St. Maarten Cruise ship visitors lower than last year: Smell the coffee

St. Maarten News: Don’t get us wrong, we have serious respect for the achievements of the port in the cruise tourism industry, but it seems that bad news is always wrapped so nicely paper that nobody smells the coffee. That is, to say the least, unfortunate.

Point in case is the report about the cruise arrival numbers for 2015. They are down by 5 percent, but somehow the focus seemed to be on the fact that St. Maarten has been voted the number 1 cruise port in the Caribbean.

Bringing in slightly more than 1.9 million cruise passengers is no mean feat by any standard, but the fact that the numbers are down hardly received any attention. Yet this is the situation. In 2014 the port heralded proudly that it had surpassed for the first time in history the 2 million cruise arrivals mark. Something to be proud of, for sure.

But now the numbers are down and it seems that nobody has any interest in examining how this affects our economy, let alone that someone would come up with ideas to give the economy a boost in 2015. We’re sure that the people at the helm at the port are very aware of what is happening around them in the Caribbean. Mark Mingo says on every occasion that the port must remain sharp to keep its top position.

And yet, that top position sustained a costly dent in 2015. Look at the numbers. In 2014, there were 2,001,996 cruise arrivals. Last year, the counter stopped at 1,901,617. That is five percent below the 2014 level.

How this affects the economy? Very simple: the 100,379 cruise passengers that did not come to our island last year, obviously did not spend any money here either. From a previous press release from the port we know exactly how much that is.

According to the statistics, cruise passengers spend on average $191.26 in St. Maarten. It is the highest level of the whole of the Caribbean. Those numbers are awesome when they are up and painful when they are down.

A simple calculation shows that our economy had to do without 100,379 times $191.26 in 2015. That is $19.2 million – money that did not go to cab drivers, restaurants, bars, stores and tourism-driven businesses.

The government was with the losers as well: only in turnover tax (that happens to be 5 percent as well) the treasury missed out of $960,000. That number will probably be even higher if you reckon that suppliers did not sell that much either.

Is this the first dent Cuba has made in our tourism driven economy? It’s too early to make that assessment, but when numbers go down, decision makers ought to pay attention and – preferably – come up with a brilliant idea to turn the tide.

Over the years, politicians have talked until they were blue in the face about the need to diversify the economy. That did not happen: the politicians did not create the right environment for new businesses to develop and the private sector did not come out strong enough to make this happen either. That is not surprising: the only private sector organization with some clout is the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association – and its focus is on tourism. The Indian Merchant Association is a club of retailers. There is no organization with the interests of manufacturers at heart – mainly because there are hardly any manufacturers on the island.

Yesterday’s story about the article economist Arjen Alberts published in the British journal International Development Planning Review, is another piece of the puzzle that ought to set off the alarm bells. At the same time, Alberts shows the way out: in the direction of a tourism product with a higher added value. Not more tourism stuff, but better tourism stuff.

As far as diversification is concerned, one could wonder: if Jamaica is able to produce beer (that we drink here), why can’t St. Maarten make Jamaicans drink beer that we produce? We are so stuck in our service-oriented economy that there seems to be no brain power left for innovative ideas about actually producing something that others elsewhere in the world want.

If the tourists keep turning away from our island, we will be forced to come up with alternatives. Apparently, most people seem to think that the Carnival will never stop. So why worry about something that might or might not happen?

What we need is a flexible labor market (not the rigid one we have right now), a stellar education system and a lot of enthusiasm and will power to make something happen. Something that will bring venture capitalists with a vision to the idea that this is the place where the next big thing is about to come to life. Impossible is nothing, but if we wait for something to happen, it never will.

Source: Today SXM St. Maarten Cruise ship visitors lower than last year: Smell the coffee