“Tourism for All: “Promoting Universal Accessibility”
I would like to recognize the importance of World Tourism Day, which falls on the 27th of September of each year. The theme for 2016 is “Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility”. It is a conscious reminder to us all around the world to continue to strive for integration in order to improve each other potential in tourism, and to promote a mutual understanding of different cultures and traditions.
We have to be realistic about where we are now as a tourism destination and how we can strive to be better. We must embrace the efforts that have already been made and encourage everyone to continue going in the right direction towards making our Island more accessible. Because tourism, which has grown into the world’s largest industry, St Maarten recognizes the significance of this critically important industry and the positive effects is has and will continue to have on our beautiful Island. Government, the various stakeholders and most importantly the people of this Island, must constantly challenge ourselves to ensure that our tourism product is both environmentally and economically sustainable, and that we continue to offer quality services and products of the highest quality in order to exceed the expectations of our visitors.
However, while these are important goals that we share for our island’ tourism, I would ask that we reflect for a moment on the many person “the elderly and/or the disabled” who are not able to discover the beauty of our island due to limited accessibility to certain places and facilities, which would otherwise have enabled them to enjoy our island to a substantially higher extent while visiting for pleasure. After all, the incipiency of the tourism industry itself was based on the premise of one word: “Discovery”. But should disability, social factors or age be a limiting factor in discovering the beauty of St Maarten?
On September 27th the world will once again be celebrating World Tourism Day, an opportunity for all countries in the world to recognize the importance of tourism as a vessel to foster better “Accessibility for All”, giving us at least one moment to reflect on “Promoting Universal Accessibility”
In St Maarten, one of the biggest strengths of our tourism industry is the amount of repeat tourists we welcome to our shores. And while it is important to continually attract more tourists in niche markets such as Religion, Sports, Culture and Heritage and Medical Tourism to name a few, we cannot ignore the aging and/or disabled visitors, We must also recognize that our loyal time share owners that have invested in properties on this island, and who are consistently returning to our Island year after year. These visitors who continue to visit our Island, will continue to age and their needs for more accessibility on our island will continue to grow.
In addition to our stay-over tourist, we must also keep in mind the importance of accessibility for the millions arriving by sea. Cruise lines are among some of the most accessible tourism ventures in the world and their demand for destinations with matching accessibilities will only increase as more destinations are competing within the lucrative Caribbean Cruise market to conform to the accessibility standards.
Reflecting on where we are currently in terms of accessibility and connectivity, I must admit that the primary factor in the phrase “Tourism for All”, is reflected in the visitors ability to reach the destination, in terms of connectivity. When connectivity was analyzed based on direct international connections to and from a destination, St Maarten ranked 7th and we were recently named “Caribbean Airport of The Year 2016.
The management teams of the Princess Juliana International Airport operating company and the St Marten Harbour Holding Company have done an excellent job in ensuring that the visitors have a safe arrival and departure from our Airport and Sea Port facilities. We can also that several local businesses have improved accessibility with reserved parking for the disabled, and wheelchair ramps and elevators as well as accessible friendly restrooms for the disabled. We look forward to seeing more of such private sector initiatives.
Still, there is always room for improvement. We can definitely identify some areas that we may want to look at when providing better accessibility for all. The way in which we can improve this will differ from business to business, but my message is about us taking the time to identify why we need to make St Maarten more accessible for all and how we can do this ourselves.
I would like to stress that this premise should not only be limited to our visitors but to our local residents as well. I am a firm believer that we must also ensure that the residents on our island are also given the same consideration. Our elderly and/or disabled residents must also be able to enjoy the same degree of access as everyone else. As the saying goes: “Charity begins at Home” and if we want to implement accessibility policies for our tourists, we should simultaneously ensure that access for our residents to non-accessible areas are also improved. After all, one of the major touted benefits of the tourism industry is it potential to improve the land not just for tourists, but also for its inhabitants.
While we continue today to enjoy the growth of our tourism industry which enables us to sustain our way of life, I believe that as a nation we should not forget those who experience physical challenges when trying to discover the beautiful beaches and nature of our island, when seeking to experience the cultural diversity that we are so proud of as well as the many other delights that hundreds of thousands experience on our island each year.
I encourage everyone to continue to strive to truly be the “Friendly Island” in every way including being “accessibility friendly to all our visitors and our people.
Finally, I invite everyone to celebrate this glorious day “World Tourism Day” and to be part of the promotion of Tourism and the development of universal accessibility for all. I wish each and everyone on this beautiful Island a Happy World Tourism Day.