PHILIPSBURG–Three months after devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria, the country’s tourism product is still in intensive care and the shots in the arm desperately needed are more inventiveness and intense planning for recovery of the cruise sector, says United People’s (UP) party leader Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger.
“In ’95, there was some competition and we used ingenious ideas to catapult St. Maarten to the top of the cruise industry. This came through signing of the strategic agreements with the cruise lines making them true partners,” Heyliger said.
“Our tourism product has been hit hard. We need to look at approaching the cruise lines again with a new game plan and make them real partners in our rebooting and growth,” he said.
“In ’95, we looked at cruise tourism as a jump-starter; we invested in it and it paid off. Now, we need to see where the innovations are and how we can cater to them and not just build back what we had pre-Irma.”
“St. Thomas and St. Kitts are recording serious increases in cruise calls whereas we are stumbling along. Cruise lines are building and owning their own piers and ports and pushing their ships to those destinations.”
Competition around the region is at an all-time high, he said, adding that “the successful St. Maarten cruise model” has been adapted by surrounding islands to suit their local situation.
“This is the side-effect of success and because of it, St. Maarten is called to rethink and re-innovate. Today, we are going to need out-of-the-box thinking to move this island forward. This must be done faster, he pointed out.
Because, “once cruise ships get accustomed to other destinations and the guest satisfaction gets higher, we will have a mountain to climb to reclaim our place in the cruise itinerary,” he said.
“Reality has not really set in” about the impact on the tourism sector. “What happens next? What are plans for building back better? What is needed to get our people employed again? What is the approach to hospitality the country will take?” Heyliger questioned.
“We need to become creative and bold. Without this kind of thinking, we will not achieve the recovery that we need,” Heyliger said. “Large delegations attending every conference in the world does not guarantee return and increase in visitors; communicating with our partners do.”