Published On: Thu, Aug 4th, 2022

Tourism remains the focal point of St. Maarten’s economy

PHILIPSBURG — Making St. Maarten less dependent on tourism? But how? That is the headline above an article published on the website of the Dutch newspaper NRC. The author, Denise Retera, poses the question but does not come up with a useful answer.

Retera spoke with two employees of Say Yes Jewelers on Front Street, Coconut man Omar McGregor, port-director Alexander Gumbs, former Minister of Tourism and current Member of Parliament for the United People’s party Ludmilla de Weever and (via telephone) with acting Tourism Minister Omar Ottley.

While the article does not come to a definite conclusion, it does quote Ottley saying that investing more in tourism is the solution. “The purpose is to let other industries grow through the tourism industry,” Ottley is quoted as saying. “Currently you see that foreign construction workers are building new hotels.  We want them to use locals for these jobs so that he construction sector can grow.” The minister added that to achieve this, new rules are in the pipeline.

Making the tourism sector smaller is not an option, Ottley told the NRC-reporter: “That’s like telling Russia that it should not focus on gas.”

Ludmilla de Weever also thinks that it is tough to become less dependent on tourism. She only considers expansion of the maritime sector as an option. Fishing is out: “Our waters have been overfished in the past. And we have far too many law offices and real estate companies. Back in the day we made a nice income for foreigners who did their offshore banking here, but other countries have become stricter with money laundering.”

Alexander Gumbs is not optimistic about an economic change of direction either. “For large-scale agriculture the island is too hilly. It is also not hurricane resistant. Factories are not hurricane resistant either and internet is very expensive here.”

According to Gumbs it is better to seize the opportunities tourism has to offer, for instance by making one of the piers longer to enable larger cruiseships to dock in port.

All this falls on deaf ears with the kingdom government and with State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Kingdom Relations). St. Maarten has signed on to a country package that aims, among many other things, to make the economy less vulnerable by making it less dependent on tourism. How the country should achieve this remains unclear. Retera quotes a spokesman for the minister: “We have chosen the dot on the horizon together. How the country wants to reach that dot is up to the country.”

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