Hotel Development and a Sustainable Tourism Thrust
As details of the agreement between the Government and Marriott International for the construction and management of a luxury hotel at Mt Wynne are gradually disclosed, it is impossible to miss that a tremendous amount of hard work, by many people, must have taken place to bring us to the stage of an official signing ceremony.
When politicians speak of the “exciting times” ahead, as did Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves on Tuesday last, this tends to be in association with projects that will bring jobs and improved standards of living to the people; and growth to the economy.
No doubt about it, having the Marriott as a partner in the development of the proposed 250-room first-class hotel is a big deal, and having them commit to working with the Government to ensuring the highest environmental standards for sustainability is of even greater importance.
We took particular note when Vice President (Hotel Development for the Caribbean and Latin America), Marriott International, Bojan Kumer said that the aim is for the new hotel to set new standards for all future developments in SVG and that one of their goals is to be mindful of sustainability. That Marriott and the Government are working towards obtaining the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is of tremendous importance.
Important because while we are all justifiably excited about the prospects of this project and the transformative effect it should have on the western coast of the mainland and our national economy, we all know of many cases where overtourism and destruction of fragile ecosystems have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The Mt Wynne area is among nature’s best gifts to Vincentians, so hearing that the black sand beaches will be retained and that the hotel plant will be constructed using “green technology” to use fewer resources, reduce waste and negative environmental impacts, and decrease life cycle costs, is one of the major positive aspects of the project.
There are other critical issues hinging on the success of our tourism thrust. First, the matter of our readiness for a quantum leap in tourism development. We have traditionally been an agricultural export country and are still not very receptive to the needs of servicing a tourist economy.
Then there is the need for intensive training of those potential workers in the hospitality sector. The SVG Tourism Authority has made a big difference since the implementation of their Quality Assurance program and the SVGCC Division of Technical Education is trying its best on limited resources, but there is so much more work to do. We are at a big disadvantage in relation to human resource in this sector and cannot just hope that building hotels and resorts will be enough. If we are not prepared, those skills will have to be be sought abroad, and one can imagine the outcry.
Then there are the ancillary services, including entertainment and recreation. These give an additional boost, but here too, we the people must be prepared to invest. Our farmers must position themselves to be able to produce a year-round sufficient supply of high quality, organic fruit and vegetables; if the hotel’s supply cannot be assured, they will import. And, of course there is security; the necessary investment must also be made.
In all of this however, whether due to problems during implementation, or the effects of extreme weather events, we have to cater for delays and disappointments. But in a politically-charged atmosphere like ours where every advance is considered a triumph for government and every setback a failure on its part, it is difficult to be objective about our progress.
We can strike a rich vein, but must be prepared in order to reap the benefits.