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Reflections on the ABC Islands Tourism Symposium

Reflections on the ABC Islands Tourism Symposium


April 16, 2024


Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the symposium organized by the Association of Dutch Caribbean Economists (ADCE) on the theme 'ABC Islands: Too Dependent on Tourism?' The event, held at the auditorium of the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten (CBCS) on April 12, 2024, shed light on the current state and future prospects of tourism in the region.

The presentations from Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao highlighted the pivotal role of tourism as the primary economic driver on the islands. However, they also underscored the pressing need for balanced development to ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry.

One of the key takeaways was the disparity in the stages of tourism development among the islands. While Aruba faced the challenges of over-tourism due to its early expansion in the 1990s, Bonaire and Curaçao are experiencing a more recent surge in tourism, posing threats to their unique natural and cultural assets.

A common concern voiced at the symposium was the failure of local populations to fully benefit from tourism growth, as well as the reliance on foreign labor to fill employment gaps in the hospitality sector. Moreover, the islands grapple with inadequate enforcement of regulations and the sluggish implementation of tourism master plans.

The central conclusion drawn from the symposium was clear: sustainable tourism development necessitates parallel investment in infrastructure, environmental conservation, and community welfare to ensure inclusive growth. However, the discussions revealed a glaring gap between rhetoric and action, with little emphasis on concrete measures to address the looming challenges.

Despite the valuable insights shared during the event, I couldn't help but feel a sense of disappointment. The absence of young economists and a failure to engage with cutting-edge research, such as Arjen Albers' work on carrying capacity, underscored the missed opportunities for intellectual discourse and innovation.

Furthermore, while some presentations provided valuable insights, others lacked coherence, leaving attendees grappling to decipher the underlying message. It became apparent that while acknowledging the need for sustainable practices, there was a reluctance to confront the hard truths about the detrimental impacts of unchecked tourism growth.

As the symposium drew to a close, the urgency of the situation was palpable. While acknowledging the importance of tourism as an economic lifeline, it is imperative that policymakers and stakeholders heed the warnings and chart a course toward responsible tourism practices. The time for action is now, lest we risk irreparable harm to our islands' delicate ecosystems and cultural heritage.

In conclusion, while the symposium served as a platform for dialogue, it also highlighted the pressing need for tangible solutions and concerted action to ensure the long-term prosperity of the ABC islands. Only through collaborative efforts and a commitment to sustainable development can we safeguard our islands' future for generations to come.

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