SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication the Honorable Stuart Johnson wrapped up his Europe work visit by attending the Monaco Yacht Show 2019 last week.
This year's event has been hailed by the organizers and attendees alike as the largest mega-yacht show and has fittingly received significant attention from Marine Industry service providers around the globe.
Johnson was the invited as the "Chief Guest" for the event, and participated in a roundtable discussion at the ACREW IMM Crew Lounge with several Mega Yacht Captains, other stakeholders in the Yachting Industry, Port de Plaisance St. Maarten's Yacht Club representative Jesse Peterson and the media personnel from around the globe during the event.
The goal was to provide updates on developments in the local front as St. Maarten continues to be a destination of great interest for the global yachting industry. "It is important that updates on St. Maarten's progress post-Irma are positive. It must be spread whenever and wherever we have the opportunity as this allows to attract future yachts," said Johnson.
Johnson said he would "continues to embrace and support the Marine Sector on St. Maarten as it contributes significantly to our economy."
During the roundtable discussion, Johnson highlighted the Triton Update Online, spoke about current affairs and gave a synopsis of the past six months of activities on the island where the Yachting Industry is concerned.
Part of the discussion focused on updating the Crew Members and Captains on what they can expect in terms of improvements since St. Maarten was devastated in September 2017 by Hurricane Irma and Maria.
Johnson also had "a frank discussion" with the attendees during which he explained that the Simpson Bay Bridge has already exceeded its lifespan and will need to be replaced. He said, “Part of the vision for the industry includes widening the channel and making the entryway deeper to accommodate the larger vessels as more mega yachts have shown interest in coming to our destination.” He also mentioned the new Marinas and those that have come back online since suffering damage in 2017.
"We stressed the importance of having all businesses and Marinas fully operational. However, we made it clear that based on our experience with hurricane Irma and Maria in 2017, new developments must be sustainable," said Johnson.
Some feedback he received from Captains included concerns about the Immigration issue of the past with regards to clearance of crew members. He informed the Yacht Operators of the Immigration Department's efforts to improve clearing times. He also more work will be done to improve on efficiency, especially where it relates to the B1/B2 Visa requirements and other issues that were challenges in the past. Johnson explained that some problems, such as those pertaining to Cruising Permits, should be resolved. He also said the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau would continue working on improving the visitor experience for the Yachting industry.
Consideration is being given to beautification projects for Simpson Bay. Adding walking trails through the Cole Bay area and creating other hiking trails and bike ride excursions, and increased hotel services, are also some requests made during the discussion. Johnson intends to work with his colleague Minister of Justice on addressing the concern over the Simpson Bay Police dock being closed from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, which was a point of interest for the Captains.
The Ministry of TEATT will be carrying out an impact study to determine how far and wide the financial benefits of the Yachting Industry reach. At the same time, the Ministry will, through the TEATT at Work awareness television program, inform the community at large about opportunities within the Yachting Industry.
"More attention will be put on "All about SXM" donations which PDP launched after the hurricanes of 2017. The work BWA has done assisting the community over the past four years, and the recycling effort of TRITON will also be highlighted.
During his trip, Johnson also met with tourism officials in Cannes, France and Monaco. He was featured in a video message on progress in St. Maarten post-Irma and Maria, which was launched by the Cannes tourism office.
"St. Maarten has a great opportunity to expand its Marine Sector. And through the Memorandum of Understanding with our counterparts on the Northern Side of the Island, we can create greater links with France to increase of Yacht arrivals from that region," said Johnson. He has held an initial discussion with Vice President of the Collectivity Valerie Damasseau and intends to continue these discussions within short to determine a way forward.
"To attract tourist, we have to go out, and foster relationships along with marketing efforts will stimulate tourist movements to our island," Johnson concluded.