We’ve been bombarded with the descriptive nomenclature and regaled no end about the prospects, the opportunities and the possibilities that are out there and ours for the taking if we only put the necessary systems and facilities in place: if we only make the necessary investments – aka if we only spend the money; more of it, that is; and more, and more, and more.
The glib predictions of a utopian future underwritten by sports tourism never materialized with or beyond the intoxicating excitement of hosting Cricket World Cup 2007. The economic legacy it was supposed to bequeath us became the indebtedness we incurred for zealous and ambitious investments in hospitality accommodations – including expansions of our homes for the ostensible purpose of hosting the waves from the east of Aussies, Kiwis, Pommies, Pakis, Indians and Lankans when they found all the regularinns of ourtropical Bethlehem already packed to capacity Such was the heady overconfidence that could not have foreseen the inexorable and debilitating global economic crisis that descended on all humankind the very next year, 2008.
The legacy of Cricket World Cup 2007 lingered in large part as hugely expensive – but largely underutilized – stadia and facilities for which we could not generate activities and levels of business to recoup (or even justify) the tremendous costs associated with just opening the gates and turning on the electricity and water.
The only reason we did not suffocate in the debt that might have been associated with acquiring those venues is because they were in many cases gifted to us by the People’s Republic of China. But who can say with certainty that something similar might not befall us in other areas of tourism where we allow ourselves to be baited by hype, plunging an excessively huge and risky quantum of our fragile economic eggs into single baskets of unrealistic hope.
Might this be the story of behind the sudden desperate need to offload our cruise ship ports to a foreign investment and management company? That we simply cannot service the huge debts we took to build them, and the humongous operating costs we must bear after all that expansion, upgrade and redevelopment to accommodate bigger and bigger cruise ships that require deeper and deeper harbor dredging; longer, stronger and bigger piers and berths, while defiantly shouting “Hell, No!” at us, at the very hint of mention about increasing the passenger head tax?
China, from whom we have borrowed so heavily to finance the port redevelopment is unlikely to be in as gratis a mood as in the buildup to CWC 2007 when regional see-saw flirtations with Taiwan were more of an issue, and checkbook diplomacy was the nuke to flatten the other side of the straits. With an economy already showing signs of contraction under the pressures of a trans-Pacific tariffs war with Donald Trump’s America, Beijing is probably more insistent and unrelenting in demanding (and collecting!) every penny it is owed everywhere – including from the Browne Treasury.
And so might it go with our spanking, ultra-modern airport terminal – financed and built by China on loan terms that might be nearing (or already past) the end of their repayment moratorium. Therefore do not be surprised if an agreement is reached soon with some international airport management group (or consortium!) to remove this other crushing cost burden whose revenue requirements is surely a contributor to the airport taxes that considerably push up ticket prices and make air travel less affordable and less competitive – for the travelling public, for the airline, including and especially our own cherished LIAT.
We support, encourage and are indeed proud when our country demonstrates a bold and pioneering – even intrepid – ambition to aspire beyond its falsely assumed and foolishly accepted limitations; to punch above its weight class, so to speak. But even intrepidity must be tempered by realism and wisdom. Spending gargantuan sums in the pursuit of a dream to transform Antigua and Barbuda into a medical tourism mecca has to be stacked against a multiplicity of considerations.
Are you plunging this money into areas for which you will have a hard time achieving a competitive advantage against Mexico, for example? How many times a year will you need or be able to support kidney transplants or high-end cardiology and neurology services for which the demand might amount to only single digits in an entire year? Worse, would you have undertaken such fiscally crippling investments at the expense of your primary health care; or the prolongation of the distresses at Fiennes and Clarevue, or payments outstanding to workers for several years and the resultant industrial action that such unsettled obligations always elicit. We believe one area from which Antigua and Barbuda has been benefitting steadily over the years and stands to benefit even more is in the field of educational tourism.
Yes, we know it is a term seldom articulated to capture this vista of both functioning reality and cultivable opportunity. AUA has already demonstrated to us the impact that appreciable numbers of students, teaching and support staff can have on the local economy by way of home and vehicle rentals, shopping, etc.
It should grow – as our Prime Minister likes to say – exponentially, should the UWI Campus on Antigua become a reality. On that we’ll have much more to say in the near future.