Henrietta McNeill: The economic impact of an international conference

Samoa is where I call home. I'm not Samoan, but I started school here and spent a few years living the Samoan life. When I get off the plane, smell the air, feel the humidity, and hear those amazing Pacific voices as I enter the terminal, I feel at home.

I've come back in recent years for holidays and noticed that things are still in island time. My old school is still painted purple and green, my favourite pizza place is still there, and the people are still wonderful and friendly. But this time I've noticed that there have been significant changes - Samoa has created and build a lot of new infrastructure to host the amount of people that SIDS has brought to the island nation. There is new accommodation, everything has been painted, the bunting is endless... (seriously, it is even in tiny villages accross the island!). The pride in Samoa for hosting this international is very real.

This got me thinking about the economic development brought about by SIDS. I haven't looked at the official figures, but I can imagine the economic benefit for Samoa of the SIDS conference will be significant for the country. Not only in the infrastructure spending creating employment and flow of money, and the revenue generated by all the foreign delegations coming to Samoa and needing accommodation, food, taxis and possibly a souvenir or two, but it is also generating a lot of advertising for the country as a friendly and beautiful tourist destination for delegates to return to. I have already heard people talking about returning for a holiday in the near future, or people they have talked to about being in Samoa are now interested in coming. This is great for a small island developing state that has recently graduated from the Least Developed Countries group.

But it does generate questions of the longevity or sustainability of economic development generated by one massive UN conference. Does Samoa really need this many large conference venues after all the delegates have gone home? What will happen to the new businesses that set up to ride off the influx of delegates in the transport and accommodation sectors? Will they be sustainable once tourism flows return to normal? I'm not sure I have answers to these questions,  but my mind turns to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, where huge amounts of infrastructure was created but never used after the games, and has since become derelict.  This is something to keep in mind when saying that a large international conference will have significant benefits for a developing (or even developed) country - are these benefits long term?

There is no doubt that the pride of the country to host the SIDS conference is strong, everyone is smiling and friendly, the streets are cleaned up of rubbish, and there are signs everywhere welcoming people to Samoa. Fa'afetai lava Samoa for being a fantastic host, and I hope that the economic benefits to the country are sustainable and aid in future development. But if nothing else, this will always be a place I call home.

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

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Posted on September 3, 2014 and filed under SIDS 2014.