Better tourists

POSTED: 03/1/16 5:45 PM

We published about economist Arjen Alberts’ study into the relationship between tourism-development and labor productivity for the first time in early January, well ahead of any other local media outlet. Yesterday the issue came to the forefront again, through a webinar hosted by Runy Calmera.

Alberts’ message remains the same. St. Maarten is running out of space and it does not make sense to develop strategies to bring more tourists to the island. We have enough of them as it is. What we need, Alberts says, are better tourists, visitors who have more spending power and who will leave more money behind.

To achieve that, the economist says, the country ought to reject investments that aim to bring more tourists to the island, because that is a dead end street. Instead, investments ought to focus on enhancing the experience visitors take back home. Don’t grow five roses to sell ‘em for a buck each, grow one rose and sell it for five bucks, Alberts said. That neatly sums up the direction the industry has to go.

For this to happen we should not pin our hopes on the cruise industry, where companies are slashing prices in an attempt to fill up their expensive vessels. This will bring the wrong type of tourist to the island.

Competing on sun, sand and sea is also a direction that does not make sense, because everybody in the Caribbean has it. St. Maarten has to go for uniqueness. If you are unique, Alberts’ reasons, you don’t have to compete on price. Uniqueness therefore increases the amount of money the industry generates without building more hotels that only take up more space.

Investments have to focus on quality; with it, of course, comes the demand for a well-trained workforce that is capable to service a better class of tourists.

All this will not happen overnight. But somebody has to set the first step in the right direction. Currently, that somebody is our Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Ingrid Arrindell. We’re looking forward to her reaction to Alberts’ point of view.

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