Opinion: Pipe dreams (new hotels, new jobs)

POSTED: 10/24/11 1:53 AM

Two brand name hotels with 500 new rooms. Oh, and 2000 new jobs in the next three years. It all sounds like something is happening or that something is about to happen, but the question is: does this make any sense? Sure, politicians are probably prepared to give their left arm for the creation of 2,000 jobs – but where is this going to happen?

We sure hope that Economic Affairs Minister Meyers was referring to private sector jobs, not to jobs the government is going to pay for.

And then, of course, while the Minister unfolded his plans in the parliament last week, he talked about diversification of the economy. That sounded like a plan, but when push came to shove, it was all about building 500 new hotel rooms, as if we have a shortage. The industry is struggling, and the sentiment among investors is heavily stacked against hotel-investments because it is not exactly a moneymaker.

So what we are left with is a set of pipe dreams. There is nothing wrong with having dreams – ask Martin Luther King indicated – but those dreams flourish best when they are based on a vision. That is what we are missing here. Vision.

Where does St. Maarten want to go from here? More hotels? More of the same? More congestion? More empty hotel rooms?

If the current occupancy hovers somewhere between 50 and 60 percent, adding 500 new rooms will bring that number further down. If those new rooms are of a high quality, and it the projects are attractive, they may indeed do well and claim a better result than the current inventory.

But what will the effect be on the existing hotel rooms? An even lower occupancy and even less revenue for their owners? The term cannibalism comes to mind here.

We really have our doubts about this plan and we are unable to shake the feeling that there must be better alternatives to give our economy a boost.

There are some innovative plans floating around that would take the island in a completely different direction. We heard last week for instance that legalizing marijuana cultivation under a government controlled program would create not only many jobs but would also boost state revenue.

Marijuana is certainly a field in which the island has plenty of local expertise. And who knows, having our own coffee shops could also make St. Maarten a more popular vacation destination. In that case, we might need those 500 hotel rooms Minister Meyers envisions badly.

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