UTRECHT–St. Maarten is not present with its own booth at the annual Holiday Fair (Vakantiebeurs) in Utrecht this week. However, St. Eustatius and Saba are, as is St. Maartener Marlon Beauperthuy with his travel agency Le Beau Reizen.
The St. Maarten Tourist Bureau in the Netherlands, represented by Aviareps, decided not to participate at this year’s prestigious fair due to the current state of the tourism infrastructure which was largely destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September last year.
An Aviareps spokesperson told The Daily Herald that with the majority of the hotel rooms out of service, it did not make much sense to have a St. Maarten booth at the Holiday Fair. “We want to present an optimal product and that is not possible at this moment,” said the spokesperson.
This year’s absence in no way means that St. Maarten will not again participate at the fair. “We decided to skip this year, but we will be there again next year. We will now focus on the future and we are very positive that St. Maarten will have been restored within a year so it can accommodate large numbers of tourists once more. We believe in St. Maarten and the rebuilding of the tourism infrastructure,” said the spokesperson.
Beauperthuy said he had made several attempts to secure St. Maarten’s presence at the fair. “I was requested twice to assist with organising a stand for St. Maarten, together with St. Eustatius and Saba, using the stand of the Port of St. Maarten. St. Maarten cancelled twice.”
The first time St. Maarten cancelled due to the situation after Hurricane Irma and the second time Beauperthuy said he had been told it was because of the upcoming elections. The first time was understandable, but not the second time. “Tourism is St. Maarten’s lifeline and has nothing to do with politics or elections. Those things should not be mixed, he said.”
As the sole St. Maartener at the Holiday, Fair, even though he is manning his Le Beau Reizen booth at the North America pavilion as a USA specialist travel agency, Beauperthuy said he would do his best to answer any questions he would get. “But I can only do so much.” He said that with the very limited availability of hotel rooms, especially of the larger properties, it made little sense to pay for an expensive ticket to St. Maarten.
Beauperthuy said he has been receiving a lot of inquiries from travel agencies and tour operators about St. Maarten’s status after the hurricane. He said many have been sending their clients to surrounding operational islands like St. Barths and Anguilla. He was somewhat critical of Aviareps, which he said has not been communicating sufficiently with the Dutch tourism sector to inform them of the developments in St. Maarten and the prospects.
Beauperthuy, who also represents Maduro St. Maarten, said that if utilising the Port of St. Maarten stand had worked out, he would have loved to give the booth a true Caribbean flavour with local drinks and snacks, manned by volunteers hailing from the islands who know the destination best. Last year, the Port of St. Maarten was present at the Holiday Fair with a large, well-visited stand. The intention was for the harbour to attend again this year, but the hurricane changed all that.
Marketing and communication company TVC, which represents St. Eustatius and Saba at the fair, is feeling St. Maarten’s absence. “It has a major impact,” said TVC Marketing Manager Bart Kin. “People come up to me and ask, where is St. Maarten? People also want to know where the Port is. St. Maarten’s absence gives off a signal that the island is out of order for the time being. It is a missed opportunity, especially for the long term,” he said.
Without St. Maarten’s presence, St. Eustatius and Saba this year have their own joint stand, instead of last year’s booth that housed all three Windward Islands, which proved a successful concept.
Notably absent from the St. Eustatius and Saba booth were familiar faces from the two islands such as Glenn Holm of the Saba Tourist Office and Teena Lopes and Charles Linda of the St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation. Apparently they didn’t come this year due to the local island governments’ limited finances.
“Surely we miss them,” said Kin of the absence of the Saba and Statia representatives. “They are beautiful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic persons. When Teena comes out in her folkloric dress, she draws a lot of attention. People are asking where they are.”
Asked about the added value of being at the Holiday Fair, Kin said being there was certainly worth it. “It gives you the opportunity to interact with people and to answer the questions of visitors on the spot.” Visitors were given brochures and other promotional material of the islands.
Dutch tourism to St. Eustatius and Saba continued to grow last year, until Hurricane Irma and the devastating consequences of this storm for the hub St. Maarten. TVC, which has been serving as the marketing communication bureau for St. Eustatius and Saba for more than 10 years, has seen an increase of interest among the visitors at the Holiday Fair.
Curaçao is prominently present at the fair with its usual large stand, right in the centre of the Caribbean Village. Also present is Bonaire. Aruba’s presence is far less prominent and lacks its own booth. However, Aruba is being promoted by the various tour operators at the fair. “We have opted for online promotions that specifically aim on our target group,” said Jaap Ellis of the Aruba Tourism Authority ATA. The ATA will be present at the fair this week to maintain contact with the tour operators and the airlines.
The Caribbean Village at the Holiday Fair is smaller this year compared to last year. The absence of the large booth of Aruba last year and this year, as well as St. Maarten and the Port of St. Maarten, contributed to that decrease in size.
Other Caribbean destinations such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, but also Latin America destinations such as Suriname, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico had prominent stands at the fair. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation CTO is once again present with its own booth.
The Holiday Fair started on Tuesday and will last until Sunday. Thousands of visitors are expected.