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Editorial - Rewarding endeavour

It may not be earth-shattering news, but Monday’s report that St. Maarten/St. Martin and Anguilla at the moment are training about 650 travel agents from eight Brazilian cities is noteworthy. Although its recently booming economy has slowed down somewhat of late, the South American country still offers great potential as a market for vacationers.

Combining their forces enables the three destinations to apply more resources, which is important when considering what others in the region are spending on promotion in the Portuguese-speaking nation. Even St. Barths and Saba were mentioned as possibly benefitting from the joint programme, while the initiative can help diversify the islands’ tourism and make it less seasonal as well.

A visit to this month’s ABAV tradeshow and the strategic launch of an advertising campaign are to complete the sales effort. This is important, because experience in precisely Brazil has shown that the lack of proper follow-up can be costly.

After all, GOL Airlines started direct flights to SXM Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) out of São Paulo in June 2010, but pulled out less than a year later because certain financial commitments to support the venture were not met. There has been talk of re-launching at least one weekly charter with the carrier on various occasions, but that has not materialised so far.

It must be said, Copa Airlines has proven a good and sustainable alternative, offering connections via its hub in Panama. However, even that service actually was cut in half at the end of 2012 due to – again – the late payment of US $433,000 in marketing funds out of a total $700,000 by St. Maarten.

The latter decision ultimately was reversed a year later – first only for the high season – and since then the service from Panama City with load factors of between 75 and 80 per cent has greatly contributed to getting more visitors from the Southern part of the Western Hemisphere, even adding a fifth weekly flight last December.

The seat occupancy on that route from January to May 2014 increased by 162 per cent compared to the same period of 2013 and in those four months the island welcomed 6,031 Brazilian stay-over guests, up from just 2,034 the year before.

These figures are undoubtedly promising, but the competition isn’t exactly sitting still either. The current push in Brazil is therefore clearly justified and hopefully will turn out to be a rewarding endeavour for the people of all partners concerned.

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