(THE TELEGRAPH) – It has been a project 20 years in the planning with a number of false starts, but a redevelopment of St Lucia’s international airport is finally underway, according to the minister for tourism, Dominic Fedee.
The Hewanorra airport on the Eastern Caribbean island currently operates a single terminal for both domestic and international arrivals and departures and it can get chronically overcrowded on busy weekends. The plans, which will cost in excess of $100 million (£76.7m), include expansion of the existing terminal and construction of a new terminal with state-of-the-art facilities, including air-conditioning, restaurants, shops and executive lounges.
“We have maxed the current capacity of the airport,” says Fedee, “and the expansion project is in keeping with the broader plan to expand the room stock. We want to double the room stock in St Lucia over the next 15 years and a lot of the investment we have in the pipeline suggests that we could have an additional 2,000 rooms in the next eight years, and that would represent nearly a 50 per cent increase on the 4,500 rooms we currently have.”
Sandals has already announced plans to open a fourth property on the island, a six-star resort comprising 350 suites and rooms on 19 acres next to Sandals Grande St Lucian resort in Gros Islet in the North of the Island, which is set to open in December 2019. Fairmont have chosen the area of Choiseul on St Lucia’s southwestern coast to open their second Caribbean resort (their first being the Royal Pavilion in Barbados), which will include 120 rooms and 40 private villas and is scheduled to open in early 2020; while AMResorts, a subsidiary of the US company Apple Leisure Group will bring two of its luxury all-inclusive resort brands to the island the same year, marking its entry into St Lucia.
“St Lucia is transitioning from a three-star destination to a five-star destination,” explains Fedee, “and we need an international airport to support that.”
At the moment St Lucia receives 386,000 passengers annually, with nearly 70,000 of those arrivals from the UK. With the new airport the government hopes to expand this number to more than a million a year.
“Tourism accounts for 65 per cent of our economy. It pays for our roads, our schools, our hospitals. It makes sense for us to nurture this,” says Fedee.
Previous governments have attempted the expansion but have historically struggled to raise the finance. “It’s a very delicate balance to arrange financing for such a mega project for an island the size of St Lucia and this administration has finally achieved it,” says Fedee.
Last year the government implemented a $35 (£27) airport development tax on each arrival, which has been ring-fenced to finance a loan from the Taiwanese government. “The Taiwanese are providing a lot of technical support and we are being guided by their expertise and knowhow,” Fedee explains. The construction of the project is currently out to tender with work scheduled to begin in the first quarter of next year with the aim of being fully operational in the third quarter of 2020.
Judith Milne originally from Worcestershire has lived in St Lucia for three years as managing director of the boutique East Winds Resort. She welcomes news of the expansion and hopes it will put the experience of arriving at the island on a par with that of other larger Caribbean islands. “The new airport will mean a new streamlined experience for international passengers coming to St Lucia,” she says. “The airport currently has one small terminal building and at times of several flights landing at once the queues can be long and take a long time to get through.”
British Airways are one of three UK operators to fly into St Lucia, along with Virgin Atlantic and TUI. “We operate a daily flight from Gatwick to Hewanorra – one of 12 destinations that we fly to in the Caribbean. St Lucia is a popular destination, and our customers love its extraordinary natural beauty, with its lush rainforests and volcanic peaks,” a spokesperson said.