Public Relations

Address for World Tourism Day

Written by: Public Relations

September 28, 2006

St Maarten Tourism Bureau 
  
 First of all let me say that I am honored to have been invited to participate in these activities commemorating World Tourism Day by the St Maarten Tourist Bureau --- and for the flattery of being asked to deliver the keynote address at this gala event.

I accepted the invitation to speak with the clear understanding that I am not an authority on tourism --- but simply someone old enough to have observed the path of tourism development in this sub-region over at least the past thirty years. And now having been thrust in the position of Minister of Tourism less than twenty months ago, I have had the opportunity to look at it from the inside out.

In addition, over the last twelve years, my other ministerial responsibilities which include Finance and Economic Development have provided me with some appreciation of the impact of the industry on the lives of the several peoples of this sub-region. I further hasten to say that such experience does not come close to rendering me an expert in this dynamic, delicate even volatile industry --- but just someone who you have granted the right to have an opinion.

The theme for World Tourism Day as proposed by the WTO is “Tourism Enriches”. This theme suggests to me that as an industry, tourism can provide solid benefits to an economy that pursues it as a developmental option. But using a more critical or even cynical analysis of the theme one could legitimately and politely ask the question: “Who does it enrich?” or perhaps a more belligerently expression of rejection in typical Caribbean idiom.

But on further examination I recognized another imperative implicit in the theme, namely, that in an island state with limited natural resources with tourism as the best option for economic development --- it must be the responsibility of those with such authority to ensure that the indigenous people are among those who are enriched. And would you please note that I did not say that indigenous people should be the only ones enriched --- investors both local and/or foreign must of necessity get an adequate return on their investment or else the industry indeed the economy may collapse.

In other words there must be balance and equity in the distribution of benefits within the society, to include not only financial and economic enrichment but also social, cultural, spiritual, and other forms of enrichment. Put another way such “wholesome enrichment” can and should lead to stable and sustainable national development.

Developing a framework for my presentation tonight on this theme was a very precarious exercise. But I decided that the only sensible structure for me to adopt, though a close neighbour, relative and friend of St. Maarten, would be to draw illustrations from outside of our region regarding choices for development; define the concept of enrichment in the context of our sub-region and, without being prescriptive, give you some idea of what we have been trying to do in Anguilla to ensure that our people are enriched through Tourism.

For the most part all the islands in this sub-region have chosen tourism as an option for development. Of course there is the obvious reason that we come from the most beautiful part of the Caribbean. But more importantly we all had the same objective --- to provide for the prosperity of our people. As individual destinations we have developed products with a different focus --- targeted different markets --- employed different strategies --- created different models. But should we be judgmental regarding the success or failure of those models, products and strategies without regard for the social, economic, cultural and historic context of those decisions? I think not! Because in every case I believe that these decisions would have considered the plight of the people at the particular time, their vision, their expectations, the institutional capacity, and the human and natural resources available.

But as I promised let me invite you to take a journey with me away from St. Maarten-St. Martin, away from Anguilla, away from St. Barths, out of the region --- to examine two cases of choice in national development. Hopefully, I can thereby illustrate the difficulties which confront many policymakers by such reference to two very real development scenarios.

First, let us travel to the Pacific Ocean, perhaps not as romantic as our region but dotted by scores of idyllic and beautiful islands. We come to Nauru, one of the world’s smallest independent nations with a population of about twelve thousand. Because of its remoteness over countless centuries it became a resting place for birds, whose droppings have produced the richest concentration of phosphate salt in the world. The phosphate is mined from a plateau on the island’s interior and then refined in a treatment plant.

The Nauruans receive generous royalties for the mined phosphate, and this makes Nauru one of the richest, per capita, countries in the world. However, the phosphate mining has severely damaged the island’s environment. Eighty percent of the island which is to begin with only 8.2 square miles in size has been rendered uninhabitable. It means that Nauru’s population of twelve thousand people, have to live in an area of less than one square mile.

Even the native birds, which are the source of their wealth, are threatened by habitat loss. And while the phosphate has been turned into many millions of dollars, the island’s residents have to live in what is essentially a quarry ---- a scarred landscape with little of the island’s natural beauty intact.

In fact, it has something in common with our own Sombrero, where phosphate mining in the 18th Century reduced the island to a scarred moonscape devoid of any vegetation.  Nauru, while rich, would be for many of us a depressing place to live, and the bad news is that the phosphate supply is now running out and the islanders have little else to turn to for economic sustenance. They are rich, but their quality of life is poor.

Now let us make our second journey to what represents another choice in the quest for national development; we are at the legendary and famous holiday resort location, Acapulco, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Here, huge hotels, any one as large as the entire tourism inventory of Anguilla, ring the beaches. Thousands of tourists throng the beaches, some venture into the water which is contaminated by the effluence from those same hotels.

There is little left of the traditional way of life; social needs of local people have been ignored in the constant hustle and bustle to keep the tourists happy; while the very natural beauty which created the tourism economy in the first place --- is under severe threat. This is probably a real-life example of what unbridled development can cause in the quest for economic prosperity without regard for issues of sustainability --- and to the quality of life.
So from the decimation of Nauru’s environment by indiscriminate phosphate mining to the overcrowding and pollution of Acapulco’s natural beauty and tourism resources by excessive developmental sprawl --- I hope that I have been able to illustrate the complex balancing act which must attend the governance process. Like all of us, in both of these cases their Governments were attempting to secure economic prosperity for their people --- but in the process either ignored or overlooked the impact those decisions could have on longer term sustainable development.

I also intended that these two illustrations would teach another lesson, that is, that development options should be sustainable. We should be looking for long term rather than short or medium term enrichment. In other words true national development should be people centred and the decision-making process must take into account the issues inherent in the choices we make so as to guarantee a steady path towards the empowerment of the people.

If I seem to have substituted the term “empowerment” for “enrichment” I must admit that it is no mistake. I have in fact, by that sleight of speech, transformed the term into its more qualitative form by suggesting that enrichment that is people-centred must give power say ownership to those persons who are its beneficiaries. Without being vulgar in my definition I would suggest that “riches can come and go but empowerment lasts”. Or use the worn-out adage with which you are all acquainted --- regarding the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish.

If we were to be retrospective and revert to those times when our islands were traditional societies; where every family had its own piece of land; tended its own livestock, cultivated its own crops and so on --- we could reasonably ask the question: Could we consider them to have been empowered? Apart from the fact that there was no indigenous government, no adult suffrage, no representative democracy --- did the inhabitants have a sense of empowerment based on their level of self-sufficiency? Or should we assume that because of the absence of direct foreign investment this implied a high level of local participation and ownership --- in a word empowerment?

Obviously in terms of the modernization of our economies, new technologies and the concomitant changes in lifestyle --- there are new realities which define what constitutes empowerment. These new realities highlight the fact that we have entered a new phase of national development which is characterized by less reliance on external concessionary funding sources for the provision of social and infrastructural services, more autonomy in the governance processes, increases in employment opportunities, a higher standard of living and increased expectations in the society generally.

What then is the reality of the situation in our region as our governments are challenged to meet the growing needs of a populace with “first world expectations” while ensuring that “the goose that lays the golden egg is not destroyed in the process?

First of all it has been proven that tourism can be a profitable industry when careful management and constant innovation accompany its development.

Secondly that progress has not always been linear because tourism is one of the most competitive of all international industries and it faces the huge disadvantage that it cannot rely on preferential trading agreements for its survival like other industries of the region. And to compound that disadvantage even further it is also susceptible to various shocks both natural and man-made.

Finally, to quote from an article by my Permanent Secretary, Dr Aidan Harrigan “successful destinations are those where visitors feel a complete sense of welcome --- where the locals that smile are not only those paid to do so”. In other words as experts emphasize there must be community buy-into tourism.

So what has been the Anguilla experience? A bit of history. In 1967, Anguilla rebelled and subsequently seceded from the state of St. Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla in response to a history of neglect. Very early the founding father the Honourable James Ronald Webster made the statement to the world that Anguilla did not want to become a “nation of waiters and busboys”. That proclamation was emphatic and clearly established the enduring position/vision that as a proud people Anguillians wanted to participate fully in their own development not simply as workers, but as professionals, entrepreneurs and owners. The tourism policy which emerged twelve years later, in 1979, had at its foundation, a like vision of creating an industry which allowed local Anguillians to be empowered.

It is in this sense that we must continue to view the tourist industry as a means to an end and not an end in itself. And recognize the fact that sustainable development can be a moving target requiring us to be very innovative if we are to keep ahead of the game.

Since that policy decision in1979 there has been agreement in Anguilla across political lines that the best way to achieve the early vision of 1967 is to develop a tourism industry based on “low volume high value”. Every successive government has considered this policy “sacred cow” and as a result Anguilla has been able to distinguish itself as a premiere tourist destination with occupancy rates which are relatively inelastic to the vagaries of the world economy. And to preserve this policy, rather than investors coming to Anguilla and telling us what they want to do --- we have developed a methodology and a system which requires that a team of technicians negotiate with the developer for what we want and then enshrine those decisions in a Memorandum of Agreement which binds both the Government and the Investor to those terms. This approach has created an atmosphere of certainty and has heightened investor confidence to such an extent that Government took the decision in October last year to place a moratorium on major foreign tourism accommodation investment for thirty months after November 1st, 2005. It is highly likely that that moratorium could be extended for another further two years. We are now doing the math on that decision.

Let me now adapt a portion of the OECS Report on the Anguilla Experience which outlines the key elements of the Tourism Investment Strategy which has been employed so as to achieve real economic advancement and empowerment.

The first key element of the tourism investment strategy is the creation of the necessary fiscal, institutional and regulatory framework that will facilitate private sector activity and investment in tourism.

Second is the commitment to promoting active local participation in the form of entrepreneurship, supply of goods and services, human resource development and community based tourism.

Thirdly, there is a commitment to developing a marketable identity based on selected niches and products, so as to differentiate the destination and enhance our image as a leading up-market and quality destination in the Caribbean.

Fourthly, at the product level, the aim is to develop and promote a world-renowned range of properties that offer diversity to the discerning traveler, in addition to other high quality facilities, amenities and services providing added value.

There are also selected aspects of the product development strategy that help to underpin the investment strategy. For example:-

The purchase of private land by foreign persons for construction of private dwellings, such as retirement homes, is restricted to a half an acre and prime beachfront sites are not allowed for this purpose.

Large scale cruise tourism involving frequent calls by large cruise ships is not encouraged and promoted by the Anguillian Government but we are keen to encourage the development of a marina to attract a valuable segment of the international mega and sailing yacht market.
Gaming facilities are not permitted either as separate establishments or as part of any tourist facility.

It is also important to note that the incentives regime is shaped by the policy objectives of the destination.

Government reserves for local investment, tourism related businesses and services requiring financial or other resources available to locals. Where control by local entrepreneurs is not possible, Government encourages joint ventures with overseas investors, urging locals to use their land inheritance as investment collateral.

Government continues to focus on the establishment of limits on the areas and business activities in which foreign investment would be permitted. Foreign investors are required to obtain an Aliens Land Holding Licence to hold and develop land. Through this instrument, Government may place any condition on the issuance of a licence, which it deems fit. New foreign investment must add value to the destination for example, a golf course, national park or such attraction compatible with the image and character of Anguilla So, basically, Anguilla has tried to be cautious in its approach to addressing the issues of sustainable development through tourism. And while I apologize for the lengthiness of my presentation there are many other elements of the strategy which I could not in all decency tax your patience, tolerance and kindness to address this evening.

I must also reiterate that my remarks are not intended to be prescriptive. There is no “one size fits all” in developmental models. Every country/island must evolve a model which fits its total context and time. The St. Maarten Experience has not only been beneficial to Anguilla but the entire sub-region. We thank you very much indeed for that generosity and sacrifice which provided with us with a bridgehead to address our own development.

We will all need to adjust our strategies from time to time --- to stay on course with our responsibility to the communities we serve. The challenge therefore for us is to innovate, adapt or perish. To make those tough decisions which become leaders with a strong vision for the task --- and with a clear commitment to achieving that noble and lofty goal of empowerment for our people. I again must thank you for this undeserved privilege to address you and the flattering attention that I have been afforded in the process.
 


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