St Helena aims for tourism boost despite airport woes

 
Ashley Coates
Follow Ashley
Travel Images
Source: Getty

It became famous in the 1800s as the home of the exiled French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, but in recent times St Helena has attracted more attention for the cost of its new airport.

Last year it was revealed that the Department for International Development had spent £285 million on an airport at a site that is too windy for large commercial jets to attempt a landing.

Despite not having a fully functioning airport, authorities are pushing ahead with plans to develop the capital, Jamestown.

The St Helena Government put out a tender yesterday “inviting Expressions of Interest to commission a study to take forward the earlier work on the development of the Jamestown Wharf that will result in a master plan for the area".

“The move of the major point of arrival at the island from Jamestown to St Helena Airport provides an opportunity to develop the Jamestown Waterfront as a leisure destination for tourists and residents of the island”, the tender document states. “It offers a range of historic buildings reflecting centuries of international trade and a sea front setting for restaurants, bars, speciality retail and leisure activities”.

St Helena’s residents remain hopeful that the island can be weaned off its reliance on the £30m/year subsidy from the Department for International Development. Before then, further infrastructure investment is likely to be needed both for future tourism and the long-term viability of the local population.

The oldest of Britain’s remaining Overseas Territories, St Helena’s remote location is the main reason for its deprivation. It sits in the middle of the South Atlantic, where the primary point of contact with the outside world is one of the four remaining Royal Mail Ships, the "St Helena". Until the new runway was finished last year, the ship was the only significant transport to and from the island.

St Helena’s residents remain hopeful that the island can be weaned off its reliance on the £30m/year subsidy from the Department for International Development. Before then, further infrastructure investment is likely to be needed both for future tourism and the long-term viability of the local population.

It was hoped that the new airport would open up direct flights to the 47 square-mile island, and provide stimulation to its beleaguered tourist industry. Average wages for the 4,500 residents on St Helena stand at just £7,000 per year.

Earlier in the month, it was revealed that hotel and bar owners on the island would receive compensation for having invested thousands of pounds into businesses on the island, only for the multi-million pound airport to prove unusable.

A report by the Commons Public Accounts Committee last year stated that the Department for International Development had “unquestionably failed” the UK taxpayer.

"It is staggering that the department did not foresee and address the impact of difficult wind conditions on landing commercial aircraft safely”, the report concluded.

It is hoped that connecting flights using smaller planes could keep St Helena’s hopes of becoming a hub for tourism alive.

Related articles