Minister Lambriex (centre) and representatives of his cabinet with SHTA board members.
PHILIPSBURG--New Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Leo Lambriex laid out his immediate plans during a recent two-hour-long meeting with eight board representatives of the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA).
During the meeting, the minister outlined his immediate plans for improving the look and feel of the visitor experience and action points for his tenure and took note of the priorities of the private sector.
Lambriex shared his goal to focus on existing qualities of the tourism dependent destination and fixing what is easy to improve without major capital investments. The minister made clear that in the competitive tourism market, it is of great importance that attention is paid to upkeep and beauty of the tourism product, SHTA said in a press release on Sunday.
“St. Maarten needs to make sure eye for detail is maintained to offer a great holiday experience to its many visitors. An attractive product is what makes people come back; an unattractive product makes people choose another destination for their next holiday.”
The minister, having operated tour companies himself, cited from his own experience how central the level of cleanliness and order is to visitors. Recently, the minister launched improvement ideas for the Philipsburg area.
The association said it agreed wholeheartedly with the minister’s convictions pertaining to beautification. The minister discussed how the ministry and SHTA could collaborate on projects pertaining to destination beautification. The SHTA added that the currently often congested traffic situation, with only 84% of the 2016 room count having returned to the market, is an additional variable influencing the image of the destination.
Within the same context of choosing improvement over expansion of the tourism product, SHTA shared various economic indicators with the minister, showing effort is still needed to bring the destination back to the 2016 situation.
Occupancy for December 2022 was 2% under that of December 2021. Though January yielded better results, the association has concerns about the traditionally low summer occupancy given the unexpectedly low December occupancy. The private sector sees more government investment in destination marketing as an essential for economic growth. Though SHTA supports diversification, reality has it that the economy is over 80% dependent on tourism. At the same time, available funds to promote the destination per hotel room are not even 40% that of French side St. Martin, Aruba or Curaçao. SHTA estimates that every dollar invested in marketing returns fivefold to government coffers via, amongst others, room tax, timeshare tax and turnover tax, making destination marketing a priority for all.
SHTA repeated its plea for swift implementation of a St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA), modelled after the very successful institute on Aruba and a project which various of Minister Lambriex’s predecessors were in support of. The Aruban Tourism Authority does not just contribute year-round to high occupancy rates and hence income for private sector and government, but also to beautification projects. Knowing the island well due to visits to relatives
on Aruba, Minister Lambriex also cited other best practices of this island that could be applied on St. Maarten.
Other topics discussed were increased government income via collection of AirBnB fees and the need for a dedicated team to implement this action, Expedia Campaigns, the worrisome state of the (real) gross domestic product (GDP), private sector representation in the Social and Economic Council SER, implementation of the embarkation-disembarkation ED Card programme, private sector taxation, geographical information about St. Maarten visitors and upcoming SHTA plans.
The minister, the cabinet and the SHTA jointly stated their intent to explore increasing cooperation over the upcoming months.
The meeting with SHTA was between the minister and his cabinet.