TODAY - The Newspaper for Country St. Maarten
Published On: Mon, Sep 19th, 2016

Lover’s lane

It was rather predictable that some would consider the Pearl of China project an election gimmick. In terms of timing, that is of course quite understandable.

But Saturday it became clear that the investor is for real, the project is for real and the impact the project will have on our economy will be – if everything unfolds as presented – humongous.

Fear of the unknown – and who knows, fear of losing the elections – has driven some critics to comments that do not make a lot of sense. Today, former Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Claret Connor claims that it makes more sense to target the American-Chinese tourism market.

That’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and besides bringing in more tourists is not going to save the day, as we know from solid research by economist Arjen Alberts. Given our limited space, we have to angle for better tourists.

The Pearl of China project is not fishing for tourists; it is a business venture that will bring a completely different set of people to the island.

Will these business people spend more money than the average tourist? Where business deals are made, parties tend to entertain – be it at the dining table or elsewhere – and that money will roll through our economy. So yes, we think – at this moment – that the visitors the Pearl of China will bring to our shores tend to be above-average spenders.

Then there is the criticism about the way the project was announced. But is that – in the big scheme of things – so important? To us it seems more interesting to make sure that the developer is good for his word about ecological values and sustainable development.

What we find slightly baffling – but maybe that’s just us – is that the developer, unlike many others before this one, has not even asked for fiscal incentives like a tax holiday. The government has not offered any either.

What are the real local concerns then? It cannot be about the 400 jobs and the work that is on offer for local contractors. We all know that the lush greenery at this location is an ideal environment for a lover’s lane. We have seen cars with steamy windows in the middle of the day there. Yep, these people will have to find another spot for their activities. So what?

Continued access to the beach for everyone is of course a concern, given the troubles people have to access the fort at the Divi Little Bay Resort. But these are issues that can be discusses; solutions can be found.

Going forward, that discussion must be the focus, because – come hell or high water – this project is going to become a reality. So far, the investor has at least said that all the comments and criticism is an inspiration to make this “the best project ever.”

For now, we’re ready to take that statement at face value.