Published On: Sun, Oct 22nd, 2017

Let’s make that leap forward for a sustainable Sint Maarten

Dear Editor,

This week officials from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) will carry out a Damage and Loss Assessment with an emphasis on the economic impact of Hurricane Irma on Sint Maarten.

ECLAC is a United Nations regional commission that encourages economic cooperation; contributes solutions by conducting research and analysis and providing sound policy advice and technical assistance to Caribbean Governments.

There is a great concern in the post-Irma period related to the nation’s economic well-being which translates into the well-being of the country’s citizens. Much effort has been placed on getting the destination ready for the first cruise ship visit at Port St. Maarten early next month, and SXM Airport has been reopened for regular commercial traffic since October 10.

The country’s tourism sector has taken a severe beating from Hurricane Irma, with a number of major properties not being able to be ready for the upcoming 2017/2018 winter season due to the structural extent of damage received. This will translate in less visitors to the destination and the trickle-down effect will impact every operational private sector business right across the board to the public sector.

The destination prior to Irma was suffering from the global economic malaise that has been dragging on since the financial market crash back in 2008. Economic growth during the aforementioned period up to pre-Irma was weak.

During the month of October, ECLAC updated its growth projections for countries in the Caribbean. For the English- and Dutch speaking Caribbean islands, average growth for 2017 is seen at 0.3, a figure that was downwardly revised versus July’s projection, mainly due to the damage caused by Irma and Maria.

However, increased dynamism is forecast for 2018 with a growth rate of 1.9 per cent and this will be influenced in some cases according to ECLAC by spending efforts at reconstruction “…as well as a somewhat more dynamic global context in terms of growth and foreign trade.”

According to ECLAC, the capacity of the region’s countries to generate a more dynamic economic growth process that is sustained over time depends on the space for adopting policies that support investment, which will be fundamental for mitigating the effects of external shocks and averting significant impacts on economic performance in the medium and long term.

In this context, bolstering both public and private investment is essential, along with diversifying the productive structure to achieve one with more value added and greater incorporation of technology and knowledge.

In this post-Irma era, the country has the opportunity to re-invent itself where economic diversification is concerned; creating a climate change resilient nation; and building a smart economy. The vulnerabilities of a one-pillar oriented economy once again became a clear reality in 2017. We were made aware of this 22-years ago with Hurricane Luis and Marilyn, and today, 22-years later we sit in the same boat as if we never moved forward from then.

One of our close competitors who was also struck by Irma and later Maria, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association says, the 2017-2018 winter tourism season in the U.S. Virgin Islands presents many opportunities for medium and small hotels, timeshares, and the marine and cruise ship industries. The association added that a majority of large resorts and hotels on St. Thomas and St. John will remain closed for renovations and repair.

The USVI Hotel and Tourism Association said, the closure of the largest properties at the same is not ideal, but it presents opportunities to renovate and update the tourism product revealing a polished, renewed and re-energized product in the end. Some properties will reopen during different timeframes in 2018 and some in 2019.

We are in the same boat as the USVI and face the same opportunities. At the same time, we need to diversify. This has been a topic of discussion for two decades like many other issues of societal importance.

Moving our nation forward at this juncture requires a joint private-public sector approach. The steps taken today to chart the short, medium and long-term future of the country will impact generations to come. Let’s make that leap forward for a climate resilient and sustainable Sint Maarten. #SXMStrong

Roddy Heyliger