Published On: Mon, Nov 28th, 2016

Promoting St. Maarten

The report about spending by cruise passengers in St. Maarten is a clear yard stick for the effects drops in passenger arrivals will have on the local economy.

When the chairlady of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association announced earlier this year in the parliament in Philipsburg that the numbers would drop by around half a million this year, it was like a bomb went off. With an average spending level of around $190 per passenger this projection represented a loss to the local economy of $95 million. Yet, nobody reacted.

Recently, the port presented numbers indicating that there will be around 15,000 fewer arrivals in the last three months of this year. There is no tally for the year available, but this number alone represents a loss of $2.85 million.

There is no doubt that falling numbers will have other effects elsewhere, for instance in terms of lower tax revenue for the government but also in terms of employment in all kinds of sectors that live off these cruise passengers. And let’s not forget that the port collect a $5 head tax for each passenger that arrives here: a loss of $75,000 over the last three months and, taking the FCCA-projection into account, a potential loss of $2.5 million for the year.

Against this background, the efforts by port director Mark Mingo to bring new cruise lines to the port are extremely important. Sitting back doing nothing while cruise business disappears to other islands is not going to save the day.

On the other hand, the focus on numbers is also a bit misleading. Economist Arjen Alberts has made clear in a study that St. Maarten ought to focus not on more, but on better tourists. Those people do not arrive here with cruise liners and that, in turn, makes the marketing of the destination a hot topic.

It is a pity, to put it mildly, that Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Ingrid Arrindell has chosen to mislead everyone by suggesting that the American public relations company Spring O’Brien has been contracted to market St. Maarten in North America – beginning in November. To the dismay of the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association, this has turned out to be a fata morgana: the company does not know anything about a contract. At least, that was our conclusion after we approached Spring O’Brien about it and received a one-line reply that read: Sorry, no comment at this moment.

So where are we going with our economy like this? Will we keep relying on the numbers from the cruise industry? That would make Mark Mingo the true minister of tourism; not a bad choice, by the way.

But where are the initiatives to diversify and to bring in other tourists? They should come from the ministry and the Tourist Bureau; let’s not even start about the St. Maarten Tourism Authority, where Minister Arrindell wants to parachute Rolando Brison as a director while the supervisory board does not want him.

The country is not waiting for these kinds of conflicts. They suck up all the energy that is so desperately needed to promote the destination.

Last week there was a story about St. Maarten in the online industry journal Travel Weekly. Hurray! But guess what: the travel writer in question has been invited by the French side tourism bureau and she was mostly guided to attractions on the French side.

How difficult can it be to do something like that for the Dutch side? Apparently, it is too much to handle, because when we scrutinize these industry journals, the name of Dutch St. Maarten hardly ever comes up. And that is just one of the many missed opportunities.

This feels like a good time to put a Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs in place that is ready to put some very hot pepper into the process of promoting St. Maarten.