NEW YORK — Caribbean is the major economic driver in the Caribbean. So it would be natural that it should be viewed as the major mechanism for dealing with many of the region’s developmental issues.
That was the view put forth here Wednesday by St Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who said the region should look at tourism “as a tool of development.”
The Prime Minister, who was addressing a group of journalists during a Caribbean Week media session here, urged the region to give tourism a new impetus and see the regoin’s leading industry in a new way.
“If we want to be successful in areas like combating crime, unemployment, human trafficking, corruption, environmental degradation, we need to strengthen the layer that provides opportunity for sustainable development, employment and social advancement,” she said. “Tourism for us is becoming and should become more and more of a developmental tool. If we want to combat all of these areas as islands and countries in the Caribbean seek furtherance of their development programmes.”
But she said it was crucial for the region to make this connection.
“When you talk about tourism, the largest percentage of our islands and countries depend on [it] to a larger or smaller degree,” she said. “And there is not a Caribbean island that I know of that could say we have absolutely no issue with unemployment and getting our young people into jobs in our countries. Once that link can be visualized, I believe that we can make more concerted agreements in terms of moving forward with tourism to assist other areas that will help our overall growth.”
In St Maarten, for example, tourism accounts for between 85 and 90 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
“Given the scale of St Maarten, we do not have any illusions that we can replace that pillar of industry,” Wescot-Williams said. “Rather than that, we look at a possibility of, albeit smaller, complementary activities to tourism, and we also look at the more sustainable aspects of tourism which includes looking beyond our traditional markets [or] issues like seasonality and new markets.”
The Prime Minister said regional collaboration, with tourism as a development tool, was a “win-win-win” situation for the Caribbean.
“We offer and are able to offer the most unforgettable experience to our visitors,” she said. “By doing that, and doing it right, we offer the opportunity for our islands to have growth and development.”
That would have another effect, she said — to position the Caribbean differently in a geopolitical sense.
“By doing that, we are providing to our biggest market, the United States of America, a strong ally in the Caribbean, an ally of strong, proud and confident people — willing to be assisted and willing to assist, where people recognize that they are assisting us in developing a stronger region, a more confident region and a region that can assist the other way around as well,” she said.