An alternative north-south air-link and better facilities for tourism development surfaced at the Falkland Islands candidates debate ahead of 7 November General Election during the FIRS/Penguin News press conference earlier this week.
At the question and answer sessions where candidates were seen in two separate groups, each was asked: “What would you see as being a vital development to promote the growth of the tourism industry in the Falklands?
In the first group Mike Summers said, “without a doubt the one thing that could change tourism in a positive fashion is the introduction of another north/south air link.”
He said a lot of properly directed work needed to go into getting that into place and having such a communication was the only way to significantly increase numbers of tourists for both land based and cruise vessel passenger exchanges. He added that for him it was a “critical development.”
Barry Elsby agreed, noting that other industries, “will still be in the Islands after the oil has disappeared, so we need to look after existing industries and develop them”.
Links both air and sea were vitally important, agreed Gavin Short, noting that with Argentina still dictating how many LAN flights come into the Falklands they were controlling the pace at which development could take place.
Lynda Buckland drew attention to the recent production by the RDS of a map showing attractions and facilities available Island wide, “more of this sort of thing is required,” she said.
The second group was asked the same question with Teslyn Barkman arguing that what was being focused on, particularly by the Tourist Board itself involved appealing to large countries like China or America and trying to get large cruise ships to come in, she said.
“We work very hard when they are in, but a lot of our facilities can’t cope with the volume of people that arrive. I think we should be focusing on smaller group tourism that would promote sustained businesses for longer throughout the season, which would give the visitor a better experience”.
“It’s a chicken and egg situation,” said Jan Cheek. “We’re going out spending a lot of money on the promotion of the Islands, but have we got the facilities here yet to cope with a great influx if we get it?”
Ms Cheek said she wasn’t aware of all the details, but she understood there was some sort of investigation going on into the way the tourism money was being spent. “I really think we should be concentrating on increasing the facilities and then bringing more people in,” she said.
John Birmingham said that £800,000 had been budgeted for overseas promotion this year. “That’s a lot of money,” he added. What he could deduce from the statistics was that the number of genuine land based tourists had been static for a number of years.
Phyl Rendell agreed with Jan Cheek saying that as a Camp candidate she thought ways of enabling people to access money to upgrade accommodation needed to be looked into. It was really important that government was seen to be reaching out to help these people she said.
Birmingham agreed that the state of the Camp infrastructure was, “quite fragile,” and that those businesses needed assistance.
Responding to the suggestion that businesses should in fact be approaching FIDC or Government rather than the other way around, Ms Rendell said it was her understanding that those who had, had found the process too bureaucratic.
Norman Besley-Clark flagged up the need for an additional air link to service different regions and eliminate the need to travel through South America.
He suggested rewarding the cruise lines which made extra effort to fulfill their itinerary with a discount on landing fees or a similar bonus, which could prove beneficial to all concerned.