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Court ruling a delight for timeshare owners
ALEGRIA ORDERED TO RESPECT CONTRACTS
GREAT BAY – The Court in First Instance dealt a severe blow to the Alegria Resort in Beacon Hill to the delight of Andrew Robert and Mary Corbett Stevenson and the Timeshare Owners at Caravanserai Association. The court ruled that Alegria has to respect the rights of the timeshare owners at its resort, under threat of a penalty of $10,000 per week if the company does not abide by the ruling. The court declared it enforceable without delay.
When Alegria bought the Caravanserai Resort at auction in August 2014 it did not take long before timeshare owners received a letter from the new owner (on September 30, 2014) announcing that their timeshare rights had become null and void.
In the past, the Stevenson’s bought four timeshare weeks at Caravanserai – an investment of $74,800. When Alegria voided the timeshare contracts with the argument they were not part of the auction, the Stevenson’s and other disgruntled timeshare owners joined forces in the Timeshare Owners at Caravanserai Association to fight for their rights in court.
The court has now ruled that Alegria is bound by the timeshare contracts and ordered the company to give the Toca-members access to their apartments within ten days, “as soon as the members have paid their maintenance fees upon arrival to Alegria.”
Alegria also has to pay damages the Stevensons incurred from being unable to use their timeshare apartments. The exact damages still have to be properly specified.
Alegria also has to pay all court fees; they amount to almost 6,800 guilders ($3,800).
The court ruled that Kildare properties (the previous owner of the resort) was the seller of timeshare contracts and that these contracts came about through a company called Endless Vacation. Both companies were controlled by Haresh Manek. The court qualified the timeshare contract as lease agreements and noted that Kildare had permission from the bank to enter into these contracts. “Alegria is held to respect the rights of the timeshare owners the way Kildare did,” the court ruling states.
ROLANDO BRISON IS APPOINTED TOURISM AUTHORITY DIRECTOR
By Andrew Dick
PHILIPSBURG–Young local businessman Rolando Brison has been appointed Director of the recently-established St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA). He signed a one-year contract with Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Ingrid Arrindell in the presence of Member of Parliament (MP) Silvio Matser.
The purpose of the STA is to assist temporarily in carrying out the tourism policy of the Government of St. Maarten as a tourist destination; to support the growth of St. Maarten’s land- and sea-based tourism by providing the public and private sectors with focused, sustainable and productive marketing; and the enhancement of the visitor experience.
The members of STA’s Supervisory Council are Chairman Keith Graham representing the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), Jim Rosen representing the St. Maarten Timeshare Association (SMTA), Suzy Kartokromo representing Princess Juliana International Airport SXM and Roger Lawrence representing Port St. Maarten.
Brison will be in charge of setting up the STA office and beginning to market the island. Funds destined for the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau will not be managed by STA. The next step will be for Government and STA to sign a service-level agreement, according to Arrindell.
“We have to really look at what the current situation is before we start talking about challenges the STA might face. We need to do some good market analysis of where we need to market the island and find the real cost-effective measure to attack with,” said Brison. “Product development is another factor we need to work on. Our hotels and tourist attractions need to be looked at to make our product more appealing to those coming to the island.”
Arrindell reiterated that it was a great achievement for her and the island to have Brison on board and wished him all the best with his new position.
Matser assured the public that Brison’s appointment had nothing to do with politics, that it had to do with making the best choice for the country.
The STA also will assist, guide and direct all matters related to tourism, whether on initiative from the public sector or the private sector. The STA Foundation will execute these tasks until Government has incorporated the STA in the form of a so-called independently governed body (“Zelfstandig Bestuursorgaan” ZBO), which immediately on its incorporation will be solely responsible for and solely authorised to execute these tasks.
Source: The Daily Herald
MAJOR HOTEL DEVELOPMENT IN THE WORKS FOR DOWN TOWN PHILIPSBURG ST. MAARTEN
PHILIPSBURG–Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Ingrid Arrindell is working on a major hotel development for the Down Street area.
The Sunwing group has been looking at several locations on the island to invest and construct an all-inclusive hotel. The Ministry has pitched the boutique hotel to complement the recently established STA, and is seeking to hire an interim director to complete the tourism body. Interviews for the post have been completed and the person is said to be a young, energetic St. Maarten national.
The purpose of the STA is to assist temporarily in carrying out the tourism policy of the Government of St. Maarten as a tourist destination; to support the growth of St. Maarten’s land- and sea-based tourism by providing the public and private sectors with focused, sustainable and productive marketing, and the enhancement of the visitor experience.
This project will take two years to complete. Further plans indicate a home-porting location for the Harbour Group and the extension of the entire Down Street promenade.
Source: The Daily Herald
Travel Entrepreneur Terrance Rey Calls For Lifting Visa Requirement For Guyana Citizens
You have obviously heard the news already that Guyana has found huge oil deposits off of its coast in a second oil well, confirming mega amounts of oil and gas located offshore.
For years, I have been a proponent of getting airlift off the ground in the form of direct flights between St. Maarten and Guyana, a land with an abundance of natural resources that our island lacks.
A direct flight between St. Maarten and Guyana would just be a mere two-hour flight. Opposed to the countless hours travellers have to endure and the many stops they have to make presently before they reach Guyana. And vice versa.
Currently, Caribbean Airlines (via Barbados and Trinidad), LIAT (via Antigua and Barbados) and Inselair (via Curacao and Aruba) offer flights between St. Maarten and Guyana.
For years, Guyana has said that there is no bilateral agreement for direct flights between Guyana and St. Maarten. An open skies treaty between Guyana and Country St. Maarten would have to be negotiated accordingly by the competent authorities.
Another restriction in place is the visa requirement for Guyanese citizens to fly to St. Maarten.
Guyana citizens can request a US visa and use that to stay maximum 30 days on St. Maarten for business or leisure travel. This visa costs $200 US Dollars and applicants have to make a request for an appointment at the US Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. Also special photos are needed for this visa application. The visa is valid for 10 years.
As a local travel agent and airline charter provider, I would like to call on the relevant competent authorities to waive the visa restrictions for Guyanese citizens to travel to St. Maarten.
The Kingdom of The Netherlands has recently lifted the visa requirement for Colombians to travel to Curacao and to St. Maarten. Venezuelans can also freely travel to the Dutch Caribbean islands as well.
So I personally believe the same freedom should be afforded to Guyanese travellers wishing to vacation on St. Maarten or visit the island on business.
With the expected boom in business in Guyana due to the recent oil and gas finds, St. Maarten would do well to lobby for a lifting of the visa restriction and to negotiate bi-lateral agreements with Guyana.
Holland is already a number of steps ahead of us in the area of business development with Guyana and recently concluded a successful trade mission to Georgetown, Guyana, whereby agreements were made for the Dutch Government and Dutch engineering firms to assist the Guyanese Government with water works and city water management projects in Guyana.
Guyana has lots to offer St. Maarten in terms of cooperation in the areas of agriculture, food exports, eco-tourism and financial investments.
Already, we are seeing a surge of influx of investment capital from Guyanese investors investing in businesses in St. Maarten and buying properties on the island. The St. Maarten Government should further stimulate this trend by opening up discussions with the Guyanese Government to further cooperation and joint projects between both countries. St. Maarten as a nett importing country relying exclusive on the imports of all kinds of goods and foods and even basic necessities, such as rice, produce, fruits, vegetables and fish, can have Guyana as a trading partner that can offer St. Maarten security in these areas through mutual cooperation agreements.
The Guyanese Government is seeking to commission an impact study on the aviation sector now that the nation is set to grow its oil and gas producing capabilities and to get its international airport up to Category 1 status. It would behoove St. Maarten to offer strategic input into this effort as well. The agricultural developments alone in Guyana is more than enough reason for both Government and the business sector in St. Maarten to initiate trade missions to Guyana. The possibilities and resources for airlift between both countries in the form of direct flights are there. It is just a matter of developing the market and trade relationship between both countries. Let’s start by lifting the visa restriction for Guyanese to travel to St. Maarten.
Economist Arjen Alberts in a recent webinar:
“We don’t need more tourists”
By Hilbert Haar
GREAT BAY – “We don’t need more tourists. We need better tourists,” economist Arjen Alberts said yesterday during a webinar hosted by Runy Calmera, the chairman of the Dutch Caribbean Economists Association.
The webinar was followed by viewers in the Netherlands, Haiti, Curacao and Sint Maarten, where the complete economy class of St. Dominic High School followed the event on a large screen.
The webinar was dedicated to Albert’s study that focuses on the question why tourism does not lead to higher labor productivity. Today published an article about this study on January 5. Alberts is a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Amsterdam. The peer-reviewed British journal International Development Planning Review (IDPR) published his extensive article about this topic. Yesterday, Alberts elaborated on the issue in terms that are easy to understand.
The study looked at developments in Aruba and St. Maarten. “These are small island tourism economies and they both are always in the top-five in terms of the intensity of the tourism development,” Alberts said from behind a laptop stationed at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.
The labor productivity question ought to matter to decision makers, Alberts said. “You see the tourism economy growing, but at the same time you see immigration at a high pace. Therefore, that growth has to be shared. If GDP grows by 5 percent but the population grows at the same pace you are actually at a standstill; we are not getting wealthier per capita. You grow in volume, but you don’t produce more per worker.”
The main conclusion of Alberts study is “worrisome” he said during the webinar. “Labor productivity did not increase since the establishment of the tourism economy in St. Maarten. Some people got wealthier, but on average, people did not.”
The tourism-economy model was successful in one respect, but not successful enough, Alberts added. “There was success in terms of the creation of employment for the wider Caribbean and in terms of marketing. On the other hand: the islands have limited space and they are not using it intensively enough. Instead we have done the opposite in St. Maarten: more hotels, using more space, creating crowdedness, instead of using the available space in a more money-yielding way.”
On the business level it is necessary to look at the supply chain, Alberts said. “Most of the hotel-needs are imported, but you want to offer more entertainment and more activities for tourists. You don’t want more tourists, you want a higher yield per tourist.at the moment, those numbers are actually dropping.”
From every dollar earned, the economist pointed out, 80 percent leaves the island for the import of goods and services. “That percentage must be brought down.”
What the industry ought to focus on is experiences instead of more of the same. “You want to create a memorable experience. Back in the day Mullet Bay offered this; Mullet Bay was St. Maarten, but those days are gone. To create a coherent memorable experience parties – public and private – have to work together. Aruba is slightly better at this than St. Maarten though Aruba is also coasting along.”
Alberts said that there is a lot to be gained in the field of services. “St. Maarten could be a regional hub for services, instead of an importer of those services. Why don’t we offer electrical vehicles for rent to tourists? Why don’t we reduce the import of expensive fuel?”
When Calmera asked for an example of an island that does get a batter yield per tourist, the answer was about a place right next door to St. Maarten: Anguilla. “They have built a few very expensive hotels and they generate a lot of income from it. They employ locals, sprinkles with a few immigrants. The labor productivity has increased there.” Another example is Dominica, an island that thrives on eco-tourism.
“There are no examples of islands who converted from mass-tourism back to exclusive,” Alberts said. “But something can be done: St. Maarten should not go further down the road it is currently on. They will slowly have to expand the experience.”
Right now, St. Maarten is heading in the wrong direction. “The island is not different from other tourism-economies,” Alberts says. “Unfortunately, the focus is mostly on marketing for marketing’s sake and the objective is to get as many tourists to the island as possible. It is a short-term approach. You want to go to strategy, an overall view of where the island wants to go is lacking.”
The way the tourism-economy has developed so far, is based on the laissez-faire attitude of the government, the economist observes. “The businesses have shaped the industry and the government just let it happen. We don’t manage the type of investments we need. We don’t need more investments in more of what we already have, we need investments in the quality of what we have. We have to ask ourselves, where do we want to be in ten years? And then we have to start working towards that goal. The focus has to be on investments that add to the positive experience. That way you add economic value.”
Getting back to the import of services, Alberts said that local entrepreneurs have to start producing what the hotels need. The government has to back up the development towards higher quality tourism with human resources.
“Everything depends on it,” Alberts says. “Improve vocational education, we need skills, an approach of lifelong learning. You cannot do the added value thing if your people are not qualified.”
He presents a vivid example of how St. Maarten ought to change its ways: “We have focused too much on producing five roses and selling them for a dollar each, while we should focus on producing one rose and sell it for five dollars.”
The emphasis on quality is driven by something the island does not have in endless supply: space. There is therefore an end to the possible growth in absolute numbers. “We have been running very fast while we actually have been standing still,” Alberts observes. If there is an investment option that would attract more tourists, I would say: don’t do it. We don’t need more tourists, we need better tourists and we need to make more money from the tourists we already have.”
While there is a need for better tourists, St. Maarten is currently going in the opposite direction, Alberts notes. He refers to price dumping in the cruise industry, something Today reported about on Wednesday.
“They are caught in the straightjacket of short-term thinking. But somebody has to take the long-term view,” Alberts said. “We are at the end of what we are able to achieve and we cannot go further down that road. We have to become unique, because if you are unique, you don’t have to compete that much. If you all offer the same thing, you have to compete on price – that is the only thing that matters today.”
Marigot, Saint Martin/Toronto, Canada — After the large success of the Martha Stewart Wedding Show in Chicago, St Martin/St Maarten is once again in the international spotlight. Sint Maarten Marry Me along with Ricardo Bethel from the French Tourist Office traveled to Toronto for the most renowned Canada’s Bridal Show established since 1984. Hosted at the Metro Convention Center in Toronto, a high volume of Exhibitors and Visitors showcased all the latest trends in the Bridal industry as well as Wedding Destinations!
Attended by thousands of soon to be newlyweds, guests mingled among the Exhibitors, attended fashion shows, caught up on the latest trends and met one on one with representatives of the wedding industry. They were focused on searching for their perfect paradise to tie the knot, amongst various Caribbean Destinations, where more than 50% of the region was represented.
“The three-day event was very successful and we have already had many inquiries for wedding services as well as assistance with hotel bookings! Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is an all time popular destination among brides due to the unique dual nation status, as well as the fact that it is the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean. “Partnering with the French Tourist Office gives us the opportunity to promote all aspects of the island”! Sint Maarten Marry Me representative Milagros De Windt said during the show.
Sint Maarten Marry Me is one of the leading Wedding Planning companies on St Maarten, celebrating 12 years of turning dreams into reality for many brides-to-be, from North America and beyond.
They have recently branched out to include the French side of Saint Martin to offer their clients a “Fantastically French or Delightfully Dutch” experience! Saint Martin, otherwise known as the French Riviera of the Caribbean, is reminiscent of a typical fishing village full of flora and fauna and luxuriously trendy boutique hotels.
“Saint Martin is indeed a unique destination experience and the French Tourist Office is dedicated to promote our island paradise by attending the most prominent Trade Shows the industry has to offer. We are hoping to establish more collaboration with the Dutch side in the future for a better representation for Saint Martin/Sint Maarten as we believe both sides complement each other and have much to offer!” added Ricardo Bethel from the French Tourist Office.
While you are visiting our lovely island of St. Maarten and enjoying the tastes of France that only the St. Tropez of the Caribbean can bring you, you owe it to yourself to take a daytrip to our lovely island neighbor St. Barths. It is only 22 miles away and an air charter can get you into the capital of the island, Gustavia, in the shortest time so you can have the most time to enjoy all the sights, sounds, and differences of a Caribbean island that was originally a Swedish colony.
St. Barths has long been a winter haven for the rich and famous but that does not mean just ordinary folk cannot enjoy the natural beauty, the quiet island life, the pristine beaches, and the distinctly authentic shopping experience in St. Barths. Being already just 30 minutes away from one of the most spectacularly unique and sophisticated of the “French” Islands in the Caribbean means a daytrip to St. Barths is a must do for the Caribbean trip of a life time that you can brag about forever.
St. Barths is easily accessible and affordable if you come to St. Maarten by plane, cruise ship, or on your own yacht.
St. Barths is basically a reef. If diving and exploring for sea life is one of the items on your “bucket list”, St. Barths offers an infinite variety of fish, coral, and sea creatures that are unique to all the Caribbean. The fishing is superb as well. The island has a thriving surfing community and a yearly calendar of boat races that feature the fastest of sail boats and the tall ships of days long past.
The beaches on St. Barths still retain a pristine quality that is hard to find. Miles of beaches topped by rocky volcanic crags and a spectacular ocean view provide the perfect hideaway for a kindling of romance. The natural beauty of some of the most exotic and rarest flowers in the world makes the island a true Eden.
The 80 restaurants on St. Barths provide one of the largest varieties of cuisine in the Caribbean. The best of French food, local Creole delicacies, Asian, Italian and almost every type of cuisine in the world can be found on St. Barths. The wine list on the island is second to none.
Shopping is a change of pace on St. Barths. Hand-woven bags and hats made by local people are a treasure to everyone that visits the island. Naturally, all the best designers from all over Europe have a shop on St. Barths to cater to the rich and famous.
A daytrip to St. Barths from St. Maarten will astonish and delight you. The natural beauty, the red roofed houses, and the wonderful beaches, the variety of food, and the best shopping in the world make a daytrip to St. Barths one of the best things you will remember most from a visit to the Caribbean.
Terrance Rey is CEO of AirStMaarten, Caribbean’s only virtual airline specializing in shared charters to St. Barths.
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I am writing this article on a self-imposed deadline instigated by the approach of Tropical Storm Erika with the aim of advising visitors on my Caribbean home island of St. Maarten what to do before TS Erika reaches our Windward Islands or worst, turns into a Hurricane.
Six years ago, in September of 2009, we also had a Tropical Storm by the name of Erika threatening our shores as well and then too I sent out a quick emailing to my mailinglist with information and advice on what to do if caught in a hurricane while on vacation in the Caribbean.
The article I wrote for that September 2009 newsletter is still valid even up to today.
So here is my checklist of Top Things To Do If A Storms Threatens Your Caribbean Vacation Island.
- Make a list of supplies to buy.
- Study the storm’s path on the weather sites. I strongly recommend www.wunderground.com.
- Plan for wet surprises.
- Create a list of tasks and responsibilities. Know who does what in an emergency bug-out.
- Pack non-perishable food for each person for 3-7 days.
- Buy bottled water (1 gallon per person per day).
- Pack two coolers: one for drinks, including bottles juices, and one for food.
- Stock up on canned foods and have a manual can opener handy.
- If you have pets, make sure to stock up on dry pet food.
- Have a plan in place if your personal belongings get lost or damaged.
- Store all important documents in waterproof containers.
- Have your bags packed and ready to move.
- Have an emergency (first-aid and disaster) kit ready, with batteries (in different sizes), flashlights (plus extra bulbs), candles, matches, duct tape, clock (wind up or battery-powered), plastic garbage bags, etc.
- If you are on medication, consult with your physician and have an extra supply of medicines.
- Read up on hurricane do’s and don’ts. Unless you are an extreme storm chaser, don’t go outside in a storm unless you really, really, really have to.
- Dress appropriately. Make sure you have rain gear, extra clean clothes, extra blankets, heavy gloves, etc.
- Know the bug-out route to the nearest designated hurricane shelter.
- Make sure your room, apartment, condo or villa is secured.
- Make sure your cellphone, tablet and laptop batteries are fully charged.
- Keep a list of emergency numbers handy.
- Make sure you have a battery-powered radio you can listen to.
- Stay in touch with the home front via internet.
- If you are staying at a resort, listen to the resort management.
- My personal favorite: have a supply of comfort/stress foods handy.
- Last but not least, get extra cash!
This list is sorted in no particular order of priority or preference except the latter two, but those are my personal preferences, candy and cash.
Be safe people!
PS: Visit http://www.stmaarten-info.com/st-maarten-weather-information for the latest up-to-date weather news and storm tracking for the region of St. Maarten/Saint Martin, St. Barths, Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius. St. Kitts & Nevis.
Much like when you are using a smartphone or tablet and you turn the screen upside down and the display automatically flips so that it is rightsided up again, the same way St. Maarten’s tourism marketing strategies needs to be responsive. The minute something happens that poses a threat or an opportunity for the island as a tourism destination, the St. Maarten tourism authority needs to be able to flip the strategy so that the policies are rightsided up again and is able to respond decisively to that threat or opportunity.
Last month, after the attacks in Tunisia whereby a gunman killed dozens of tourists, countries such as Spain and the Canary Islands immediately responded with marketing campaigns to offer sun-seeking Europeans an alternative vacation destination for their holidays this year. What did St. Maarten do? Nothing, of course. Granted, long-haul destinations are unlikely to pick up tourists originally destined for Tunisia, according to travel analyst Angelo Rossini from market research firm Euromonitor. “Destinations like the Maldives, the Caribbean and Mexico are typically more pricey and target a different customer segment.” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.com.
However, the reason St. Maarten tourism authorities were unable to respond proactively in a case like this is because the island’s tourism marketing is completely non-existent. There is absolutely no strategy or policies in place to react to or counteract any positive or negative development, whether internationally, regionally or even in the source markets for the island tourist traffic.
Now in the aftermath of the shootout in Philipsburg with Officer Gamali Benjamin fatally wounded and the island has literally been flipped on its head with this new level of crime violence, there has been a huge outpouring from St. Maarten sympathizers and long time island visitors on the internet, on forums, blogs and social media. One post alone on a forum has to date almost 7000 unique views. With this exposure in mind that can negatively impact the island’s tourism product, the tourism authorities on St. Maarten needs to be proactive and let the world see that the St. Maarten government, in particularly the Justice Minister, the Police Force, the business community and the island’s population is united in condemning these acts of violence and that swift action is taking to bring the perpetrators to justice. The image of a decisive and effective justice apparatus needs to be communicated and depicted immediately and profiled consistently so tourists and prospective visitors to the island can feel that the authorities have the situation well under control.
That level of responsiveness is unfortunately missing in the island’s tourism marketing and promotion abilities. Therefore, the call is hereby issued to the tourism authorities on St. Maarten, starting with the Ministry of Tourism, to tackle this matter immediately without any further delay as our tourism product is definitely under threat. There is an opportunity right now to do something about that with the present level of support in all sectors of the island. St. Maarten needs a responsive tourism marketing strategy, now more than ever.
TERRANCE REY ABOUT CUBA AND THE INTERNAL THREATS TO ST. MAARTEN TOURISM
AMERICANS WILL TAKE A WAIT AND SEE APPROACH
GREAT BAY – How big a threat is Cuba really to St. Maarten’s economy and when will the effects hit us? Terrance Rey, managing director of several travel businesses like Let’s Travel and Travel Anywhere, Inc. says it will take at least ten years, but that the country should not wait that long before taking action. Marketing is of course the key word and exactly in that field, the island comes up short.
“You have to look first at our strong points,” Rey says in his Let’s Travel office. “What do people find attractive about St. Maarten? We have all the facilities that tourists have at home and they are comparable with what they have back home. I had a client who wanted to go to St. Barth just to see what the attraction of that island is. After a couple of days, he fled back to St. Maarten because he found St. Barth boring, even though it is a perfect island for a particular category of travelers. You go there for quietude, to see and to be seen.”
How does St. Maarten hold up against such a neighbor? Rey: “We are a small island; people are at the airport within an hour. We have beaches, bars and restaurants and we’re not far away from the US. Tourists are back home within a couple of hours.”
“People do not come to St. Maarten for the environment,” Rey adds. “If that were so attractive then islands like Dominica and St. Lucia would be top destinations, but they are not. People come to St. Maarten and they do not mind what some people call our concrete jungle.”
The dangers that are real threats to St. Maarten’s tourism industry are not external, but internal, Rey says. “The situation with the timeshare industry is a big problem. And there is the pollution caused by the landfill. You only need one tourist who claims that he caught something from it and decides to sue. That will have an effect, but you could asphalt the whole island and that would not be a problem. As long as the beaches are accessible, tourists will be happy. If that access is endangered, then we have a real problem.”
Another strong attraction point of the island is the casino industry, Rey says. “People come from other islands to gamble here. That is a real business opportunity.”
No matter what complaints people may have about telecom services and the utilities company, infrastructural St. Maarten is up to par for the tourism industry, Rey notes. “Tourist land here, they get their cell phone, their rental car and they have their entertainment in bars, restaurants, casinos and discos.”
To keep tourists coming, airlift is key, Rey says. “It is a chicken and egg issue. As long as airlines keep flying, tourists will keep coming and as long as tourists keep coming, airlines will keep flying. We must not break that circle. We have to promote the island.”
That St. Maarten hardly ever shows up as a favorite destination in reader surveys from travel magazines and websites is “subjective” Rey says and he refers to what happened after the financial crisis in 2008. “Nothing happened. Our tourism industry grew. In spite of the crash, people kept arriving.”
Rey says that the island ought to cherish its timeshare owners, though the reality is that the government does nothing of the kind. “Our system has not been established to protect the small man. That’s why timeshare owners always draw the short straw, even though they are people with money.”
As an aside, Rey says that he does not understand why people but timeshare anyway. “What are you really buying? Hot air, that’s all, the right to be somewhere for a couple of weeks per year.”
What about that external threat called Cuba? Rey thinks that it will take time for Americans to truly embrace the destination. “On the political level Cuba needs to go through quite some development. It is still possible to get arrested there at random. Before Cuba is a free constitutional state we are ten years further down the road. The majority of Americans will take a wait and see approach.”
The travelers who visit Cuba are curious about the country, Rey adds. “They have been going there from Europe and Canada, but they end up in gated holiday resorts. They do not see a lot outside of the resort, so they are getting a very one-dimensional impression of the country. But the curiosity about the authentic Cuba is there.”
Jet Blue is going to open a service to Havana and charters have been servicing the destination from Florida. “But the occupation grade with American tourists was disappointing,” Rey says. “Most of the passengers were Cuban-Americans.”
However, with Jet blue in the mix, a certain market for Cuba-oriented travel will open. In spite of that, most Americans will be reluctant to go there, Rey says. “The image of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary, is still imprinted in people’s minds. So the first group to go there will consist of people who have strong ties with Cuba – the Cuban-americans who have family there, followed by adventurers and starry-eyed idealists.”
There is however yet another group that is eyeballing Cuba: entrepreneurs. “I have already organized three charters to Cuba for real estate developers and timeshare entrepreneurs,” says Rey, but he thinks that doing business in Fidel’s backyard will be cumbersome at best for years to come.
“The Cuban government wants to keep a big finger in the pie. They want 50-50 business deals and they want to remain in control.”
Like anywhere else, the success of doing business in a foreign country depends on whom you know and on the networks you have, says Rey. “Cuban-Americans will have an advantage, because they have those contacts. The political process will take time. Only when the resorts, the casinos, the timeshare projects and the cruise industry have developed their Cuba-projects will St. Maarten be in danger.”
There is an upside to this story, Rey says. “We have time to react to this situation. We have to create awareness, and we have to do our marketing and promotion. But in the field of marketing the government is not doing anything right now.”
Interview by Mr. Hilbert Haar, managing editor of the TODAY newspaper on St. Maarten, published on the front page of the TODAY newspaper on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015.