Today’s Opinion: Good news and bad news

POSTED: 05/20/11 12:47 PM

The Caribbean Tourism Organization CTO had some good news yesterday: it will organize a State of the Industry Conference in Saint Martin in September. That conference will not only bring around 300 participants to the island in the low season, it will also bring in foreign journalists from the wider Caribbean, the United States and Europe. In short, the conference is an opportunity for the island to put itself in the spotlight. Excellent.

Unfortunately the current State of the Industry is anything but glamorous. CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley said yesterday that there is nothing wrong with the popularity of the Caribbean as a destination for vacationers. After all, the numbers are up. In 2010, 6 percent more vacationers chose for the Caribbean as their holiday destination.

That’s about where the good news stops. Numbers (in terms of arrivals) are up but those other numbers (for revenue) are down. How bad is it? It differs per destination, Riley said, but on average, earnings in the Caribbean tourism industry were back at the 2004-levels at the end of last year.

Indications for the first quarter of 2011 give no reason to uncork the champagne, because revenue is still lagging. That means that providers like hotels are cutting into their reserves to keep their businesses afloat. They offer specials, they slash their rates to remain competitive, but in the meantime they are not making any money.

That this is a tricky trend hardly needs further explanation. When the industry fails to make a profit, the quality of the product goes down over time, because there is no capital to invest in maintenance and upgrades.

All this ought to inspire Caribbean destinations to work together, to use the resources at their disposal in a creative way for maximum effect.

And so far, we see little of this. Forget about cooperation on the Caribbean level and just look at the way the Dutch and the French side deal with each other. Slowly but surely we see some things happen – for instance collaboration between cross border law enforcement agencies – but other than that it seems to be everyone for himself.

Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger has long maintained that working together with the French was difficult, and that St. Maarten had to fend for itself for instance with the construction of a waste to energy plant. While the French have a system for separating for instance glass and plastic from the bulk of its waste, the Dutch side does nothing in this field, and there is no cooperation either, even though the glass crunching installation the French use is not working at full capacity and could easily absorb some Dutch-side glass. God knows we drink enough beer here to keep that machine working 24/7.

The French initiative to slap Dutch-side cab drivers with an annual fee is another example of the trend towards separatism.

But wait; in the latest edition of Point COM, the magazine of the Collectivité, we picked up a piece of information that goes completely against the grain. President Frantz Gumbs says in an article about the European Interreg Caribbean program “that negotiations have started with the Dutch side about two major cross-border projects: building a platform for handling and burning waste and putting equipment in place to prevent flooding in the French-Dutch sector of Le Quartier d’Orleans, better known as French Quarter.”

There is apparently €10 million ($14.5 million) in European co-financing available for these projects. That is a drop in the ocean, given the fact that the waste to energy plant requires an estimated investment of $100 million, but still, it is a start.

And who knows, once Vice PM Heyliger starts negotiating with his neighbors, he might just be able to get that silly fee for the cab drivers off the table.


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