Saturday’s front page story on an international approach to visitor harassment was interesting. St. Maarten is no stranger to this issue, but it’s a global phenomenon.
Whether the “holistic learning model” developed by Purdue University in the USA will make a difference here remains to be seen, but research that provides answers is always useful.
However, when giving input via such surveys it’s important to be truthful and not exaggerate the local problem in a sensational manner, because that in and of itself could have negative implications in terms of the island’s image. While the initiative is no doubt well-intended, people must also try to prevent unfair labels based on generalisations and false perceptions.
The reality is nevertheless that from the cruise terminal exit to Boardwalk Boulevard and Front Street as well as popular beaches like Mullet Bay, Maho and Kim Sha, guests are frequently approached by micro-traders including rental vehicle and tour vendors, craft traders, small transport providers, beach chair/umbrella and water sports vendors, braiders, massage-givers and – of course – timeshare salespersons.
But although there have occasionally been complaints about all these groups, they are usually quite tactful, stay honest and know how far to go not to annoy their prospective clients. Make no mistake, these people might not be geniuses, but they appear to realise their future earnings depend on more coming and as a rule seem careful not to jeopardise that.
There are obviously excesses and most people would probably agree this kind of soliciting should be limited. At the same time, if nobody were buying there wouldn’t be any selling, as supply tends to follow demand. Even downtown merchants, one of the groups that regularly object to the informal vendors, often employ “barkers” of their own to get passers-by into their stores.
So, while the study is certainly welcome, it should consider the individual nuances and circumstances of each destination, especially those with a one-pillar tourism economy that provides the livelihood for practically the entire population.