Letter to the Editor: Bonaire 2021 | Tourism Recovery Plan

Letter to the editor

The Bonaire Tourism Recovery Plan has taken great strides in spelling out three main objectives that will
support keeping Bonaire natural.

“The 3 main objectives:

  1. Target existing markets and increase average expenditure: Efforts geared towards getting tourists from the existing markets back to Bonaire after re-opening borders
  2. Diversify the tourism product: Efforts geared towards evolving the island into a sustainable and ‘premium destination’, focusing on the active, adventurous, nature lover, the more affluent tourist who enjoys the ‘Bonaire experience’.
  3. Engage the local community: Efforts geared towards the engagement of locals and organizations in the development of ‘authentic local experiences’ for the more affluent tourist.”

The objectives speak to the heart of many of us, who have come to Bonaire for years as tourists. Speak to many of us who have come to make Bonaire our home. The objectives seem to draw their foundation from nature and those who value the authentic experience. I applaud the team’s efforts to layout a plan that will attract and retain the tourist who wants to experience a natural Bonaire. In particular, the move away from mass tourism, focusing on digital nomads and accepting smaller and fewer cruise ships are a few of the tremendous first steps laid out in the plan.

However, when reading “Appendix 2: List of Bonaire’s top 20 attractions with suggestions on improvement”, I was struck by the items that seemed completely counterintuitive to the three main objectives stated in the recovery plan. I was alarmed. I felt if many of these items were implemented, it will have the exact opposite impact on Bonaire tourism, in that it would serve to drive long-time tourists away from Bonaire. Bonaire would lose its authenticity.

In search of feedback from other Bonaire tourists and long-time lovers of the island, I posed the question on a Facebook group that has over 9,500 participants. People in this group are Bonaire property owners, Bonaire residents, Bonaire tourists who make annual visits, sometimes multiple times per year, for over 20 to 30+ years. People in this group are a major part of the tourist audience we want to reach and grow.

It seems the post struck a nerve. Shining a light on the list of 20 items in appendix 2, served to raise an awareness level of what the Tourism Recovery Committee thought would be improvements for our target audience. This group seemed to overwhelmingly think otherwise. The fear of Bonaire becoming “Disneyland”, “Curacao or Aruba-like” was prevalent in the comments. To quote one response, “We don’t come to Bonaire for it to be Disney, Aruba, or any place with
concessions at every corner. Fix the roads, fix the stupid theft issues, reduce the cruise ships, leave flamingos and Klein alone. Very happy that there’s terrific dining and grocery choices these days.”

Another comment laid out a plan that was very much a consensus of the general responses:

  • Preserve the reef and nature. Keep the island peaceful. That is the magic of Bonaire.Fix the roads and create bike lanes/paths
  • Expand parking!!
  • No palm trees, they require too much water and die in a desert setting. Use desert plants and trees.
  • Stop the petty crime at dive sites. If people don’t feel safe they won’t return.
  • Keep goats and donkeys away from the public beaches
  • No music unless it is live music
  • Charge every cruise passenger a nature fee and ban plastic bottles
  • Support 2 higher quality museums, put one in Rincon
  • STINAPA needs to be more visible
  • Upgrade the airport terminal, especially baggage claim area

The group seems to be fully on-board with protecting the authenticity of Bonaire. One person even commented, “People who want all kinds of non-essential development and unnatural feeding events should find a different island. Bonaire should develop as an ecotourism island and promote wellness retreats. Do no damage meditation retreats. Learn to love the quiet and the beauty of the simplicity.” In summary, it feels the team who developed the Tourism Recovery Plan had a vision we can all get behind, but the appendix items seem to be out of alignment with the team’s own vision. We call on the government and the team developing the recovery plan and aligning resources to execute the plan, to look further than yourself. Look to your audience. Your audience overwhelmingly believes that a solid infrastructure (good roads, safety, parking, bicycle lanes/paths, etc.) in Bonaire’s highly natural and protected environment would provide an attractive and safe environment for Bonaireans and tourists.

We ask that you seek to protect nature and extensively evaluate any project that would create potentially environmentally damaging and artificial structures. Anything that infringes upon the salt pans, mangroves, flamingo sanctuaries, sea turtle or bird nesting areas, or causes obvious permanent damage to our protected reef system, threatens the very existence of Bonaire’s natural infrastructure and therefore, threatens the very reason people have come and will continue to come to Bonaire. We have one of the few truly authentic and natural environments left on the planet. Bonaire is unique. Your tourist audience asks that you protect and keep Bonaire authentic and natural.

Cathleen Whillock
Bonaire Resident

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