With the United Kingdom's post-Brexit phase starting officially on February 1, 2020, outspoken pastor of the New Life Baptist Church in Duffs Bottom, Tortola, Mr John I. Cline said the Virgin Islands should now focus on improving local industries with the aim of securing its future, as the UK severs ties with the European Union.
"Tourism should be strengthened, and I believe that there's some efforts being made to strengthen our tourism product. It's a shame that for the last some twenty years, thirty years, the only new product we had is Scrub [Island Resort]... while the rest of the Caribbean is full speed ahead showing up their tourism product," Bishop John I. Cline said on the Tuesday, January 28, 2020, edition of the My BVI radio show.
Strengthing VI for BREXIT
Along with co-host, Dr Albert L. Thompkins, and former Mrs BVI, Angelle A. Cameron, the discussion surrounded the possible implications of BREXIT on the VI and how the Virgin Islands should react.
According to Bishop Cline, with or without Brexit, the Territory ought to be thinking about ways to create more revenue streams that support the main financial services pillar.
"I was not one of those who was a great advocate for the airport in the past, but I have the right to change my mind," he said.
Mr Cline continued, "I felt that the previous government, they were nor fiscally responsible, we were not getting the information that we needed to make a proper public decision, in terms of why this is necessary with financial services on the decline."
Further, he said the National Democratic Party's (NDP) budget was increasing; however, yearly income continued to decline, "Who is going to pay for it? Tell us something, we are intelligent voters!" the man of the cloth charged.
Direct Flights to Miami
According to Bishop Cline, with past tourism projects under NDP, like its Anegada airport expansion project in particular, everything was being outsourced, "it was a concern, but these days when you see what's happening in Grenada, you can fly from Miami to Grenada."
He said just about every Caribbean island has direct flights to the US, with the exception of the Virgin Islands (VI) which is hampering the industry.
"And even though people are still coming, I believe that it would be a great asset to our tourism product and make it more even attractive, doing business outside of the tourism industry," he said.
Change of Heart
Back in 2016, Bishop Cline threw a wet blanket on the much-touted airport expansion that was extensively pushed by the then Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr D. Orlando Smith and the Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr Kedrick D. Pickering.
“There is a lot of talk about the airport, I am definitely not in favour of the airport, right now,” Bishop Cline said on the talk show Vigilate Dialog, hosted by Shaina M. Smith.
According to Bishop Cline, the then airport project is one that should be put on the back burner until such time that the Territory’s finances are in a better standing.
“I think for our tourist product what we need is a good concierge service. We meet them in St Thomas, when they get off that plane we rent a nice little lounge in St Thomas, we put them in there. The government invests in two wonderfully air-conditioned running on-time ferries with proper management,” Bishop Cline said back then.
Direct flights within a year
Premier and Minister of Fiannce, Honourable Andrew A. Fahie (R1), has previously said the VI would maximise “what is there” before thinking about lengthening the runway, which he said remains an ongoing discussion.
Speaking to Government Information Service (GIS) on December 20, 2019 on the occasion of the historic landing at the Terrance B. International Airport of the Titan Airways Airbus a318 that had completed a flight from Canada directly to the Virgin Islands, Premier Fahie disclosed that the BVI Airports Authority (BVIPA) was in discussions with airlines with aircrafts such as the size of the Airbus a318 to make direct flights, with possible flights from the VI to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and then to Miami, USA, with a direct flight on return to the VI, “And some going from here straight to Miami and back.”
“So we are going to maximise what we have, to provide airlift from the VI to Canada, the US and other parts of the world,” Hon Fahie had said.
The Premier had also said the Virgin Islands would realise such flights within a year, adding that the expected increase in airlifts, particularly to Canada and the United States, would help to boost the VI’s tourism product, “it’s going to help our economy, it’s going to help diversify our economy in many ways.”