~ Marlin tells African-American Hotel summit ~
MIAMI, Florida–Come to St. Maarten to do business, the labour laws are “quite flexible” and hotels are eligible for up to a 10-year tax holiday, Prime Minister William Marlin told attendees of the 21st Annual International African American Hotel Ownership and Investment Summit and Trade Show, organized by the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD), in Miami, Florida, this week.
Wooing attendees in his speech, Marlin said, “Our labour laws are quite flexible and we are currently reviewing them to bring them in line with modern day requirements. Suffice it to say that we have an effective public-private sector partnership which has made labour unrest almost non-existent.”
Further, he added the whole island is duty-free. “This means you can bring in equipment, materials, and whatever you may need to set up shop without paying any import duty … You can freely repatriate your profits, after of course, paying the relevant taxes,” he said.
“When you establish your hotel, you are eligible for up to a 10-year tax holiday,” Marlin added.
St. Maarten has “a stable and autonomous government that is business-friendly and focused on economic development for the benefit of the people.”
While English and Dutch are the official languages, English is the mother tongue of most St. Maarteners, he pointed out. “From the bell boy to the hotel manager, from the market woman to the university professor are all multi-lingual, speaking English, Spanish, French as well as Dutch with varying proficiency.”
He also told the summit that Government is finalizing negotiations to establish US Immigration and Customs Pre-Clearance facility at the airport which will further enhance the destination’s hub function.
“We are not new to the hospitality business. In fact, tourism has been the mainstay of our economy for over six decades now; that is over 60 years of experience that other destinations are now learning from,” he said.
St. Maarten was described by Marlin as “the Las Vegas of the Caribbean” for it has 15 casinos. “That is almost one casino per square mile, including stand-alone casinos! Of course, hotels and casinos go hand in glove and properties that have more than 200 rooms can be eligible for a casino licence,” he said.
“Above all, we are called the Friendly Island for good reason. Our people are not only friendly, but also proud of their heritage. We are the only territory in the Kingdom of the Netherlands where Emancipation Day, July 1st is an official public holiday,” Marlin said.
Considering the geographic size of the country and its human and material resources, Marlin told attendees “sustainable tourism development is not a convenient political slogan for us, but an imperative for our very economic survival. It is the route we have taken as a government to provide for our people in a meaningful manner.”
Government, he added, has embarked on a four-year plan that is based on five strategic objectives including socio-economic and environmental sustainability, enhanced quality of life and sound financial management. “None of these objectives would be attainable without sustained direct foreign investment, particularly in the hotel and hospitality sector,” he said.
For St. Maarten, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report of 2016 indicated that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 2.6, while real GDP per capita was US $26,025. This is higher than the real GDP per capita of Jamaica and Barbados put together. It is also higher than those of the Bahamas, Curaçao and St. Kitts and Nevis.
In other words, by this metric, St. Maarten belongs to the high-income country level, which disqualifies it from seeking IMF loans. The country, however, has a Baa1 rating by Moody’s with stable outlook.
“But truth be told, our economy grew only by a very modest 0.5 per cent in 2015, down from the 1.5 per cent it posted in 2014,” Marlin said.
The IMF forecasted a 0.7 expansion in St. Maarten’s GDP in 2016 as reflected in an increase in stay-over tourist arrivals and added that “over the medium term, growth is expected to pick up moderately to 1.3 per cent.”
Marlin noted that he highlighted all points “to show that there is no better time than now for you to invest in St. Maarten.”
“My government is committed to boosting and diversifying our economy through various initiatives with the focus on creating a very attractive and competitive investment climate that sees business development and job creation as two sides of the same coin. Our aim is to change the seasonality of the tourism industry into a year-round enterprise,” he said.