The opening of a new St. Maarten Tourism Bureau (STB) headquarters on Frontstreet appears to be a positive development. That it is housed in a renovated characteristic building makes the move even more appropriate.
More importantly, the current location offers a greater opportunity for direct contact with visitors, particularly hundreds – if not thousands – of cruise passengers who frequent the Philipsburg shopping area on a daily basis. Although no updated reliable figures are readily available, it’s safe to say that the destination over several decades has done a pretty decent job of converting one-day trippers coming off the ships to future stay-over guests.
Improving this so-called “conversion rate” should remain a priority not just for STB but the entire hospitality industry. When something works keep doing it, only better.
Amid the good news there is concern about a report in last Wednesday’s newspaper that local taxi and bus drivers have asked the Integrity Chamber for an urgent meeting. They want to discuss the “indiscriminate” issuing of licences in an – according to them – already overcrowded market and claim the recent “surge” in new operators has made it too hard to earn a living.
Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Arthur “Leo” Lambriex on November 20 could not tell Parliament exactly how many taxi and bus permits were registered per January 1 and merely provided an estimate of respectively 395 and 190, adding that a few operators had passed away and their licences had not been transferred to next of kin or this was still in process at the time. As of October 14 there were 480 taxi and 238 bus permits, while respectively 550 and 240 number plates had been ordered.
Although that may seem like quite a lot, one should keep in mind that both main gateways, namely Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) and Port St. Maarten, are on the Dutch side. Nevertheless, an increase in the number of taxi and bus licences this year by respectively nearly 85 and 48 as these figures would indicate is certainly not insignificant, especially as respectively 70 and 60 continue to be available within the present moratorium.
Regardless, the complaints by existing licence-holders should be taken seriously. After a difficult low season, also considering the makeshift airport arrival facility and nuisance it brings, about the last thing “The Friendly Island” needs right now is trouble in the public transport sector that could negatively affect service to travellers and their vacation experience.