Opinion: It all begins with tourism

POSTED: 11/27/13 12:35 PM

A commentary in the Dutch travel and tourism island paradise St. Maarten reflects the feeling of the local St. Maarten travel industry community. The overall message is not to take the fruits of tourism for granted. Sometimes it’s good to hear stuff from a stranger. This report appeared on the website of TN Global Travel Industry News and Jeff Berger’s St. Maarten Weekly News drew our attention to it.

The report reads:
What we’re committing in tourism funding is laughably low to keep pace with the competition in the region.

Let’s insert a disclaimer here before we proceed. Why are we focusing so much on tourism in every issue of Teen Times this year? Because many young people don’t GET IT. We suspect that’s because most of their parents don’t GET IT either; and the importance of tourism is not instilled from “yay high”.

We take for granted that tourists will always come here. We see decent looking tourism numbers and go, “That’s acceptable”; but we don’t consider how our neighbors are chipping away at our business, doing more creative things, adding new attractions. We don’t consider that if we continue to put our product at risk, jobs will be lost and then, all of a sudden, things won’t be so “acceptable” anymore.

Check this, government will probably pass a national budget of 420 million guilders. The tourism budget is roughly 10 million guilders. Calculate that! TOURISM, our sole means of survival, our lifeline, accounts for just…wait for it…2% of the entire budget (for marketing)! Mind you, about 90% of our income is derived from tourism, but we commit a measly 2% of the budget.

We would love someone to explain to us how it’s possible that tourism makes everything on St. Maarten possible and we spend pennies on it. Is it shocking that our product has not shown real growth in like forever and, when compared to other destinations (in terms of funding), we’re dead last?! We asked the question to several people in government, but nobody wanted to go on record or give an explanation. The answer we did get was: “Maybe if Teen Times writes about it, they will listen.” Thanks.

Tourism is important to St. Maarten for several reasons. As we are a youth publication and many use our information for school projects, etc., we’ll outline some of those reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is the phenomenon of the multiplier effect, which is: How many times money spent by a tourist circulates through the economy of the country. This goes directly to the famous local comment: “Tourists do nothing for me.”
An example of the above could be as follows:

A tourist spends his money in the hotel by dry-cleaning his clothes, eating in the restaurant, etc. This money spent will increase revenues of the dry-cleaner and the restaurant owner, both will spend more on supplies for their shop and for personal needs, which means that other businesses are going to benefit due to their increased profits by the tourist and so on. The owner of the dry cleaning service is married to a teacher and pays the mortgage on the family home; something his wife could not afford on a teacher’s salary alone. The school where she teaches is a hospitality-driven school that is partially subsidized by a local major hotel. The same hotel derives its income from, yup, tourism. It’s a cycle and there are numerous such examples on St. Maarten…especially St. Maarten with no other source of national income.

Tourism is important to the world because of the amount of income it brings into countries and it promotes interconnectedness throughout the world. It provides people visiting the country of their choice with the services, while they are there, in exchange for the visitors boosting the country’s economy.

On St. Maarten, it helps provide jobs to the residents of the country that is being visited – not only in the tourism and service industry, but also in St. Maarten’s small manufacturing industry (local dolls, Guavaberry, etc.) as many people leave their vacation destination with souvenirs in hand. Most tourists are well educated with sophisticated tastes, resulting in a demand for better service and products. Many tourists also travel with their families, resulting in the need for more family-oriented vacation spots as well as niche destinations for other demographics, such as water sports vacations and spa resorts.

Just recently, Rolando Brison, a former Teen Timer we should add, finalized a report that analyzed the tourism budget. He points out that tourism comprised about 87% of the island’s GDP over the last eight years, and the island is the most tourism dependent island in the Caribbean. He notes that St. Maarten has over the years made some interesting infrastructural investments such as having a state of the art cruise and air facilities.

However, while investment into the island’s infrastructure has increased, the tourism budget spent marketing the island and creating new events and promotions for the island has remained stagnant, and even declined in the 2013 budget.

Towards the end of this report, Rolando suggested a few sources from which government can expect to justify budgetary increases to tourism. He recommended a $1 destination tax, a slight increase in direct contribution from some air and sea arrivals that would not deter airlines or travelers, but would contribute significantly to the total tourism budget. He argued that a $1 destination tax at the airport and harbor, which goes directly to the marketing funds of St. Maarten, can be implemented immediately and would account for an increase in available tourism funds by 2.2 million dollars a year.

He also recommended a budget increase of 10% per year and tourism training programs. The education budget, Brison explained, is one of the largest spending ministries of the island, yet no programs are in place for using some of these education funds towards tourism marketing training. The fact that St. Maarten has no tourism training programs is astonishing, considering that the island is the most tourism dependent of the Caribbean.

There is a lot that is astonishing about St. Maarten’s tourism product, some on the negative side. As a destination, we need to stop taking what we have for granted, riding the luck of being where we are geographically.
To our fellow youth, we say, “Start paying attention; ask the questions; it all begins with tourism.”

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