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Airport can help island to independence

Mar 18 2012 16:07 Carin Smith

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Cape Town – Sustainable development will form the basis of opportunities that arise on St Helena island ahead of its first air link with the rest of the world.

This also applies to development of its tourism sector, which is expected to benefit the most from the link.

The island is currently visited by about 2 000 tourists a year. These will be restricted to 30 000 a year, or around 600 a week, once the island’s first airport is completed in 2015.

An aircraft like a Boeing 737 or Airbus A319 will be able to land there and a free-skies policy will probably be adopted.

This means any aircraft will be able to fly there. The purpose of the restriction on tourist numbers is to preserve the island’s unique ecosystem, as well as its image as an exclusive and exotic destination.

South African construction company Basil Read is building the airport about 14km outside the capital Jamestown, and the flying time from South Africa or Namibia will be about four hours. As part of the airport project a new road is to be constructed.

The island can currently be reached only by boat and the Royal Mail Ship St Helena visits it every three weeks or so after a five-day voyage from Cape Town.

The island’s development agency recently announced a new investment policy both to attract investors and provide fairness and transparency.

In the 2000s the island’s average gross domestic product grew only 0.7%. The British government and foreign donors are currently supporting the island financially.

This is necessary because of the lack of significant exports, a large decline in population, poor growth in productivity and low levels of consumer spending.

The public sector is the island’s biggest employer and involves insignificant construction, with fishing and tourism activity.

With a view to the anticipated economic growth that the airport might bring, the authorities in St Helena – which is still a so-called British foreign territory – decided systematically to reduce their involvement and allow the private sector to grow.

According to the development plan, opportunities that tourism growth holds for the private sector include the building and management of a couple of hotels, good quality restaurants and additional tourist activities.

For instance, a British investment group is planning a hotel, a number of holiday homes and an 18-hole golf course. The airport will also offer increased export opportunities, such as for fish and coffee.

Mike Dean, the head of tourist development on St Helena, said the airport and proactive efforts to expand the tourism industry and develop the economy may enable St Helena to manage without foreign financial assistance by 2022.

“Now is the right time for investors to identify opportunities on the island ahead of the airport’s completion. More people will need to be drawn to the island if economic growth is to happen,” he said.

- St Helena, which extends over 122km², is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on earth, as it does not lie on an international shipping route.

- Its nearest neighbour is Ascension Island, 1 100km to the north west, while the coast of Brazil is 4 900km away and Walvis Bay harbour in Namibia and Cape Town are 1 900km and 2 400km away respectively.

- The Portuguese discovered the island in 1502. In 1673 it was handed to the London East Indian Company and in 1834 given to the British authority.

- In October 1815 France’s Napoleon Bonaparte, then 46 years old, arrived on the island as a prisoner, where he remained until his death in 1821.

- The capital, Jamestown, has about 840 inhabitants and the island as a whole about 4 000.

- The island has more than 400 unique indigenous species of fauna and flora.

- Ten full-time farmers mostly keep cows and pigs on a small scale and many inhabitants grow vegetables for personal consumption.

- Most of the food has to be imported and a small quantity of frozen fish (mainly tuna), is exported to Europe.

- There are no restrictions on land ownership.

- The 300-odd micro enterprises on the island employ 45% of the labour force.

- A database of businesses is available on www.shda.co.sh/business_directory.php and info on tourism on www.sthelenatourism.com.
airport  |  development
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