PORT ST. MAARTEN – On June 3rd, 2019, Port St. Maarten celebrates 55-years of cruise. It was June 3rd, 1964, that the A.C. Wathey Pier in Point Blanche was inaugurated. Thereafter, over a period of 16-years cruise tourism slowly started to grow as the global cruise industry started to develop and in 1980 the island welcomed 105,000 cruise passengers.
As the industry continued to grow, the destination hit the one millionth cruise passenger mark in 2002 and thereafter has catered to more than a million cruise passengers for the past 17-years.
The development of the harbor facilities over the past 55-years started off with one company and now encompasses 13 companies with over 70 employees responsible for most of the country’s maritime-related activities. The operations are also broken down into four pillars, namely Cruise, Cargo, Yachting and Real Estate.
The Port St. Maarten Group of Companies has diversified its activities into real estate ownership and port consultancy as well as owning and operating the port’s two mobile harbor cranes.
55-years later, St. Maarten is a successful cruise destination. This is due to its approach of listening to the cruise lines and understanding the business which has grown by leaps and bounds.
“In 1964 with the construction of the A.C. Wathey Pier, the tourism visionary Dr. A.C. Wathey saw the opportunities that tourism would bring to the destination. June 3rd, 1964 saw the island sail into the opportunity of cruise tourism, and today we are one of the top cruise destinations in this part of the Caribbean.
“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate past political leadership, port management, supervisory boards, port staff, our cruise industry partners and stakeholders for their roles that they have played in the development of cruise tourism St. Maarten over the past 55-years with respect to this momentous occasion.
“For the next 55-years, we look forward to taking Port St. Maarten to the next level with improvements to our infrastructure such as the cruise piers, the cruise terminal, a permanent structure for home porting and by extension the entire destination as we move forward,” Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications Hon. Stuart Johnson said on Sunday.
St. Maarten today understands the industry so well that it has become the destination of choice. This is due to offering quality and memorable land experiences for its cruise guests. The destination has been proactive which has kept it in the lead in the North Eastern Caribbean for more than five decades.
The turning point for Port St. Maarten was 24-years ago when Hurricane Luis (1995) caused devastation to the island’s infrastructure. After a period of planning and development, the first cruise pier, Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise Pier South (545 meters in length) capable of accommodating four cruise ships simultaneously, was put into operation in 2007, one of the few ports at that time that could receive the world’s largest cruise ships.
A second cruise pier, Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise Pier North (445 meters in length) was opened in 2009, allowing the Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise & Cargo Facility to cater to six cruise ships at the same time. This was then followed by the development of an upland retail (duty-free outlets, souvenir shops, market stalls), food and beverage commercial center at the port – Harbor Point Village – built in the traditional architectural style of old Philipsburg.
Investments were also made in Philipsburg with the upgrade of Front and Back Streets as well as the construction of the Great Beach Promenade. This was followed by the 760-meter Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge (2013) that would improve the transportation network contributing to a better visitor experience.
Additional investments were made in the enhancement of the Capt. Hodge Wharf in Philipsburg and the construction and inauguration of the Walter Plantz Square and tender jetty in 2015.
Within the past five decades, due to Port St. Maarten’s Supervisory Board and Managements strategic thinking and innovativeness, homeporting was pursued and has successfully been developed. With some of the best cruise facilities in the region, a number of boutique cruise lines with small luxury vessels of 100 – 500 passenger capacity, have used the opportunity offered by Port St. Maarten as a home port base. The destination financially benefits from home porting during the pre and post-stays. Between 20 to 25 per cent of home porting passengers stay on the island before and after their cruise.
The port provides the opportunity for fuel bunkering for mega and giga yachts as well as cruise lines. Cruise ship provisioning with dry and frozen goods have been put in place and the port aims to become the lead cruise ship provisioning seaport in the near future.
Investing in information technology systems and creating a more data centric environment, has also been a top priority for Port St. Maarten. Data traffic is playing an increasingly bigger role. To remain relevant and to be able to continue to improve upon the ports operational excellence and to remain a competitive destination, investments are required.
Digitalization of logistics is the future. Technology will radically change the way logistics are organized. As logistics become more complex, there is an increasing need to digitalize information streams. It will allow for optimization of current existing infrastructure, reducing the need to invest in additional infrastructure.
The planned introduction of the Port Community System (PCS) involves data-sharing among stakeholders and third parties covering cargo and cruise operations at the country’s seaport of entry. Port St. Maarten’s priority is security first, ensuring safe, secure use of Port Community Systems.
Besides investments in infrastructure and equipment and information technology, training of human resources at Port St. Maarten has also been at the top of the agenda for pilot boat operations and crane operators. The Port continues to invest in young local talent by inviting them to join the Port family, and continuous investment in existing personnel to optimize efficiency within the organization.
Port St. Maarten will be establishing a human resources training outpost. The training outpost will lead to the certification of persons working in the logistics field such as heavy equipment operators, stevedoring activities, and other port-container related operations.
The training Outpost Facility will be a key component to Port St. Maarten’s operational excellence platform ensuring quality and certified port operations across the board via establishing various audit models for continued improvement and success of Port St. Maarten cargo division and will also be used as a catalyst to use St. Maarten as a centralized training hub on a regional and international level.
Destination St. Maarten has maintained its competitive edge through continual research and development and strategic planning and the key partnerships with the cruise industry, stakeholders and leading players.
The cruise passenger destination experience score of 9.3 out of 10 is testament to the hard work and dedication from partners in the hospitality industry on St. Maarten which has resulted in a welcomed increase in positive reviews from cruise passengers.
Due to the dynamic growth that the country’s cruise industry has seen within the past 50+ -years, Port St. Maarten and destination stakeholders will be looking forward to hosting the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Platinum Associate Membership Advisory Council Cruise Summit (PAMAC) which will be taking place next week on the island.
The PAMAC 2019 Conference is expected to attract 150-200 delegates, all platinum members, and 10-15 cruise executives and top Chief Executive Officers.
PAMAC 2019 is an opportunity for all stakeholders to showcase to cruise line executives the recovery efforts over the past 20-months and to give a taste of what cruise guests enjoy while making memorable experiences on the island.
Port St. Maarten is prepared for the future of cruises and continues to sail into opportunities.