PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - The St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA), the largest private business representative on the island, is concerned whether the long awaited St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA) will after having gone through its 6th revision, still be able to carry out the functions it set out to fulfil when first conceived almost two decades ago, even before hurricane Luis, and having seen at least 8 governments.
Its goal has always been to safeguard the marketing and promotion of the destination through an independent public/private body with its own funding, so that these important activities don't depend on changes in the political arena and can be mobilized as necessary outside of Government bureaucracy.
Having an STA in and of itself however will not guarantee the solution to our current marketing problems. It is vital that this entity be flexible enough to react to sudden changes and opportunities, fast at implementing the necessary actions and counter the effects of negative developments, without the usual red-tape.
Only experts that are directly involved with the tourism industry should have a seat on the board and be able to make swift decisions to ensure that our island remains competitive within the region, focussing on decreasing the length and depth of our low seasons, while optimizing yield during the high season, all in a sustainable manner and in the best interest of all that live on the unique and beautiful island we call home.
Rumours of the currently planned structure are different yet again from previous incantations, in which all stakeholders had ample opportunity for input, indicate 2 different Boards. One advisory to the other, with members from many reaches of our economy not necessarily core Tourism, and even including representation from the French side. Yet somehow it is excluding the Marine Industry, one of tourisms pillars along with Stay Over and Cruise.
The manner in which the STA gets implemented will have a direct effect on the Tourism industry and considering that 87% of the people are directly or indirectly employed in this sector, therefore impact the entire island of St. Maarten. As such, it is pertinent that stakeholders are consulted and have input in the policy portion which will ultimately determine its success. Should the STA become burdened down by restrictive policies and a slow decision process, it could have detrimental effect on our economy, effects that will not take long to become visible throughout the community and could last for years to come.
Marketing moneys do not only take time to show their positive effects, assuming that they have been properly applied, but these effects will also diminish quite quickly, another reason why consistent, uninterrupted and targeted marketing is a must, especially when we have such a limited budget.
We have already seen way too many changes over the years resulting in delayed disbursements of budgeted funds, the efforts of our representatives abroad coming to an almost complete stand-still as contracts are not being signed, St. Maarten not being present at several of the major tradeshows and an absence of short, mid and long term marketing plans.
Already a few days into Summer without any special marketing efforts in place to raise the dwindling occupancy figures, we are wondering what is in place to retain our market share during the upcoming high season, only a few months away. For an island that depends heavily on tourism, this is not the way to manage our country’s main industry, the one that generates the lion share of the income for the island. There is no time to waste stalling our marketing efforts awaiting the implementation of the STA, this will not only have negative effects in the short run but could have lasting effects for years to come.
Implementing an organisation that is from the onset burdened by a double layer of bureaucracy (for instance by having 2 boards in which one is advisory to the other), and manned by persons, though undoubtedly of good will, not necessarily of the Core Tourism product; will from the get-go not achieve the goals that were envisioned all those years ago.
A nimble organization with core tourism knowledge that can react quickly in particularly to the marketing-environment as it pertains to our sole economic pillar. Putting together the policy-end on which such an organization rests without the timely input of the (private sector) stakeholders, doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in what is supposed to be a balanced public/private partnership (PPP).
If, 20 years after the initial discussion which ultimately led to the plans to set up an National Tourist Organization (later rechristened as STA) it’s not been possible for mainly the public sector to wrap their head around the fact that a balanced PPP needs to be established, then perhaps it’s time to let the private sector pull this cart and see if she fares better with regard to the establishing of the STA.
The SHTA is dedicated to bringing quality to all aspects of life on St. Maarten by promoting sustainable economic development for its members in cooperation with the social partners and the creation of a fair marketplace. For more information please contact our offices at 542-0108 or visit our website atwww.shta.com. (Contributed by the SHTA)