The proposed public-private partnership (PPP) of the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) has been described as excellent for the country, since it is expected to aid with the modernization and expansion of the island’s airport.
This is according to Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Kerrie Symmonds, who spoke with the media on Wednesday, after he led off a Local Investors’ Conference on the PPP at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Two Mile Hill, St. Michael.
PPPs are generally used by governments to fund public infrastructure projects through contractual engagements with private entities for their mutual benefit for an allotted period of time.
“We have to remember that the airport is the first experience and … the last experience,” the Minister said, adding that the airport was built in 1976 with a carrying capacity of 1,200 people, but currently accommodates up to 1,600 persons in its terminal during the island’s peak tourist season.
“It makes for an unbearable experience in terms of the comfort of the passenger. It also doesn’t work well for the country because we have not been able to put in place those things that make a passenger who is in the terminal feel inclined to spend a little bit of money,” he said.
The Tourism Minister lamented that Barbados has not been able to capitalize on the volume of persons passing through its airport terminal, and is consequently missing out on earning significant non-aeronautical revenue.
“So, we are not getting the revenue even though we have the people there because we simply really do not have the space, and the space we do have allocated we do not use well for commercial purposes, which is where the non-aeronautical revenue comes in,” he further explained.
Describing the project at GAIA as “excellent for the country”, the International Transport Minister said the airport expansion was long overdue, and stressed that it was necessary so Barbados could benefit financially from its airport.
He said a public-private partnership was the only real funding option Government could consider, since the country is under an IMF programme.
“The reality is there has been no investment in it (the airport) and now that we have come to crisis stage, in my view, the country really can’t afford to do it because Government is not in the position to go and get a loan. We have to prioritize those areas where we can raise money, in fact, we are not able to raise any money because we are in the IMF programme …. So, the reality is there is only one way of doing this, which is to go to the investing community and say to them, ‘operate this for us over a period of 30 years’. You have a chance to have a return on your investment, but at the same time there are some things we want to see as benefits to the people of Barbados, so when it is returned to the people of Barbados, they have a … more developed and better maintained airport…,” he explained.
Some of the developments that the successful awardee of the PPP would be expected to undertake include an upper second floor over the departure terminal; the installation of three boarding bridges; better administrative and office space to accommodate port health, immigration, and other airport workers; upgrading the airport to be a universally accessible facility; and more eating facilities and commercial shopping space for big and small businesses.
“So, the transformation of the whole thing is what is critical…. So, it is really about bringing Grantley Adams [International Airport] into the 21st century,” Minister Symmonds emphasized.