St Helena Online

Thirty thousand tourists? Don’t count on it, says Bernice

The councillor in charge of tourism on St Helena has voiced doubts about whether the island’s hopes for the industry will be realised.

Bernice Olsson also admitted that she did not vote in favour of the airport that is being relied on to give the island a meaningful economy. But she said she now realised that St Helena could not go on as it had.

In an interview with SAMS radio, she said: “I got to be careful here what I say because I’m the chairperson of tourism.

“Tourism will come, but I don’t think it will come in the numbers we are predicting.”

She cited comments made by cruise passengers who toured the island after waiting a day to be allowed ashore by the captain of the MSC Sinfonia.

“All the tourists that I spoke to said, ‘Beautiful island but we will never come back. You are just pulling this beautiful island apart” – an apparent reference to the airport construction and proposed tourism developments.

Bernice said: “I know we need new money into this island, but I didn’t even vote for the airport because I felt that we could just carry on like we are doing now, more or less, but it’s not working.

“But I don’t want to see [a large] amount of tourists coming into the island.

“I think I heard a quote of 30,000 a year. I think I could cope with that.”

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  • Amazing … To me this looks like a plane trying to take off while the pilot is hitting the brakes with both feet. With all due respect, but I have never heard that someone has been appointed Director of a Tourist Office when she/he is not supporting the envisaged goals, voted against the airport,

    I full heartedly support the conservation of St.Helena’s unique character. But now that an airport – with a short runway – is being built, it seems to be logical to make the best out of it.
    There is no easy way to make it a success. A combination of several things has to be the answer.

    1. Even in difficult times, there are plenty of well heeled FIT travelers ready to discover new destinations. The National Geographic Magazine type of readers, Lindblad customers etc.
    Then there are the package tour customers who book with tour operators, mainly study tours or round-the-world. They usually arrive in groups of 12-20 persons.
    Then the young backpacker/globetrotter generation, which will seek private accommodation. on the Island.
    And last but not least the local residents of St.Helena. The airport will be their lifeline and they will regularly use the flights, of course.

    2. I suppose that after the big investment in the airport, the Government has no desire to subsidize the flights once RMS St.Helena is discontinued. All efforts therefore must be made, to make the flights to St.Helena as attractive and profitable as possible for the airline(s). Reducing risks.
    Cooperation is the magic word. Cooperation between airlines, all feeding passengers on to the same airplane. The tools are through fares, seat allotments, code sharing, frequent flyer programs, stopover packages.

    3. Point to point flights are nice and good, but they limit the airline to passengers who just want to travel to St.Helena. If instead, St. Helena is placed as a stop in the middle of an international route across the South Atlantic, the airline can sell additional seats to passengers using the flight only between the two end points. I had already mentioned earlier, that in my opinion Cape Town – St.Helena – Rio de Janeiro would be a formidable route. Boeing 737-700 can fly NONSTOP Rio – St.Helena. Westbound runway limitations would most probably make a short refueling stop necessary on Ascension Island.
    If e.g. a weekend flight is operated nonstop Rio-St Helena, a midweek flight could also fly Rio-Ascension-St.Helena, such securing local round trip flights between the island for residents and cargo.
    Only one (!) carrier e.g. British Airways/Comair could actually operate the flights, but additional airlines e.g. TAM/LAN, Air France and others, could support those flights from both ends under own code share flight numbers, thus further reducing the risk. A two class configuration with an enhanced business class would address both markets. Just a few code share example out of many more could be::
    British Airways
    London-Cape Town-St.Helena
    Cape Town-St.Helena-Rio
    Air France
    Rio-St.Helena-Cape Town

    4. I hear Ascension Island is the problem. Military base etc. Well, this problem has to be addressed and solved. It is difficult to imagine, that no arrangements can be made to accommodate 2 or 3 arrivals per week with a limited number of local passengers, mainly Saints living or working on Ascension. Ascension should be the solution to St.Helena’s too short runway problem – and not another problem !

    5. I fully understand, that hotel investors are keen to learn, what kind of air transportation will be offered. It is not too early to hear from airlines what they need and what they can offer.

    I have experienced similar projects in the past, like Loftleidir Airlines flying from Luxembourg via Iceland to New York or LAN Chile flying from Santiago to Tahiti via Easter Island.

    With just 2 (!) round trips per week, 4 arrivals on St. Helena with approximately 100 disembarking passengers at each arrival are possible,(not counting those additional passengers flying only directly between Rio and Cape Town).
    4 x 100 = 400 x 53 weeks = roughly 20.000 arrivals per year, of which the majority would be tourists.

    I find this a most fascinating project !

  • This island is on the up – those that sit back and want it to remain as it is – funded by UK tax payers – are going to be left behind. But perhaps they are quietly hedging their bet and preparing?
    But letting on.

  • Indeed. However, it should be said that Bernice acknowledged the island could not stay as it was and said she had accepted this. Unfortunately, another media report contained an incomplete quote that left out this fact and created a different impression.

  • The airport will transform St Helena and give it the hope of making its way in the world. It is an island with both problems and blessings, and the airport is likely to have an effect on both; there are genuine and widespread concerns about the changes it will bring to the island’s culture. It is easy for those of us who have grown up outside the island to embrace the airport idea, but it is our culture, or a version of it, that will be imposed on St Helena by economic pressure. Many feel the Saints will be sidelined on their own island.

  • I see no contradiction between opening to the world and conserving the island’s character. The airport will soon be considered to be a blessing for the population. Think alone how fast patients then can be flown to the mainland for further treatment. Or how urgent supplies can be flown in. How fast mail arrives. Not to mention money spending tourists.

    Maybe there are too many concerns at the moment, and they should be addressed. Growth can and should be monitored.

    Even if initially only flights from/to South Africa should be offered, the minimum however should be 2 flights per week. Many visitors do not have the time and/or the desire to stay a full week. They would stay away..

    And until the Ascension problem can be solved, maybe the British and US Air Force have a suitable plane stationed there, that can be fitted to carry a few civilian passengers and establish an air bridge Ascension – St.Helena – Ascension to connect the Saints on both islands.

    For anything less than that. it would not make sense to build an airport.

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