SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Roddy Heyliger) - The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently stated that tourism is on track to achieve full recovery in 2023. This is very much welcome news as our country has a one-pillar tourism-based economy.
We have decided to put all our eggs in one basket at this point in time. The pandemic has shown us that this is not a wise idea, but as a country, we continue on such a track for the foreseeable future. The price to pay are the millions of guilders in loans – during the pandemic and travel & hospitality came to a standstill - from the Dutch Government which must be repaid unless the Dutch cancels the repayment of the loans.
The UNWTO says that more than twice as many people travelled internationally in January 2023 as they did at the start of 2022. There is clear proof of a renewed confidence in international travel.
This message was further re-enforced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that the recovery in air travel demand is continuing in 2023, adding that globally, air traffic is now at 84.2 per cent of January 2019 levels.
The IATA represents some 300 airlines comprising 83 per cent of global air traffic.
Our tourism economy is positively impacting the construction sector. More buildings are under construction to accommodate an envisioned rise in small, medium and large business enterprises that would fill these commercial spaces.
We are also seeing large condo buildings under construction that are mainly catering to European, American, and Canadian tourists seeking a second-home abroad during the winter season.
With all these developments taking place, we have a responsibility to see tourism growing back better in a sustainable and resilient manner. The three areas identified by the UNWTO as important ingredients for greater sustainability and resilience is education, training and investment.
Investment will be the theme for World Tourism Day 2023, celebrated on 27 September. With the current construction boom, investor confidence in the country can be described as high. One must include the banking sector which has been issuing loans to the building sector that would promote the construction boom that we are currently seeing.
Our tourism-based economy also has links to other sectors of the economy such as trade/wholesale-retail, transportation, communications, entertainment, insurance, and other business services.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) says the outlook for 2023 looks promising and favorable. The Caribbean had one of the quickest recovery rates globally in 2022, with 28.3 million registered tourists in that year. This represents 88.6 per cent of the visitors who arrived in 2019, which according to the CTO, served as the baseline year for typical tourism activity before the 2020 pandemic.
CTO: “There was an estimated 28.1 percent increase in visitors coming from the U.S. market in 2022. At the end of the year, 14.6 million American tourists visited the region, 3.2 million more than the 11.4 million in 2021.
“Arrivals from the European market increased by 81 percent in 2022 when compared to 2021. The 5.2 million tourists from this market were almost double the 2.8 million in 2021. This represented 18.3 percent of all arrivals in 2022.” Due to travel restrictions in early 2022, the Canadian market has recovered more slowly at 60 percent.
Sint Maarten was mentioned by the CTO as one of the top regional destinations where travel demand for 2019 has already been recovered surpassing its pre-pandemic tourism numbers. CTO says Caribbean destinations can expect this recovery to continue into 2023, albeit at a slower pace, predicting that growth will be uneven among the destinations.
The CTO expects overall arrivals to the Caribbean Region will increase by between 10 and 15 per cent when compared to 2022, with 31.2 to 32.6 million tourists visiting the region this year. “The cruise industry is also anticipated to continue recovering and expanding to meet increasing demand, with 32 to 33 million cruise passenger visits expected – a five to 10 per cent increase over the pre-COVID baseline figure,” CTO said.
With tourism being on track and businesses bouncing back, and the high robust pace of recovery for 2023, the trend is expected to continue beyond. As a destination, lets plan ahead to deal with the bottlenecks and challenges that we continue to face year-in and year-out.
Without a determined effort to tackle these on-going challenges, the destination will slowly but surely lose its appeal as we live and operate in a competitive regional environment with over 30 other destinations.
Philipsburg: Front Street (file photo)