Young Island Resort is one of three private properties that occupies an entire island (the others are Palm and Petit).
GM Bianca Porter told agents that it's a 3-minute ride via sea from mainland St. Vincent with a 24 hour on-demand ferry service for guests. Young Island Resort offers 29 Caribbean beachside or hillside cottages, some with private plunge pool.
Representing Bequia Beach Hotel was Jennica Mortstedt, whose father discovered St. Vincent in the early 90s, fell in love, and returned two decades later to build a holiday home that started as a little villa and eventually became what it is today: a family owned and operated 28-room luxury resort.
L-R: Elisa Ossia with Travel Agent Next Door; Georgia Rakopoulos, Maggie Osorio and Ethel Hansen Davey with Uniglobe; and Dolly Sandler with Peerless Travel.
Bequia Hotel is located on the island of the same name, accessible by a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland. For an especially exclusive experience, Bequia has a luxury private 9-seater aircraft for VIP transfers from Barbados.
You won't find televisions in either of these resorts, a common trend on the island (although there is Wi-Fi throughout the properties) -- the better to digitally detox and enjoy the volcanic splendour of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Anna Kroupina Journalist
Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.