PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas–It may just be a match remade in paradise. That match being the possible renewed cooperation on joint marketing and promotion of the island by the Dutch side and French side.
It’s still early days yet, but tourism professional, now Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour Affairs Emil Lee is optimistic about the future.
He said on Thursday the delegations from the two sides have held several joint meetings with tour operators and other industry representatives at Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2017 held in Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
It has been more than a decade since the two sides have had any joint presentation in the market and past partnerships had yielded great results for the destination as a whole.
“Tour operators see us as one destination,” said Lee, who is representing the country at Marketplace, the largest gathering of regional destinations. As a former head of St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Lee has been a huge advocate of partnerships to drive business to the destination.
Lee is attending Marketplace on the invitation of Acting Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication Minister Rafael Boasman. The country is yet to get a separate tourism minister added to the William Marlin II Cabinet.
All meetings, joint and separate, with existing and potential new tour operators were “productive,” said Lee.
There is “a sense of optimism” about the destination from tour operators – companies such as Expedia and Sunwing – that sell vacations to the island.
It’s time to discuss a sustainable marketing approach, Lee said, adding that the recent public-private sector partnership with Expedia and TripAdvisor had a good return on investment.
“With minor investment, we made an impact in bookings and market presence,” he said.
An even more encouraging fact for the destination is this short-term promotion with limited investment has yielded more results for St. Maarten than for other destinations that have taken the same approach, added Julian Lake, policy advisor in the office of the Tourism Minister.
St. Maarten is viewed by the tourism industry, including tour operators as “a high-end product that is in demand, but out of sight,” due to extensive marketing gaps, said Lee. This puts St. Maarten in the sphere possibly as “out of sight, out of mind.”
Marla Chemont of St. Maarten Tourist Bureau was also very optimistic about St. Maarten’s presence at Marketplace. She described meetings with key partners as being “really good.” However, she pointed out that the meetings highlighted the need for a strong marketing push for the destination. “We desperately need to be out there,” she said, adding that it is clear that the destination has to support its key partners and do so soon.
“If we are not supportive of them, they will turn off from St. Maarten,” Chemont said.
While individual hotels are conducting their own marketing push, the destination “needs to do something” to promote the full product, she said.
How to do destination-marketing with limited funds due to budget cutbacks? Chemont said the only way for the Tourist Bureau is “to be as creative as possible.”
While a sustained marketing strategy is being sought for the once very vibrant and visible destination, the 2016 arrival figures are showing that visitors from key feeder market – the United States – has slipped.