St Mary gets ready

by Jun 30, 2022Pulse

Cookshop operator Audley Kidd can’t wait to introduce Jamaica, through its food, to visitors who arrive at the Ian Fleming International Airport (IFIA). He has a reputation, in Oracabessa — the closest town to the airport, for serving up mouth-watering turn cornmeal; stir-fry vegetables with saltfish, hearty porridge; roasted potato and yam.

“I hope for the better and I wish I could see more people coming in through the airport. But right now I kinda feel good to know it open and people start coming in. I hope that the local people will benefit,” he told the Jamaica Observer’s from his rustic place of business during a recent visit.

Audley Kidd prepares one of his mouth-watering meals. (Photo: Horace Mills)

Kidd is among those hoping to capitalise on the airport’s official addition to the country’s gateways that together bring in millions of visitors from around the globe. Opened in January 2011, the IFIA finally welcomed its first scheduled international commercial flight 11 years later, on June 16. Onboard the interCaribbean Airways flight were 30 travellers from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. Less than a week later, Quality Corporate Aircraft Services (QCAS) Aero made its inaugural flight from Florida. The Miami-based carrier intends to operate a first-class charter service into IFIA from Fort Lauderdale each Thursday with plans to move to scheduled flights in December.

The national importance of the airport, located a mere 15 kilometres from the north coast resort town of Ocho Rios, is unquestionable. Previously known as Boscobel Aerodrome, it will become a lot busier in November when American Airlines begins twice-weekly flights from Miami.

Constant traffic at the airport is the realisation of a dream by late tourism mogul Gordon “Butch” Stewart and Robert Montague, the Member of Parliament for St Mary Western, the constituency in which the airport is located.

Stewart, the founder of the world-renowned Sandals Resorts and the Jamaica Observer, had, in 2013, argued strenuously that the airport was one of the “low-hanging fruits” that Jamaica could pick with not a great deal of effort, and little money, in order to stem “the never-ending spiral of borrowing to pay off its debt, while not earning enough to invest in development”.

At the time he suggested that the first investment project that the Jamaican Government could tackle immediately was extending the runway at IFIA which, he said, had “all the ingredients for stimulating the economy”.

Quality Corporate Aircraft Services (QCAS) Aero touches down its inaugural flight from Florida into IFIA. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

With flights finally coming in, St Mary residents are now eager to see just how much the airport will change their lives.  

Edward Wright, who lives at Tower Isle a few miles away from the landing strip, showed a house he intends to convert into a bed and breakfast.

“The flights coming in are good for development… I heard about it for a while now and I am really glad to be witnessing it,” he said excitedly. 

“We are thinking about capitalising on it. I am going to do some refurbishing and then I advertise,” he added.

Across from the smooth asphalt street that leads to the airport, Marie Douglas manages a residential property. The plan has always been to transform it into a guest house or some other type of facility that caters to travellers. The airport’s opening has given those plans a much-needed fillip. Douglas is worried, though, that as the airport takes off it’s leaving the quiet seaside community lagging behind.

“The airport is a part of our community and so should develop with the community,” she reasoned.

She feels that residents were slighted as many of them, including her, were unaware the airport had welcomed its first international commercial flight until they saw it on the news.

“We weren’t looking for invitation to go over there, but notify us that the first international commercial flight is coming in; we would all feel good together,” Douglas said.

Kerry-Ann Johnson is concerned smaller players will not benefit. (Photo: Horace Mills)

Kerry-Ann Johnson, a housekeeper who works in Tower Isle, is less convinced that there is something to celebrate. She is concerned that smaller players will not benefit significantly from the influx of international commercial flights.

“There is not a lot of vendors in this area and there is no vending site in the area for the ordinary people to benefit,” Johnson said. “And when you look at apartments, some of the small property owners have dem house and not upkeeping them but want a lot of money for them. Yuh can’t want nuff money from a dilapidated house.”

Time will tell. Tourism officials have long talked up the benefits the airport will bring for local residents. In addition to the potential to directly earn a living by offering everything from craft items, food, accommodations, attractions and transportation, they are also expected to benefit from improvements made to the parish.

These include a planned development at Reggae Beach.

“Barita is planning to transform Reggae Beach and put in some 2,000 hotel rooms valued at US$800 million over six years to build a new town here in St Mary, also an additional 250 homes for hotel workers,” MP Montague said during the recent ceremony to welcome QCAS Aero. “I applaud them for that because they have thought about the workers and the fact that they also will need somewhere to live.”

Passengers of the QCAS Aero flight being welcomed at the IFIA by Transport Minister Audley Shaw (left) and other local officials. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

During the same event, Head of Investment Research at Barita Investment, Awah Muirhead spoke of the significance of the project and the jobs that will be created.

“It is a significant step to building Jamaica and creating jobs for Jamaicans from across the country. This is a pivotal step for us to move forward as it relates to Jamaica’s infrastructural development and essentially improving tourism here locally,” he said.

“This [airport] can bring people into the island and then we give them a chance to know what we have to offer just down the road in terms of the beaches and accommodations we have to provide,” Muirhead added.



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