SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) — A change in its statutes to make government companies pay 3% of their revenue to the St. Maarten Tourist Authority STA, and to give the association power to impose taxes has irked hoteliers who say the board has strayed from the tourism authority’s original concept.
There is also growing concern that such a move by the STA the move could potentially bankrupt the government businesses and halt millions in investments in the tourism industry on St. Maarten.
Owners of Oyster Bay Beach Resort Owner and Managing Director Joshua S. Gold say the new statutes for the STA gives the organization powers equal to that of a Public Prosecutor and completely deviates from its intended purpose of destination marketing.
Gold said St. Maarten should focus on changing the international perception that the island is not open for business. He said, “We need to get St. Maarten’s name out there and these ordinances by the STA as I see it, have nothing to do with promoting the island.” According to Gold, the statutes have changed and now speak of new tax inspectors and regulations. Some of the inspections relate to facility inspection and Gold believes that while monitoring the quality of service hotels provide can help improve the overall tourism product the STA imposing its inspectors seems to be “of a punitive nature.”
He said, “I think before the storm people were pleased with the hotels on St. Maarten.” After seeing the new statutes, the Resort owners have called on Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication TEATT, Stuart Johnson to intervene and return the STA to its originally intended function. Gold said the new statutes to the STA do not follow the original concept for the organization. Oyster Bay Beach Resort General Manager Ricardo Perez, also attended the meeting. He said, “We also expressed our concerns at a meeting with members of the STA board.” He felt that the meeting was “ill-timed” as the board should have given the new minister of Tourism an opportunity to evaluate the STA.
According to a release issued by the Ministry of TEATT, “Our partners in the Tourism industry are concerned that the STA wants its board to have the authority to tax and control large and small hotels independently.” Minister Johnson said, “The STA was originally intended to be the marketing arm of the destination that would be able to act with some independence allowing for quick responses and avoiding the bureaucracy involved in getting certain approvals.”
Johnson said the STA does not have his support in its present form and requires further dialogue with stakeholders to get a clear understanding of its proposed new direction. He said the STA was never intended to police hotels “In fact, the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association SHTA and private sector partners who are now concerned about the present direction of the STA, were originally fully behind it based on the concept of STA being able to spring into action to take advantage of opportunities to market the destination.”
Johnson explained that If for some reason there is a storm in one area of the USA, the idea is that the STA would be able to act quickly and roll out marketing campaigns promoting vacation in Sunny St. Maarten. With the bureaucracy that the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau will have to go through before it can access the necessary funds for such a promotion, they would miss the opportunity to target those potential visitors.
Oyster Bay Beach Resort has already invested over USD$9 million in reconstruction since it was devastated by hurricane Irma in 2017 and the operators have also mentioned their eagerness to see the Princess Juliana International Airport PJIA return to full operation. They also mentioned US-Preclearance and say this addition at the airport will solidify St. Maarten’s position as a top Caribbean destination.