Nederlandse Antillen

Sint Maarten continues to opt for tourism, despite warnings from The Hague

Sint Maarten continues to opt for tourism, despite warnings from The Hague

PHILIPSBURG – At least a thousand people on Sint Maarten will soon be able to work on a cruise ship. The government has signed a deal with Royal Caribbean Group, while warnings are sounding to make the island’s economy less dependent on tourism.
It is a ‘historic step’ for the island, says Minister Otmar Ottley of Health, Social Development and Labour. Unemployment has risen sharply in the past two years due to the corona pandemic, as tourists stayed away en masse. With his signature, he hopes to help people find a job.
The economy of Sint Maarten depends to a large extent on tourism. Restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related sectors account for about 45 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
‘Too dependent on tourism’
In the short term this would be good news for people looking for a job. But the island seems to be further dependent on tourism, which is prone to disasters and the global economy. To the frustration of politicians in The Hague.
Since the devastation of Hurricane Irma (2017) and then the major economic blows caused by the corona pandemic (2020-2022), the warnings have been resounding. The Dutch cabinet provides financial assistance, but in return wants the island to make its economy ‘less dependent’ on tourism.
State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Kingdom Relations, D66) also emphasized the danger once again in a letter to the House of Representatives at the beginning of April. “The small-scale and often one-sided economy makes the countries vulnerable. The corona pandemic has made this vulnerability painfully clear.”
But then what?
Warnings are not only issued from the Dutch cabinet, but also from the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten and the Financial Supervision Board, which monitors the government budget.
Politicians on the islands understand the concerns, but often immediately ask the other question: ‘where else can we get the much-needed economic growth?’ For Sint Maarten there would be no other choice in the short term.
‘Unemployment has risen since Hurricane Irma’
“As Minister of Labor I can rightly say that this is a milestone in our labor market”, said Minister Ottley at the signing. “Since hurricanes Irma and Maria (2017), unemployment has been rising steadily.”
The deal with Royal Caribbean, one of the major players in the international cruise tourism market, comes at a good time for the cabinet of Sint Maarten. The Ministry of Justice also states that it is working to create ‘lucrative jobs’ for the population of Sint Maarten.
The souvenir market is finally being refurbished
The collaboration with Royal Caribbean Group appears to have other advantages as well. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT), the cruise company will invest about 600,000 Antillean guilders in the reconstruction of the Philipsburg Marketplace .
Before Hurricane Irma, it was a lively market and a major draw for tourists. There were kiosks full of souvenirs, but since the devastation of the hurricane, the market has been labeled as an eyesore. Vendors sit with their stuff under makeshift tents, there is no water and there are no toilets.
Why Sint Maarten embraces American aid
Politicians on the island often feel that they have to fight unfairly for the funds that the Netherlands has made available for reconstruction after 2017. There were also many meetings with former State Secretary for Kingdom Relations (CDA) Raymond Knops (CDA). The Hague hurdles before all ‘corona loans’ were transferred in Philipsburg.
The decisiveness that speaks from the cruise company’s decision is the reason that the agreement with Royal Caribbean is so embraced by the Jacobs government.
An ‘own’ agreement with a large American company for more employment and investments on the island is a big step for the government, which wants to get rid of the loans from the Netherlands and stand on its own two feet.
Minister Ottley summarized it briefly in his speech: “Like the Rihanna song says: work, work, work!” “More tourism, more income, more jobs” is seen as a means to restart the economy, after the two biggest crises the island has known.

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