Stuart: Increase in TEATT budget for 2020 a must | THE DAILY HERALD

Minister Stuart Johnson and TEATT department heads discuss the ministry’s 2020 draft budget last week.

POND ISLAND–Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Minister Stuart Johnson says the country cannot compete with even smaller islands when their budgets are more than four times St. Maarten’s annual destination marketing budget.

TEATT is the largest ministry in government and holds responsibility for the stimulation of economic activity and sustainable development of the island’s tourism product. Johnson said in a press release Monday that his intention is to ensure that all budgets within his ministry are thoroughly reviewed to arrive at a practical, workable figure for the 2020 budget.

The post-Hurricane Irma recovery momentum will improve only with advanced planning and proper preparation for realistic budgets to move the country forward, according to Johnson.

“I am aware that there are financial constraints that will hinder us from having the wish list 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,” said Johnson.

Besides early preparations for the 2020 budget, Johnson intends to work directly with Finance Minister Perry Geerlings to finalise payments for those entities that 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,” added Johnson.

While countries such as the Dominican Republic and Jamaica spend respectively 21.8 and 17.1 per cent of their budgets on destination marketing, St. Maarten’s numbers reach only a fraction of this amount.

Johnson met with his top advisors and department heads on July 15 to discuss the plan of approach for the 2020 budget. Critical vacancies that need to be filled were discussed early in the meeting, as was the establishment of guidelines to keep travel cost to a minimal.

Johnson wants to address staffing in the 2020 budget. He also wants the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau to work on a plan to secure funding from the World Bank for destination marketing.

St. Maarten earmarked only NAf. 3,858,118 on product development in the 2019 budget. TEATT 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 programmes in its key markets.

Johnson said that if St. Maarten wants to remain competitive in the region, it must make significant efforts to increase its budget or risk being left behind by the other destinations whose budgets are upwards of US $20 million per year for destination marketing alone.

“We must move towards having our product showcased in 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.

At the end of the meeting, Johnson said that the entire ministry would be working post-haste on a high-level strategy to increase TEATT’s 2020 budget and priority projects.

Source: The Daily Herald