SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – The Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) hopes that the health effects caused by Covid-19 can be kept to a minimum for the residents of St Maarten. The association underlines the importance to stay as safe and as healthy as possible, following the advice given by the World Health Organization to minimize risk of the Virus. (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public)
We recommend everyone to be careful and try to limit possible exposure as much as possible and continue to follow the hygiene protocols that have been widely disseminated.
SHTA commends government for its ongoing efforts in dealing with this pandemic. As St. Maarten has limited resources, preventing a significant outbreak on island should be priority number one.
Even if we manage to avoid all health consequences for our society of Covid-19, the past 24 hours have made clear that our economy is about to again be severely strained. The volume of stay over bookings for April and May is down by at least 40% compared to last year and expected by hoteliers to get worse. This may mean that anticipated Hotel openings get postponed. The most recent announcement regarding airline travel from Europe by the President of the United States and subsequent announcements of cancellations by major cruise lines will have immediate direct economics effects on the island. It is reported that some major cruise lines have suspended world-wide operations for the next 60 days, more will likely follow. Travel in general is slowing and restrictions encourage more people to stay at home.
The private sector warn that they will not be able to cope with this prolonged downturn, after the continued ill effects of Hurricane Irma; Government resources will simultaneously be strained by healthcare and social welfare needs.
Somehow Sint Maarten will need to find a way forward in order to keep long term effects to a minimum. In what can only be described as a very fluid situation the SHTA urges government to communicate with and involve the private sector in coming up with a package of measures that will keep our economy from collapsing completely or at least mitigate the impact.
Most countries already have advanced plans for reducing the negative economic impacts. This crisis is not about government, employers, employees or private sector. This crisis will affect all residents and will require all of our efforts to keep the worst socio-economic effects from happening.
We don’t have accurate numbers of tourism contribution to employment and GDP but a 2015 study by the world tourism council for Aruba has this at 90% and 88% respectively. St Maarten will be close to this number. The impact of this drop in tourism to our economy will be significant. Depending on the persistence of this crisis an even more grim scenario could come into play.
Mitigating the effects will require quick fiscal action, re-allocation of trust fund resources, several rounds of belt tightening, supporting credit markets both commercial and private, and finding ways to keep a large segment of the population employed so that we will be prepared and ready to resume operations when the crisis passes.
SHTA further warns that blacklisting of country Sint Maarten and consequential payment difficulties will further exacerbate the crisis. Anything that can help our economy needs to be done now. That includes passing the required CFATF legislation through Parliament post haste.