By Suzanne Koelega
AMSTERDAM–Dutch airline TUI is very satisfied with its new destination St. Maarten and plans to keep servicing the island. However, additional marketing funds are direly needed to promote the product in the Netherlands.
TUI, formerly Arkefly, carried out its first direct flight from Amsterdam to St. Maarten in November last year, and since then things have been going well, according to TUI’s Head of Product Flight Holiday Long Haul Manfred Lahey.
“TUI is satisfied with the start of the St. Maarten [destination – Ed.]. We have the intention to carry on with these flights,” Lahey told The Daily Herald this week. In fact, TUI has just started the sale of vacations to St. Maarten for the winter season 2016/2017 and the summer 2017.
St. Maarten’s modern, high-quality airport and the service provided are definitely a plus. “The airport is an example for other airports in the region.” TUI carries out two direct flights to St. Maarten, on Wednesday and Sunday, with its modern and comfortable Dreamliner aircraft.
Travellers’ response has been very positive, said Lahey. “The Dutch traveller likes to be active and see things which makes St. Maarten a highly suitable destination.” Travellers love to rent a car and see the island. The French side is definitely an additional value. Visiting a nearby island by boat is also very popular. “As destination, St. Maarten has more than enough to offer.”
Asked if St. Maarten was able to compete with TUI’s highly popular destination Curaçao, Lahey said that St. Maarten was “indeed more expensive” than Curaçao. “For that reason we see that our clients mainly book middle-class hotels and apartments, and fewer high-end hotels. But St. Maarten absolutely has enough to offer. It does vary from what Curaçao offers. The mere fact that St. Maarten consists of two sides and two different cultures makes it special.” Other Dutch Caribbean islands that TUI services are Aruba and Bonaire.
But, Lahey warned, more funds for the promotion of the destination are absolutely necessary. “We are doing a lot to promote the destination in the Netherlands. But, it is of crucial importance to have a bigger budget to put St. Maarten on the map,” said Lahey. On its website for example, TUI currently promotes St. Maarten as part of the Happy Holideals with an offer to fly to the island for as low as 449 Euros.
TUI is willing to give support to this and to work on joint promotions. St. Maarten currently doesn’t have a marketing representative in the Netherlands. This situation evolved some two years ago when the contract with the previous marketing representative, Interreps, was not renewed.
According to Lahey, the construction of new hotels and apartments in St. Maarten is much needed, while some of the existing hotels could use renovation to upgrade the product. He explained that there are two categories that the European traveller looked for: hotels with an all-inclusive formula, and good, modern apartments.
TUI sells more packages to St. Maarten via its TUIfly programme than single tickets to and from St. Maarten. Lahey could not give an exact ratio of the sale of packages and single tickets, also because this fluctuates.
More single tickets are being sold than anticipated, despite the tour operator’s focus on packages. “The interesting pricing is certainly an aspect.” Single tickets are sold at all travel agencies in St. Maarten, via TUI.nl and the call centre in Curaçao.
The competition with major carriers such Royal Dutch Airlines KLM and Air France on the Amsterdam-St. Maarten route is major, said Lahey. But, he added, “We believe that there is sufficient demand for cheap, single tickets, and certainly for package deals. We offer a different product and a complete vacation package, which the regular carriers don’t or barely have.”
Asked about the pricing of the single economy class tickets which many times are not significantly lower than those on KLM (three times a week flights) or Air France (daily flights), Lahey said that TUI wanted to offer cheaper prices, while at the same time give St. Maarten the value that it merits. He added that the ticket prices matched the demand.
This is TUI’s second attempt to service the destination St. Maarten. In 2006, TUI’s airline Arkefly ceased flights to St. Maarten after a relatively short period, mainly for economic reasons and low demand. In September 2013, TUI’s Head of Product Caribbean and North, Central and South America Rob Oostendorp held the option open that in the future the airline would again fly to St. Maarten. “St. Maarten fits nicely in the range of Caribbean destinations we offer,” he said at the time.
TUI and Arkefly didn’t completely bypass St. Maarten in the past years: the airline executed several special flights to the island to drop off and pick up passengers for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta in the month of March.
Source: The Daily Herald TUI satisfied with new destination St. Maarten