Minister seeking funding to boost tourism development

POND ISLAND–An increased allocation in the 2018 country budget for the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication (TEATT) is sought by Minister Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher “to meet the various goals of government as laid out in the governing programme and re-invigorate St. Maarten’s tourism product.”

The amount to which the Minister wants to see the 2018 allocation grow for TEATT was not disclosed by her Ministry, when such was requested by The Daily Herald.

TEATT has the lowest allocation of the seven ministries – NAf. 24,854,677 – in the 2017 country budget. That amount represents a slight increase over the 2016 allocation of NAf. 23,990,078.

In a press statement, the Minister said serious budget adjustments are being made to form the basis between now and 2018 as to how Government can achieve success and boost the country’s tourism product. St. Maarten Tourist Bureau has identified various crucial activities to be executed within the source markets.

The American market accounts for more than 63 per cent of stayover arrivals, and similar numbers exist for the cruise market. To remain competitive within this market, there is “an urgent need for increasing the marketing efforts in this region,” the Minister said.

Efforts will, therefore, be focused in this market via the country’s marketing firm MMGY Global, through proven marketing results of leading online resellers, such as Expedia and Trip Advisor, and cooperative marketing efforts with key stakeholders such as the airport, port and hotel associations and international stakeholders.

“To only rely on the marketing firm to promote the destination will not likely yield positive results,” the Minister said.

She sees an increase in the American marketing budget as the difference between growth with new, proven, (cost) effective marketing possibilities or stagnation.

The Canadian market was the country’s fastest-growing market in 2016, growing from 44,000 to 57,000 travellers. Much of the marketing efforts have been through airline partners, who have been instrumental in helping the destination get a larger foothold in Canada.

The Tourism Ministry seeks to repeat efforts with airline partners, but also using the country’s North American firm to do a broader marketing campaign surrounding the efforts of the airline partners.

“This should yield to yet another year of growth, since Airline capacity is expected to be up from 2017 to 2018,” the minister said.

The European market has been making some great strides in 2017. The new marketing firm, AviaReps, has given the country a physical presence at events for the first time in several years in Benelux (Belgium, the Netherland and Luxembourg). Several new airlines operating out of Europe are expected to add St. Maarten to their destination line-ups.

Most of the tourism budget for this region goes to the marketing firm, though some funding is reserved for additional route development for the region.

Investment into the Latin American market has been “a case of putting the cart before the horse.” The minister said millions have been invested into this market, but little or nothing was done in terms of route development, and creating an actual business plan for how that market should be developed sustainably for St. Maarten.

The country’s sole connection to Latin America is via Copa Airlines through Panama, the 11th busiest airport in Latin America. With this in mind, the upcoming budget will reflect contracting a cost-effective firm to develop a business plan for that region, while maintaining Copa Airlines and targeting new airlift, said the minister.

The effect of Caribbean tourism on the economy is often underestimated, said the minister. Numbers show that close to 30 per cent of traffic through the airport is from within the Caribbean.

“While we do subsidize Carnival and other events, we need to do our part from the tourist office itself for promoting the destination surrounding these events. Also, while our brand has been used for global purposes, the brand we currently have does not necessarily speak to our Caribbean travellers,” she said.

A new brand campaign, geared to increasing Caribbean tourism will be launched to highlight the country’s location, more relaxed Visa requirements compared to the United States, and competitive shopping, according to the minister’s statement.

Specific plans for each market, which take into consideration input from stakeholders, are under development by the Ministry. The minister said in her statement she would not divulge details of those plans, saying, that “our competition in the region, must be approached strategically as well.”

Source: The Daily Herald