SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - Mid-March it was announced that a group of professionals and business persons came together and established the ‘Philipsburg Promotional Board Foundation (PPBF)’ who has as its objective to revitalize Philipsburg at night and grow the capital’s day-time economy. This is a positive development for destination Sint Maarten.
The purpose of the foundation is to foster partnership and relationship with government authorities, non-governmental organizations, police force and investors; to strategize ideas in resolving issues with the improvement of the overall environment of Philipsburg, such as stimulation of the day-economy and to regenerate the night-economy in the areas of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, casinos and churches amongst others.
The PPBF has met with a number of groups such as Government, the Chamber of Commerce & Industry, a business group from Philipsburg, restaurants among other stakeholders in order to get ideas and information about re-branding Philipsburg.
Not far from the heels of PPBF, is the St. Thomas Task Force, a new government body that has been put together to improve the visitor experience within the capital of the aforementioned island, Charlotte Amalie. The task force also includes reps from the port authority, the private sector, taxi association and other stakeholders.
The St. Thomas task force was formed after discussions with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA). The mission of the group is to take a holistic approach to revitalize, refurbish, and re-invigorating the territory’s tourism product, particularly within the area of downtown Charlotte Amalie, the main shopping area of the destination.
St. Thomas and Sint Maarten are cruise competitors in the north/north eastern Caribbean area.
At a legislative meeting in St. Croix, USVI, comparisons were made between the aforementioned two destinations. This demonstrates that destination Sint Maarten is seen as the ‘benchmark destination’ in the Caribbean. This also points out that competition is gearing up to improve their own offerings and experiences which will eat away from other destinations including ours, which means we have to be on the ball and not become or remain complacent.
The USVI Department of Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty stated during a presentation that visitor cruise line arrivals are estimated to drop 11 per cent through 2018. Destination St. Thomas saw a significant reduction in calls in 2016 and this would continue through 2018 (cruise ship calls in 2016 was 535, forecast for 2017 is 489; and forecast for 2018 is 478).
A Carnival Cruise Line Executive contacted the St. Thomas Government and informed them about his visit to the destination in which he described it as being “horrible.” The executive sent photos and descriptions of what he saw: “It was a horrible visit. The downtown stores were pretty much empty, Main Street was not busy and his response was that the visit was so bad for him, as an experience, that he didn’t know if he wanted to come back to the port of Charlotte Amalie again.”
The St. Thomas Task Force is looking at a number of things to improve the visitor experience in which one businessman described it as a “stale pond” based on comments he received from clients that have been repeat customers for 30 years.
Destination Sint Maarten has its challenges in various areas: infrastructure, product aesthetics, visitor experiences, choice of tours, new tours etc. On the other side, some stakeholders have done their part over the years to keep the destination competitive such as Port St. Maarten. The PPBF has its job cut out, but with a collective approach involving all committed stakeholders; a lot can be accomplished with a smart approach in 2017 and beyond.
The destination needs a tourism model for the 21st century that is based on ‘smart tourism.’
Smart tourism is an international topic of discussion to create ‘Smart Destinations.’ Smart tourism’ is not a trend, but the future of tourism development. The Philipsburg area as well as the destination overall, has to become an ‘evolutionary flow of change’ in order to remain competitive with other destinations within the Region and beyond.
As a destination we need to differentiate ourselves and value, and preserve the natural, social and cultural environment while at the same time implementing a smart destination approach that would allow us to continue to develop in a sustainable manner. The country’s socio-economic future is based on a ‘smart destination’ approach where each one of us has a stake.