Published On: Wed, Dec 11th, 2019

A lousy day in Downtown Philipsburg

Empty boardwalk - 20191211 JH

GREAT BAY — The decrease in cruise ship arrivals in St. Maarten is clearly felt by businesses in Philipsburg. Since November 1st, the start of the tourist high season, fewer of the mega-sized cruise ships have docked in St. Maarten. Relatively more European ships come to the island. Their passengers have different spending habits than what St. Maarten is used to.

Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines have reduced their service. This season St. Maarten is missing out on 15 of the biggest cruise ships, each carrying between six to nine thousand passengers and crew members. Additionally, TUI Cruises has cancelled all its three cruise calls to St. Maarten in the 2019-2020 high season.

Vendors of luxury items in town complain about the reduction in quality tourism. A jeweler in Front Street swipes his phone to scroll down the Port St. Maarten cruise ship schedule for this month. “Tomorrow is a big day: five ships. Two of them very good ships. The day after tomorrow: no ships. Then, on the 14th, lousy ships.” He scrolls on. Sighs: “I might just as well close the store on several days this month.”

TUI Aidaluna cruise ship in port - 20191211 JH

In port today is the AIDALuna, a German built ship with a capacity of 2100 passengers. This ship started sailing December 1st from Jamaica and visited Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Martinique and Antigua before it docked in St. Maarten this morning. The second ship is the Marella Explorer 2, an adults only all-inclusive ship which can accommodate 1800 passengers. Among them travelers from the UK who flew to Barbados, the port of sail. Before the ship reached St. Maarten, it docked at St. Vincent.

Today is not a good day for businesses in Philipsburg, says a beach operator who does not want to be mentioned by name. “European tourists generally spend less, and passengers for AIDALuna have already been to seven destinations. Just like for transatlantic cruises, where cruise tourists are travelling fourteen days and spend many of those days at sea, visitors have already spent most of their travel budget when they reach St. Maarten. The number of people that comes off the ship is limited, just like yesterday the beach will be quiet.”

Just another day in Paradise SXM - 20191211 JH

He shakes his head. Annoyed: “The Oasis of the Seas was supposed to be here today. That would have brought good business, but Royal Caribbean changed the itinerary. Puerto Rico won the lotto: the Oasis is in San Juan today. Yesterday the Oasis was at Royal Caribbean’s private island Labadee off the coast of Haiti. That’s where they go now, to islands owned by the cruise lines. Five cruise lines have seven private islands in the Caribbean where they take their passengers to spend the day, like ‘Perfect Day on Coco Cay’.” Since the 1990s, cruise lines have been investing in land-based private islands in the Caribbean. In 1997, Holland America Line purchased Little San Salvador from its previous owners for $6 million. Today, the 2,400-acre island is known as Half Moon Cay and serves as a private retreat. Cruise lines continue to build out new exclusive destinations and upgrade their longtime island enclaves.

Taxi drivers and activity vendors are waiting in vain at the pier at Walter Plantz Square. This morning the water taxi takes passengers to the Captain Hodge Pier near Wathey Square only. Each time a few dozen tourists arrive. “These people have bought a round trip, that doesn’t leave any business for us,” says taxi driver Benjamin Franklin. He and his colleague Jose Slac are standing in the shade at Wathey Square discussing ‘unfair competition’. They are not allowed to go into the harbor to pick up tourists, although they have the same permit as the taxi drivers that are allowed in. Slac raises his arms in a gesture of helplessness. He parked his van in front of the Court House at seven o’clock in the morning. Four hours later he still doesn’t have a client.

Police patrolling A.C. Wathey Square - 20191211 JH

The police arrive in two vans at Wathey Square. When asked what brought them to the empty square, one of the officers replies that the police are on their normal rounds checking the traffic situation and the unauthorized parking of cars at Wathey Square and in front of the Court House. They stay at Wathey Square till lunch time. At two minutes before twelve Slac gets his first clients of the day, a man and a women get into his van. The taxi driver beams a warm smile at them. An hour later it suddenly starts raining heavily. Beach guests and tourists on the boardwalk seek cover in bars and restaurants. Several tourists who are already soaking wet decide to return to the ship. Beach vendors who put up signs for 20-dollar beach deals, instead of the $25 signs on good days, are going home with just pocket money today.

Puddle of water after rain downpour - 20191211 JH

Photo caption: Photos taken today, Wednesday, December 11, 2019, coinciding with the report of the article today as well. More photos can be found on our Facebook page.

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Related links:
See more photos of today’s lousy day in Philipsburg on our Facebook page
Hustled and harassed in Philipsburg
Businesses in Philipsburg struggle to survive
A 12-point vision plan for St. Maarten coming soon. Learn more here first…