MARIGOT--Secretary-General of the French-side Hotelier’s Association (AHSM), Philippe Thévenet, said Friday despite a good 2017 high season for hotels, the sector is still afflicted by high costs of social charges, utilities, and taxes; issues that are by no means new and which continue to undermine profit making potential while leaving little scope to reinvest.
In addition, adhering to new rules and regulations, whether they be from the European Union (EU) or France, and overall bureaucracy, adds to the difficulties the sector faces. With a new local government in place the sector is hopeful it will get some relief from proposed tax reforms. Social charges on the other hand is a national issue.
The first quarter of 2017 showed high room occupancy figures; January 82 per cent, February 87 per cent, March 85 per cent, and April 65 per cent, the figures comparing almost exactly to 2016 for the same period. Overall occupancy for the year in 2016 was 61.6 per cent. The low season was “not too bad.”
Clientele came from the North American and Canadian markets followed by France, Europe and South American markets. The Netherlands was a particular strong player on the French side, indicating a preference for the French Antillean touch compared to the more American-style hotels of the Dutch side.
Thévenet expects the 2017/2018 high season to be a good one as well for hotels, still based on the room inventory of 1,600 which has remained the same for a few years now.
“Hotels have performed well because they have stepped up their own promotion and marketing plans and almost every hotel has completed, or is undergoing, a renovation, Le Mercure for one example, and more recently Le Beach (formerly Beach Plaza Hotel),” Thévenet said. “I do give them credit for that.”
He revealed some hotels have even gone to the expense of producing their own water supply to be independent of the very high cost of water charged by the production company on the French side. This issue has been a thorn in the side of the hotel sector for years.
“One prominent hotel would have actually had to close down if it had to continue depending on the public water supply. That’s how bad it was,” he disclosed.
The water distributor Générale des Eaux recently announced its intention to leave the Caribbean, paving the way for a new distributor to come in and an opportunity to re-negotiate the price of water for consumers. But as Thévenet points out it’s not a done deal yet. There could be a re-negotiation of the contract or the Collectivité would be compensated for early termination of the contract.
Given the high operating costs for hotels compared to other islands and the high costs of airfares, the hotel sector has to survive with the cards it has been dealt with. The tourism office’s approximately 3 million euro budget for marketing is one of the lowest in the Caribbean according to Thévenet.
“You can have the best ideas but without the funds for promotion you are not going anywhere. That’s why hotels are doing more self-promotion than they ought to be doing to compensate.”
For Thévenet the basics for sustainable tourism are still the same; security, good roads, parking, good services, good accommodation, a clean environment.
“We have known this for years so the Collectivité’s plan to give Marigot a facelift is a good thing. As for the trade shows we should still continue to attend them because that has been standard practice for years. But marketing has to be adapted more and more to the immediacy of social media. And who knows in five years from now something else will take over.”
If there’s one criticism Thévenet has about the French side it is that there are not enough events and not enough activities available, particularly in the low summer months. “We must develop the attractiveness of the destination in the summer,” he advises.
He is in favour of the waterfront development project and installation of a cruise ship pier but cautions cruise ship aspirations must stay “balanced” with the small, up market ambience of Marigot, and the territory as a whole.
But Thévenet is hopeful the new Gibbs government is going to make changes for the better.
“We have had many discussions with him (Daniel Gibbs) over the years and when he was in charge of the tourism office so he knows how it is. We believe he is willing to focus on the business side and development. Now it is a question of action. Expenses have to be reduced everywhere. There’s a difference between willing to do it and ability to do it. We think he can do it. The hotel sector needs the freedom to grow, to be flexible; to do what we have to do according to the market and competition.”