Editorial taken from TODAY, published December 1st, 2009
Ouch. The island government is spending precious dollars on a re-branding campaign with lots of double A’s in the slogans and now National Geographic has come down on the island like a ton of bricks to destroy these noble marketing efforts.
This is of course no surprise at all. To get ahead in the world with any undertaking, the slogan Be good and tell it is a sound piece of advice. The island government apparently understands the last part of this line (tell it), better than the first part.
Be good and tell it obviously requires that something must be good in the first place, otherwise there is nothing to tell. By focussing almost blindly on telling everybody how wonderful St. Maarten is, without wondering whether this is actually a true statement, St. Maarten is shooting itself in the foot.
In August, Tourism Commissioner Frans Richardson visited New York for a promotion tour. He talked to many journalists. And what did he tell them? “The economic downturn has given us the opportunity to define and refine our offerings, improve infrastructure and finally give attention to measures to protect and preserve the environment.”
It sounded brilliant, but unfortunately, this statement was not entirely true. Some might even argue that it was not true at all. Readers of the online newletter Travel Weekly gave Richardson a piece of their mind – a prelude to what was to come later in the year with National Geographic’s assessment.
“Once again, St. Maarten’s words are much different from reality regarding traffic, the nasty airport officials and agents, the absolutely hideous amount of crime against tourists and natives alike, and as of late a constant interruption of electrical services. St. Maarten, you have a long, long way to go.” was just one of the reactions.
Now National Geographic has placed the island in the category of destinations with the worst rating. It is, the prestigious magazine noted, “an example of what islands ought to avoid in tourism.”
For those St. Maarteners who have made it their mission to protect the island’s natural environment, National Geographic’s harsh criticism is the logical consequences of years of wrong decision-making.
Epic project manager Rueben Thompson says in our front-page story today that the criticism should not come as a surprise to anyone. The article, Thompson states echoes many of the concerns about the development on the island that Epic and its sister foundations have been pointing out over the past years.
“Implementing a properly planned moratorium on development would allow government to develop and apply essential environmental guidelines and regulations not present in the island’s existing legislation.” Thompson says.
While we have known all along that the island is groaning under consistent overdevelopment, this reality has now come home to haunt us. One article in a magazine like National Geographic has more power and more impact than a cleverly designed ad-campaign – no matter how many double A’s it contains, or how many dollars the government sinks in that venture. For National Geographic, St. Maarten as now simply become AAwful. Instead of spending time on promoting the island, our tourism commissioner now has to focus on damage control.
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