Published On: Tue, Sep 13th, 2016

Better Tourists

Is St. Maarten on the right track or on the wrong track with the Pearl of China project? As we wrote earlier, we do not have sufficient information for a fact-based opinion. What we do have is a study by economist Arjen Alberts about tourism driven island-economies. We published stories about this study in January and February of this year. (Read one article here…)

In a nutshell, Alberts’ argument goes like this; “We have focused too much on producing five roses and selling them for a dollar each, while we should focus on producing one rose and sell it for five dollars.”

What does it mean? We don’t need more tourists, we need better tourists. On an island with limited space you cannot go on building more hotels and focus your marketing on bringing in ever more tourists.  There is a physical limit to what you are able to achieve that way.

The decline in cruise arrivals shows that people and cruise companies have about had it with our island. They are looking for new thrills, not for more of the same.
Furthermore, Alberts’ study found that the growth of the tourism industry has not brought St. Maarten anything. With the growth of the industry, immigration increased as well. Income per capita did not go up. Some people got richer, but many people did not.

So, if the Pearl of China project were a tourism driven venture, it would not help the country at all. This is however the key question: is this project focusing on tourism, or is it focusing on business?

We will learn more, hopefully, this Saturday, during the ground breaking ceremony. What we have heard so far is that the 326-room hotel and the 450 apartments that are part of the project are merely destined for visiting businesses from China and visiting potential clients from the Caribbean and Latin and Central America.

The second question is therefore: in what sense do these people differ from tourists? Will they just fly in and fly out? Or will they bring something extra to the table that – business or not – places them in the category of ‘better tourists’ that the country so badly needs?

Until we know that, there is no point screaming blue murder based on hardly any information. Elsewhere in this newspaper UP-candidate Otmar Jonis says that “it appears” that the government had agreed to grant a casino license to the project.
What does that mean? Does Jonis know this? Or did someone whisper in his ear that he could make such a claim if he used the word “appear”?

Taser this: a hotel with at least 200 rooms can apply for a casino license. So the Pearl of China project falls well within the requirements. Has the developer asked for a permit? Hell, how would we know? Maybe somebody will say something about it on Saturday, and otherwise we’ll ask them, so that, without using evasive language, we are able to say for sure whether it is one way or the other.

For now there are too many unanswered questions. Once those answers become clear, it will also become evident whether or not this project is beneficial for our economy.