“Powering Sustainabe Development” – Haydn Hughes, State minister of Tourism & Finance: Anguilla
The theme of this conference, “Powering Sustainable Development” is an interesting and fitting theme for all of us small developing islands and it was aptly chosen for this particular conference.
Over the years, Statia has been an important country for Europe. The history books show us that the island changed hands several times between 1493 and 1636. In the 18th century, Statia was the most important Dutch island in the Caribbean and a center of great wealth due to its strategic location. At that time it was known as the “Golden Rock” and I am sure that the people of Statia still view it as the Golden Rock today.
With much of the world’s economies evolving – with all of the agriculturally dependent islands in the Caribbean now moving aggressively to carve out their piece of the Tourism pie, Statia too is looking to ensure that they get their fair piece of the pie in that it is a country that is opened to tourists and visitors and letting the world know they are! I must admit, this is the first time I have been to Statia but many Anguillians, including some of the leading bands from my island paradise have visited and love it here and I have always placed it on my short list of islands to visit so again, I want to thank you for the invitation.
The fact that you are hosting this crucial conference demonstrates the seriousness in which the Government of Statia view the importance of the development of Tourism and; why not? Tourism is one of, if not, the most sustainable industry in the world. Long before the days of the Vikings and even Christopher Columbus, people have had the desire to travel to new places, experience new things and enjoy the hospitality of others. This has been so for hundreds of years in the past and will be for hundreds of years in the future and that is why the time is now to ensure that we are ready and able to derive as much benefits for all our people as possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, new destinations are opening the world over from former hot spots such as Cuba, Vietnam, Bosnia and Russia to the rebranding of long standing destinations such as Orlando and many other European and North American cities. Countries that were cut off from the world for decades such as China and the former Soviet Bloc are now competing for the Tourism business that many of our countries are totally dependent on. In some instances, we got into the business of Tourism long before they did. With all of these countries vying for this business what does that mean for us here in the Caribbean and more importantly, Statia?
It means that we must continue be the best destination in the world as we know we are.
1. We are the best warm weather destination in the world
2. We have the best beaches – the best and most consistent weather,
3. We are the safest region and is home to the world’s friendliest people
4. We are a diverse region with our mixture of African, Asian and indigenous peoples with the tastiest food, diverse topography, languages and dialect
If you combine the aforementioned with our beaches that ranges from black to white sand, mountainous to flat, arid to tropical rainforests; our dive sites which are bar none and where you do not need a wet suite to get into the water – our water sports, our hotels, guest houses and inns and all the other natural attributes that make the Caribbean the Caribbean, you will realize that there is no better region in the world and Statia is poised to become a real player in the marketplace but there are none of us that rest on our laurels. We have to have the best service for the most discriminating Tourists to ensure that they return time and time again. That is what sustainability is all about.
Some of our countries have relatively large populations while others such as Anguilla and Statia are small – really small. We thought Anguilla was small with its population of less than 14,000 people until I got to Statia and realize that you are even smaller than we are but, size should never be accepted as a limiting factor. As a matter of fact, the smallness of Statia put you in a strong position because you are nimble and can react to changes quickly. The challenge for the policy makers is how to make Statia the most important travel destination in the region other than Anguilla. How do they do that? Statia has had its natural beauty for hundreds of years and that will not change now. This conference demonstrates just that. Statia must use this natural beauty to market itself and find its niche which I believe you are well on your way as I learned at the STC Sustainable Tourism Conference in Guyana recently. Statia is into agriculture and agri-Tourism is one such niche. It is a volcanic island and is surrounded by the beautiful turquoise water which is teemed with fish of all colours and sizes. The diving is spectacular and visitors can enjoy the dive sites and tours of one of the longest inhabited islands in the Western world. When a country understands its value and recognizes its treasures, it will do what is best to ensure that it develops these treasures to their fullest potential to benefit all while being sustainable for future generations.
Legislation and policies to protect the same must be enacted and the entire population must be educated and be on the same page. This is why I said earlier that the smallness of the population is an advantage. It would be easier for the Tourism Officials to reach the population – to go into the schools and teach the children sustainable practices such as waste management, protecting the coastlines, the ocean, energy management and ensuring that Statia be litter free -using biodegradable chemicals and protecting green spaces. All of this must be bought in from the bottom up and taught from the top down.
Statia is in a unique position because it was not known for tourism but it can become a Tourism powerhouse. It is relatively close to St. Maarten which is the gateway for Anguilla, St. Barths, Saba and Statia due to its airlift capacity. I know Charles has been trying to get more airlift into Statia directly out of San Juan and I am confident that he will be successful in doing so. Statia is linked to Europe by way of Holland and that in itself can be an advantage as you can utilize those links to market directly to the people of Holland and by Extension, Europe. Just as they did hundreds of years ago when they all clamoured to get to Statia, their descendants can clamour once again to get back to Statia but this time, for entirely different reasons.
Recently, Anguilla concluded the drafting of the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan that will guide our Tourism development over the next eight years. It was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank. It is a reflection of the goals of the Government and people of Anguilla and was compiled by Halcrow and CHL Consulting. This may be an option for Statia to pursue if they want to work on a working document but I believe the ingredients for St. Eustatius Tourism development is here and the right people are in place to take Statia to the next level.
This conference will go a long way in reinvigorating the policy makers and hopefully the population to ensure that Statia is on a sustainable path to Tourism development that can enhance the lives and livelihoods of the people of the Golden Rock.