Eco-tourism is a sustainable alternative for a better economy

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For decades, our Governments have only looked at building big projects without thinking about the infrastructure issues and environmental issues it will create for decades to come.

Earlier this week, we saw another example of this when the NA party announced a major hotel project in the Cay Hill/Belair area right in front of a bird sanctuary involving Chinese investors.

Amazingly, it seems that neither their own candidates nor coalition members were aware of this JACKPOT DEAL as it was referred to by the Minister of Finance and NA candidate.

While some people like gambling, and I respect their choice, I am not in favor of rushing down a path without proper transparency and without consultation with the population.

Claude “Chacho” Peterson will not gamble with the future of the next generations.

Having worked in the tourism and hotel industry in Aruba for years, I developed a passion for Tourism. I feel we must absolutely develop as part of eco-tourism, bird watching also known as avitourism or birding, among those who do it. It is a market we have only scratched the surface in St. Maarten. I actually wrote a post on my public Facebook suggesting this great opportunity since April 21, 2016.

Many people may not realize, but Soualiga as a whole, has a vibrant bird population with many species, including migratory birds and many opportunities for bird watching. We have already been recognized on a world stage for being an island with amazing bird watching potential.

“If you consider birdwatching a recreational sport, as birders themselves do, and compare it to the United States’ top five national sports, the numbers are telling. According to the U.S. census in 2009, 24 million Americans play basketball, 23 million baseball, and 9 million play American football. At the same time, there are estimated to be nearly 60 million American birdwatchers.

Avitourism, as this particular sector of the industry is known, is one of the most lucrative sources of income in ecotourism. It accounts for the largest single group of eco-tourists across the globe, and according to some estimates, three million international trips are taken each year for the main purpose of bird-watching. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study, in the United States alone, bird watchers contributed about $36 billion to the U.S. economy 2006. In Germany, national parks such as Müritz National Park receive about 600,000 visitors each year who come to view a variety of species, including cranes and white-tailed eagles. Tourism generates over €13 million a year for that region, supporting an estimated 628 full-time jobs.” (source-http://www.livescience.com)

This tourism segment consists of millions of people worldwide who are very motivated to travel to destinations to bird watch and take pictures. In the process they also bring along family members and friends who may not be bird watchers, but will enjoy a vacation and take part in our other activities such as shopping, snorkeling, dining, etc. So really this is a win-win for the island businesses in general and not only those involved in bird watching tours.

We can generate hundreds of eco-jobs for our young people and population in general who can receive specialized training.

This hotel proposed in Cay Hill will potentially destroy a bird sanctuary area, which is home yearly to many species of migratory birds as well as indigenous species. The investment for our country and the environmental impact would be a lot less if we sought to develop a plan to make St. Maarten a mecca for bird watchers. We can generate millions for our economy and create jobs without having to invest millions in our infrastructure. Time to think out of the box.

I do believe we can develop a hotel on the Mullet Bay land since it was already there. Maybe the Minister of Finance can tell the people why that land is undeveloped for over 20 years now. Yet any major hotel development needs to be planned properly and we need to prepare our people to be able to benefit from such a project. No more tax holidays, which do not benefit the people.

We will have to reinforce our immigration policies, strengthen our education system and seek to provide specialized training for our people in the service industry and most importantly protect jobs for them.

Our electricity, water, telecommunications, sewage distribution and road infrastructure also need to be prepared to handle the extra load.

I would like to ask St. Maarten People on the eve of this election not to be led by their emotions and not to be comforted by empty promises. It is time you stand up and demand transparency from your government.

This election is about our ability as a people to elect 15 Members of Parliament who can serve the people with integrity and love for country.

Corruption is not my culture. Don’t let it be yours!

Claude A.H. Peterson

#4 candidate on SMCP

Claude Chacho Peterson