Published On: Tue, Oct 8th, 2019

“St. Maarten needs to put the ‘WOW’ back in the guests’ experience”

Minister Stuart Johnson - Lela Simmonds - Michelle Paige 2 - 20191008 JH

MAHO — The private sector on St Maarten has to step up and invest in improving the overall experience of cruise tourists visiting the island. Michele Paige, President of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), doesn’t mince words. “Government, Port St. Maarten and the FCCA can’t do it alone. Merchants have to make sure that people will want to come off the ship.”

People-To-People experiences are the “IT” for travelers, Paige assures. “Don’t be afraid to share your culture and show your history. You have to make your island stand out.” Cruise passengers spend on average a little over four hours in St. Maarten. The FCCA’s suggestions for business owners: Provide a good and diverse retail experience, new excursions that are unique to the island, local food tasting, farm-to-table events and live music and entertainment.

Paige challenges local businesses to come up with new ideas. She warns, “Cruise lines are increasingly exploring new markets, like China and Australia, countries we did not go to before.” The Caribbean will always be an important cruise destination, as it is the only region where ships can tour all year long, but the islands will have to do more, according to Paige.

The FCCA-president spoke during a press conference, organized and preceded by minister Stuart Johnson of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication. Johnson puts emphasis on the excellent relationship and partnership with the FCCA “on and off camera”.

The projected drop in cruise calls by 10,6 percent between November 2019 and April 2020 “gives us an opportunity to redefine our focus on the quality of service and sustainable green tourism, and redefine our product,” minister Johnson stated. “We have the opportunity now to tie the port experience project with the visitors and the shore side experience, which are the focal points of the industry. The objective is to create an experience that energizes and engages guests with the information and activities pertaining to our destination’s heritage and culture.”

Port St. Maarten’s business development and marketing manager Lela Simmonds reassures that the new port experience project, consisting of the replica of a ship and ‘a salt pond’, several shops and an ATM-machine, will not keep cruise passengers from visiting town or have them spend more time in port. “That is not our objective,” Simmonds claims.

Fifty-seven percent of all shore excursions is booked through the cruise lines, long before visitors arrive on the island. Prices are often double the local rate. Paige brushes it off. “The cruise ships can charge more, of course, because these companies are liable in case of an accident. They pay insurance and they train local tour operators, making sure that they provide good service.” She adds: “I always say: ‘You are just one incident away from turning into a ghost town.’”

“St Maarten needs the cruise industry. And we want to work with you”, she assures. The president is somewhat dismayed over the low participation of local stakeholders in FCCA events. “I don’t know if they think they know everything already. But there is a lot that can be achieved by attending our conferences.” The next FCCA conference will be held in two weeks, from October 21-24, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Over a hundred cruise executives are going to be present to be able to work with you, to make sure that your questions are answered. If you have any ideas about tours, if you have any ideas about things that you want to sell to the cruise lines, anything at all.” Paige suggests that if you own land, you may want it to be used for a new cruise port. ”The Dominican Republic already has five ports now. So if you have any ideas, come and work with the cruise industry. We are your partner.”

Photo caption: L-R: Lela Simmonds, Business Development and Marketing Manager Port St. Maarten; Minister of Tourism (TEATT) Stuart Johnson; FCCA President Michele Paige. Photos by Jacqueline Hooftman.


Related articles:
Cruise tourism in a deep existential crisis
Port St. Maarten to Undertake Investments to Maintain and Enhance High Guest Satisfaction Ratings