St. Martin’s heritage is priceless. It is an irreplaceable part of the human story. It should be preserved simply because it makes the world richer. It adds stories, language, art and culture to the grand tapestry of civilization.
But what is the practical value of St. Martin’s heritage in the modern age? How can it contribute to the future of life on the island? Is it even possible to predict during today’s uncertain times?
One area where heritage has clear value is in the tourism industry. Beautiful beaches and easy access by ship and plane turned St. Martin into a booming tourism destination in the 20th century. Tourism continued to grow during this century, but at great cost. The mass tourism of cruise ships and big resorts brings in less money, and profits fly off the island to international corporations. Meanwhile, natural beauty and the well-being of residents have suffered.
Whatever tourism looks like in the future, it will be different. For St. Martin, this could be the chance to pivot to more sustainable tourism. The island could use nature and heritage to develop an experience that is more unique and rooted in authentic island life. Jobs could depend on local knowledge and locally-owned companies could keep more of the profits on the island. From the Grand Canyon, to wine country to the pyramids, nature and culture are the foundations of tourism that are rooted in a place and its people.
Investing in heritage could provide opportunities in other areas. Restoration of heritage buildings using traditional techniques is a great way to preserve heritage and provide careers. Farming traditions could contribute to local agriculture initiatives. Local arts and literature could become more economically valuable on an island that promoted them.
Heritage should also be a bigger part of education. Textbooks should be written about local heritage. St. Martin culture should become a required part of the curriculum. People should be paid to study heritage and teach it. Those people should be local people as much as possible. When imagining alternatives to a tourism economy, it is easy to overlook the advantages of a more local education system.
Surely there are many other ways to use heritage as one of the building blocks of a stronger, better St. Martin in the future. How can St. Martin’s past improve its future? Let us know by writing to [email protected] or The Daily Herald.