The announcement that Celebrity Cruises would start two weekly seven-night Caribbean cruises from June 5 was met with some excitement in all the destinations listed. That is certainly the case for St. Maarten after a year of looking at only empty vessels in the harbour.
Having been chosen as home port makes it even bigger news, because passengers will be flown in and out, often spending at least one or two nights on the island rather than only eight hours or less as is usually the case. That opens what Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ludmila de Weever called “endless opportunities.”
Although she mentioned shopping in Philipsburg, one should keep in mind that these travellers could be focussed on boarding the ship for their trip and returning home once they disembark, which is a bit different from daytime stops along the route. However, their longer stay translates to additional business opportunities, including transporting them and provisioning the ships.
The minister rightly pointed out that the country’s speedy vaccination rate and relatively low COVID-19 numbers are helpful in efforts to restore the tourism economy by creating a safe destination image. It therefore remains crucial, especially with the different variants of COVID-19 now out there, to continue wearing a facemask in public, cleaning hands frequently and strictly social distancing at least until a large majority of the population has been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, developments indicating a recovery of the region’s dominant hospitality industry are taking place. JetBlue just performed its first flight for persons with digital vaccination passports to Aruba as part of a pilot project.
Speaking of Aruba, its “cautiously optimistic” scenario calls for 54,000 cruise passengers this year and its “most optimistic” one for 154,000 or 18 per cent of 2019’s total of 850,000. That may not sound like much, but is still a whole lot better than nothing.