Hit the ground running

Hit the ground running

St. Maarten finally has a Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) again in Arthur Lambriex, after his predecessor Roger Lawrence stepped down for health reasons last July. Not that Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA Omar Ottley did a bad job filling in during the past six months, but both portfolios demand fulltime attention.

After all, the tourism economy is ultimately what provides the livelihood of the entire population. Although back-to-back recoveries from Hurricane Irma and the COVID-19 crisis were apparently successful, at lot is still to be done.

For example, Wednesday’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) computer glitch that led to all US flights being grounded had an impact on service to Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) too. The incident should serve as reminder how vulnerable largely depending on the North American market makes the island.

That’s why St. Maarten’s absence at the Vacation Fair in Utrecht (see related story) is regrettable. The annual event offers the possibility to attract more Dutch visitors.

An opportunity was clearly missed this year, considering that KLM significantly cut its planned winter flights to popular vacation spot for people in the Netherlands Curaçao due to capacity issues at Schiphol Airport. As a result, prospective travellers are looking for similar Caribbean alternatives.

A major advantage in targeting Europe is the practically-daily Air France connection via Paris, which means airplane seats from Europe – albeit not all non-stop – are almost always available. Diversifying source markets by also developing them in Latin America and other regions should receive priority as well.

While this takes money, the dominant local hospitality industry has on several occasions stressed its desire for a bigger promotion and marketing budget, which remains considerably smaller than that of competing destinations. One way to do so is by directly earmarking proceeds from room tax directly to fund such efforts by a long-awaited St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA).

In any case, the new minister won’t have much time to get his feet wet. He needs to hit the ground running.

The Daily Herald

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