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SHTA says govt in denial on importance of tourism

~‘St. Maarten running on auto pilot’~

 

PHILIPSBURG--The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) says government is “in denial” when it comes to the importance of the country’s tourism industry.

“This denial becomes clear when one sees the constant lack of commitment towards tourism and constant under investment by government in this industry. For instance, we do not have sufficient capacity in place in our educational system and whenever possible the little funds budgeted for tourism marketing are diverted to other areas or pet projects by whomever is in power that day,” SHTA said in response to several questions from The Daily Herald last week, on the occasion of World Tourism Day observed on Monday.

SHTA said the absence of a functioning St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA) and Tourism Statistical Information System (TSIS); the absence of a department head at the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau and the absence of marketing media, vision and plans for the country, are challenges to the country’s tourism sector.

An STA and TSIS, the association said, are important for obtaining a consistent and cohesive approach to marketing the island. The absence of marketing media, vision and plans for the country has resulted in the country’s “disappearance” from the international scene. According to the association, there has been an absence of proper representation over the last two years in key markets such as the Netherlands.

“In addition, the lack of proper data creates difficulties in getting an accurate assessment of the effects of St. Maarten’s absence… SHTA misses first and foremost a real and clear commitment from our government to a well-defined and sustainable marketing strategy, developed and executed by professionals and funded by the proceeds of the various taxes levied from tourism-related revenues (room tax, time share tax, car rental tax),” the association said.

Asked in what areas it thinks St. Maarten is lagging when it comes to its tourism product, SHTA identified expensive air access, lack of investment from the public sector on product development, and lack of a plan and a strategy for the country. “It would seem that we are running on auto pilot at the moment,” SHTA said.

The association said it believes that investing in tourism curricula and education from the grade school level and up is necessary. “The investment of government in security and infrastructure is critical. One cannot imagine that for instance the growing mountain on the dump would not be a deterrent for visitors.”

As it relates to diversification of the industry, SHTA said St. Maarten needs to be very careful that it does not waste the already limited resources of government in pursuing “gold pots at the end of the rainbow” that do not exist. “At present identifying niche areas is being worked on. These areas could flourish with the facilitating assistance of government by means of reducing the red tape and making it more consumer friendly, such as destination weddings.

“One of our biggest opportunities also lies on developing a successful cruise conversion programme. We received over two million cruise passengers many who loved the island. However, very little is being actively done to lure these guests back as stay over passengers.”

According SHTA, St. Maarten has a unique geographical location and limited other resources. “Therefore, it is important that we maximise and take advantage of our natural beauty - sea, sand and sun. In addition, every person on St. Maarten benefits directly or indirectly from Tourism; therefore, the maintenance of our tourism product is of utmost importance.”

Its message to all for World Tourism Day was a simple one: “Tourism is important for all. We must treat our tourist accordingly and revive our Friendly Island mentality. Happy visitors can and will spread the word and keep coming back. Tourism is everybody’s business on the island. If tourism is our number one industry we must treat it as such.”

SHTA expressed hope that the new Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Minister Ernest Sams will give the tourism industry the attention and importance it deserves “for the good of all.”

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