SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) – Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport & Telecommunication (TEATT) the honorable Stuart Johnson has activated his team for 2020 budget preparation well in advance and has already held intense preparatory meetings with the heads of Departments within his Ministry.
The move came on the heels of the approval of the 2019 Budget following which Johnson declared that the country simply cannot compete with even the smaller islands when their budget more than quadruples St. Maarten’s annual destination marketing budget.
TEATT is the largest Ministry in the St. Maarten Government and holds responsibility for the stimulation of economic activity and the sustainable development of the island’s tourism product. Johnson said on Monday that the intention is to ensure that all budgets are thoroughly reviewed to arrive at a practical and workable figure for the 2020 Budget.
“We have passed perhaps the worst period of most of our lives with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
He was careful to state that the island is “not yet out of the woods.” However, thanks to the resilience and determination of the people of St. Maarten, we are much further ahead in our recovery efforts in some areas than initially projected.”
He said this momentum would improve only with advanced planning and proper preparation for realistic budgets to move the country forward. He said, “I am aware that there are financial constraints that will hinder us from having the Wishlist for capital investments and destination marketing along with the implementation of economic stimulus packages, but that does not mean that we cannot arrive at a close number or work towards identifying priority projects.”
Besides early preparations for the 2020 Budget Johnson will work directly with Finance Minister the Honorable Perry Geerlings to finalize payments for those entities who are still owed money for services rendered to TEATT.
This effort to secure payments for suppliers will go a long way to ensuring that we can have completed projects and continuity in services obtained by the Ministry of TEATT for the government and people of St. Maarten.
While countries such as the Dominican Republic and Jamaica spends 21.8 and 17.1% of their budget respectively on destination marketing, St. Maarten’s numbers reach only a fraction of this amount. On July 15th Johnson met with his top advisors and department heads to discuss the plan of approach for the 2020 Budget.
Critical Vacancies that need to be filled was discussed early in the meeting as was the establishment of guidelines to keep the cost of travel to a minimal. Where it pertains, staffing Johnson wants Ministry to address “even through private discussions or a general survey of employee satisfaction” the departure of staff for public sector service to find out what is the root cause and seek creative solutions to retain personnel.
He also wants the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau to work on a plan for funding from the World Bank for the much-needed Destination Marketing. At present St. Maarten’s budget for Destination Marketing is less than one-fourth of
In the 2019 Budget St. Maarten earmarked only three million eight hundred and fifty-eight thousand, one hundred and eighteen guilders (Naf. 3,858,118.00) on Product development. The Ministry will use this amount to execute several tasks including working to improve visitor Relations, various Tourism Diversification Projects in areas of Sports, Culture and Eco-Tourism and continued Destination Marketing and visitor awareness programs in our key markets.
Johnson said to remain competitive in the region the country must make a significant effort to increase its budget or risk being left behind by the other destinations whose budgets are upwards of USD$20 million per year for destination marketing alone. “We must move towards having our product showcased on the international scene on major cable networks and become a household name if we want to redevelop the destination sustainably. That is why we are starting now to do what we can as a ministry to put our priorities in place,” said Johnson.
He said though the idea was not just to spend but to also find ways of cost-cutting that were effective. One area was to adopt a policy on the use and maintenance of technical equipment and vehicles across the Ministry. At the end of the meeting, Johnson said that the entire Ministry would be working post haste on a high-level strategy for the increase in TEATT’s 2020 budget and priority projects.