By Dickson Igwe, Contributor
For the working and middle Class, British Virgin Islands traveler, with a US Visa, or US Citizenship, there is no substitute to the air travel mini hub, Cyril E King International Airport, Charlotte Amalie.
The airport, sitting in St Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, is the first port of call for international travel, for most residents of the BVI.
For the US citizen and US resident, entry into the British Virgin Islands is quite simple. The American visitor to the BVI can fly to St Thomas United States Virgin Islands, from any number of American cities.
Then the traveler is able to take a short and pleasant ferry ride to the West End or Road Town.
The British Virgin Islands are a ferry ride away from the world’s most powerful airline network. That is excellent for commerce and tourism.
However, that ferry service across a delightful sea channel has great room for improvement. BVI ferry services will benefit from, improved dock infrastructure, greater innovation, and better scheduling.
There is an additional and critical gap, and one that must be plugged: BVI ferries should run late night, up and until midnight to and from the USVI.
Clearly, improving ferry services is the way to go to increase travel and passenger traffic into the BVI from the USVI. It will also save BVI residents inconvenience.
Better ferry services should be a top priority. Cash spent on an improved ferry infrastructure will be money well spent.
Now, make no mistake, this Old Boy for over ten years, was in support of extending the runway at Beef Island’s Terrance B Lettsome International Airport, to cater for large aero planes.
He has had time to assess his own past ideas about the airport extension proposal. He is still in support of the project. However he has caveats.
The way to go about the construction of the new runway is a ‘very hot political topic’.
OK. There are three factors that must be taken into account for this traveler and writer. With big infrastructure developments there are three economic imperatives to consider.
One: will the construction, the whole duration of the work, create local jobs, local business opportunities, and thereby stimulate demand in the local economy?
Two: what will be the environmental impact of the project?
Three: will the finished product create job and economic growth in the short, medium, and long term?
The answers to these three preceding questions should provide illumination.
The three questions are a light in the darkness surrounding the viability of the airport project, and whether or not the runway extension proposal offers short to long term benefits.
It is accepted that the airport at Beef Island is crucial for Caribbean travelers to and from various Caribbean destinations; this, notwithstanding the terrible scheduling of one major Caribbean Carrier that leaves much to be desired.
The Caribbean connection alone is reason for Beef Island airport development.
The airport also links travelers to airports in the Caribbean such as St Martin’s Princess Juliana, Antigua’s VC Bird International, and Puerto Rico’s Luis Munoz Marin, that access US and European capital cities.
The airport is furthermore a necessity for the billionaire class of investor that visits these islands periodically, some who have taken up residence here. The airport is ideal for the private jet aircraft of the 1%.
But these investors should contribute financially to the airport development. That is fair and reasonable.
There is a case for developing charter flights that use large jets flying into the British Virgin Islands from large cities in the hemisphere and elsewhere, to channel in guests for specific purposes: sailing and yachting regattas, business conferences, Lobster fests, and so on and so forth.
However this depends on the BVI possessing the requisite infrastructure to attract these high spending guests who will fly in much more expensively, but directly, from key American and European cities.
For the rest, and that means the majority, the US working and middle class traveler, and native travelers and residents of these British Virgin Islands, the airport at Charlotte Amalie remains the only true option to obtain value for money.
In fact studies have shown that middle class visitors are more important for a country’s tourism product than the 1%.
Taking the ferry to Charlotte Amalie allows the Virgin Islander and Virgin Islands resident access to the world via US air hubs such as John F Kennedy Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare, and the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartfield Jackson.
Cyril E King further caters for flights to Miami International Airport, and a host of secondary US airports with global connections.
These global hubs are a relatively short airline flight away from Cyril E King. From those airports, the Virgin Islands traveler can fly anywhere on earth.
The US has the greatest aviation network in the world. That is a reality that will not change tomorrow.
It will always be cheaper traveling to the USA via St Thomas for Virgin Islands residents. Puerto Rico may be another option, but it is an airplane flight away.
Then, there is the longer drive to Beef Island especially from the western end of Tortola.
Road Town Ferry Dock is central for citizens and residents who reside east, central, and west Tortola.
Consequently, the question must be asked: would it not be better for Virgin Islands travel and tourism to invest tax payer money into building a wide and sturdy bridge from Tortola and Virgin Gorda, to Charlotte Amalie?
This should be a massive piece of political and economic engineering that totally links both islands.
That ‘giant bridge’ to and from Charlotte Amalie is of course a metaphorical construct. It is an analogy. It is imaginary.
The bridge in this story refers to greatly improved transport, administrative, tourism, and economic links that will be more beneficial to these British Isles than to the United States Virgin Islands.
Ease of access from St Thomas into the BVI and vice versa will be good for both territory’s economies.
Both territories must cooperate. It is called economies of scale: the combining of resources, human and physical, of both jurisdictions, to benefit both economies.
US visitors to the BVI from St Thomas are the type who will most probably spend cash with local and native businesses.
The BVI does not have major resort chains that cater for international travelers such as are found on St Thomas.
Most guests from Charlotte Amalie will stay in accommodations that exist on these Islands: villas, and small hotels.
An increase in travelers visiting from the USVI will increase cash flow and tourism revenues in the BVI.
In the USVI, most tourism businesses such as large hotels and resorts are owned by businesses that sit on the US mainland.
The native US Virgin Islander is more likely to be an employee than an owner.
Placing a BVI welcome desk at Charlotte Amalie, with customs and immigration services, that allow US guests swift clearance, and then barrier free access and travel, once in the British Virgin Islands, should increase the number of
US guests visiting BVI shores. That can only be good for the country’s bottom line.
This should be supported by late night ferry services subsidized by government.
Imagine arriving at Charlotte Amalie late in the evening and being able to catch an 11 pm ferry to Road Town after customs and immigration clearance at Charlotte Amalie Airport with shuttle bus to the ferry docks. Arriving at West End and Road Town and meeting only a security check for illegal weapons?
In fact, there may be a case for similar type of comprehensive administrative services at the USVI ferry docks at Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie.
That is the type of bridge this traveler speaks of.
The time is long past for the recognition of the great benefits of close cooperation and collaboration between the two Virgin Islands territories: British and USA.
Geography and history dictate that the peoples of both jurisdictions stand to gain from closer economic and social collaboration.
Build a bridge or dig a tunnel connecting both territories: it will be well worth the effort.
Connect with Dickson Igwe on Facebook and Twitter: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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