Category Archives: Columns

Americans Will Take A Wait And See Approach

Terrance Rey - Photo by Hilbert Haar/TODAY Newspaper

Terrance Rey – Photo by Hilbert Haar/TODAY Newspaper

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.

The Ebb & Flow of the Airline Industry

We have all seen the dramatic drop in the oil price in 2014 and we have noticed that some airlines have continued to maintain the same level in their airfares despite dropping the infamous fuel clause that was used to justify the rise in airfares over the years to keep pace with the ever increasing price of oil and the burdening effect this had on the operational costs in the airline industry.

Many airline press releases tell us that the present airfares are kept at the present level to cover the years of financial deficits that have been incurred while the airlines struggled to maintain their pricing competitiveness and that the airlines will continue to use the profits generated to strengthen their airline companies’ balance sheets. In order words, airlines intend to profit from the present situation for as long as possible.

AF eats KLM

Will Air France gobble KLM up like the way of life in the jungle?

This brings me to look at the ebb and flow in the airline industry. Because despite the opportunity to benefit from lower fuel prices, there are still many airline companies struggling to survive financially or are on the brink of bankruptcy. The burgeoning overhead costs of the legacy carriers, the burdening operational costs that in most cases cannot be deferred or offset on to the passengers and the gnawing competition from the low-cost carriers and from the cash-rich middle-eastern carriers are taking a toll on the state of the airline industry.

Despite the aforementioned detrimental situation, I am intrigued by the fact that there are still many airline companies vying to enter the airline industry. To a certain extent, this can be understood. With record profits being made in the industry presently, entrepreneurs and investors see an opportunity to enter into a market that has enormous potential for huge amounts of revenues and profits. Also, as more aircrafts are being built on the promise of efficiency in both technology and fuel consumption, it is certainly attractive for new airline companies to try to enter the market if they are certain their business model can be operated more profitably and more efficiently than their predecessors.

A dream come through for Arkefly with plans to fly to St. Maarten later this year with their brand new Driemliner, the third Dreamliner in their fleet.

A dream come through for Arkefly with plans to fly to St. Maarten later this year with their brand new Driemliner, the third Dreamliner in their fleet.

So, on the one hand we see the rise and fall of oil prices, air fares, profits and losses and the exit and entry of old and new players in the airline market industry. On the other hand, like the moon having a tremendous effect on the ebb and flow of the ocean on our planet’s surface, it tickles my imagination to know what exactly is causing the similarly ebb and flow in the airline industry? Is it the just the life-cycle that every airline company must go through or is it because of the restless nature of man to be forever on the move, whether up or down, like oil prices, airline fares and company profits?

Terrance Rey is owner and managing director of Let’s Travel, Travel Anywhere and AirStMaarten. Terrance Rey has 15 years experience in the travel business as a travel agent, tour operator, charter broker and as an internet travel entrepreneur. You can email Terrance Rey directly via terrance@letstravelsxm.com with any questions you may have relating to your international travel needs.

What Is The Big Attraction At Maho Beach?

Some years ago when I did an interview for a documentary for The History Channel called the World’s Most Extreme Airports featuring the Top 10 airports in terms of extreme landings, St. Maarten’s airport ranked #5 and St. Barth’s airport ranked #4. The main attraction for the SXM Airport were the spectacular landings over Maho Beach and the extremely fantastic take-offs where people are literally blown away.

Many come to St. Maarten to experience the thrill of having a huge jumbo jet whiz a few meters over their heads as it makes a mad dash for the runway. Or to experience the hot air of engine thrusts as the jets bolt down the runway to rocket off over the Simpson Bay lagoon while the enthousiastic spectators hold on to the fence for dear life or run into the waters of the Maho Bay to escape the stinging bite of the sand blasts around them. We have seen people blown into the air, roll down the beach like tumbleweed and car windows shatter like fake glass in an action packed movie.

The Maho Beach has become a mecca for plane spotters and the Sunset Beach Bar & Griil a temple of sun worshippers, topless babes and jumbo jet watchers. Over the years the demand from cruise tourists visiting for the day has grown to include a tour visit of Orient Bay and a stop at the Maho Beach. One stop to take their tops off and the other stop to get their tops blown off. But who is paying attention to such details when a private jet streaks by so close over their heads, they almost could reach up and touch the fuselage.

Photographers have now also found a new source of inspiration and outlet for their creative talents. The many angles used to depict the aviation activities at the SXM Airport in combination with the beachgoing festivities have resulted in many impressive photographs and winning Toppix photo’s. Professional quality photography that is now even getting the attention of prestigious world reknown magazines such as National Geographic. Click here for a shot by Chris Garner that brings St. Maarten’s biggest attraction in the aviation world clearly into focus and up close and personal. Clearly St. Maarten has a new attraction that is now leading a life of its own all over the world.

As a tourism promoter of St. Maarten and its surrounding islands of St. Barths and Anguilla, I am very happy about that. For whoever does not yet understand the big attraction the spectacular aircraft landings has for all near and far, they should know that the complete replacement crew of Thomas Cook Airlines posed for a shot on the Maho Beach as the Airbus A330 of their airline company came in for the landing of its inaugural flight DK1965 from Stockholm, Sweden, on St. Maarten on the eve of St. Maarten Day, November 10th, bringing with it 395 passengers and a crew of 12.

I am certain many of those passengers have paid a visit to the Maho Beach to see for themselves what the big attraction is and I am sure many more will follow in their path. Just as long as they are careful, is my advice. It’s a big attraction that definitely must remain as such and it should not be a reason for anyone to end up in traction. We want tourists, spotters and photographers to keep on visiting and experiencing the thrill of a sensation few around the world get to enjoy up close and personal. That’s the big attraction!

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Click here to book an island tour to visit Maho Beach while on the island

Why Should Any Airline Fly To St. Maarten?

There has been a lot of debate recently about airlines and the airline industry. Especially the cost of airline tickets for travelers. For us here locally, St. Maarten as a destination has been the center of discussion on what should be done to attract more airlines to our island. But we have to understand a vitally important factor in the airline business. The only real reason any airline would fly to St. Maarten is to make money. Airlines are not in the business of promoting any tourist destination. Airlines exist to make money for their shareholders in the form of profits, plain and simple.

Many airlines have increased or are in the process of increasing flight capacity at the expense of leg room and continue to increase fares despite lower fuel costs because they are in the process of recouping the losses they sustained from the reduction in air travel brought about by the ‘Great Travel Recession‘ of the past decade.

The management of most airlines have become forward-looking and see that the present recovery of economies in the United States and Europe is the perfect opportunity to make as much extra cash as possible. The money people save at the gas station as a result of declining oil prices can be used for air travel.

One of the problems with development of more air travel to St. Maarten is the seasonal flights that only occur during the winter months from North America and Europe. St. Maarten needs to promote itself as a year-round tourist destination that will encourage the seasonal flight operators to make a change to all year-round operations.

Getting the airlines to cooperate with this objective will take incentives. The negotiations may be a bit tricky in maintaining compliance with US and European restrictions on government subsidies of airline companies and St. Maarten’s government’s budgettary restrictions are certainly no help either. But the government of St. Maarten could and should make new deals with major carriers from the US and Europe, especially Scandanavian-based airline companies, such as Finnair, looking to expand their operations internationally.

This means paying the airlines to come to St. Maarten. This could be a financial stretch for a government that is seeing deceasing tax income and less revenues for businesses with the state of the present economy. But this strategy has worked well for Curacao and many more thousands of airports around the world. So why not St. Maarten?

St. Maarten needs to look at new markets that have established airlines such as the Arab Gulf states. China and South Korea have developed a growing airline industry. Certainly, not every person in China can come to St. Maarten, but a growing number of wealthy Chinese would see St. Maarten for its attractiveness that even the vastness of China cannot offer in terms of climate and its natural environment.

Finally, advertising will make people want to come to St. Maarten and the airlines will cater to their client’s desires with more flights to St. Maarten. Again, this could be a bit of a financial burden on businesses that are not making the revenues they once enjoyed but every other Caribbean tourist destination will be doing the same thing. The competition for tourist dollars in the Caribbean and elsewhere will certainly increase tenfold the coming years and St. Maarten needs to be at the forefront of innovative marketing developments to attract new visitors to the island.

The good news is that the ‘great travel recession‘ is essentially over in the USA, Canada and Europe. Higher employment rates and more disposable income in the USA alone will mean more tourists for St. Maarten and our island has all the accommodations, natural beauty, activities and night life that make the island attractive to tourists. The basic idea is that the island will have to spend lots more money to increase inbound air travel and get back to the levels of tourism revenues that the island previously enjoyed in the booming era up to ten years ago.

Finally, it is important that tourism authorities on St. Maarten select the right media to promote the island and attract new visitors and make it worthwhile for airlines to fly to St. Maarten. Here is an example of a good media platform to use: www.mapsxm.com. Because it is really necessary that we put St. Maarten back on the map as the preferred destination for the major airline carriers.

Disappointing registration for St. Maarten voting in EU elections

Disappointing registration for St. Maarten voting in EU elections
Illustration by Peter Schrank

Illustration by Peter Schrank first published in The Economist

Of the more than 19,000 Dutch nationals living in St. Maarten only 178 have the opportunity to play their part in guiding the future of the European Union (EU) by voting in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections. Dutch nationals, living in St. Maarten, had to register before April 10, 2014, to be able to cast a vote.

Policy Advisor attached to the Office of the Dutch Representation in St. Maarten, Bianca van der Lee, said although disappointed by the level of interest in this elections, the process is running smoothly for the persons who are registered. She said there is a constant flow of people dropping in to cast their votes. Registered persons have until May 22, 3:00pm to vote at the office of the Dutch Representation on Front Street # 26.

St. Maarten’s President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell was among the first to cast her vote on Tuesday, “I call on all citizens, who registered up until April 10, to exercise their democratic right to vote between now and May 22. I made use of this right this afternoon and voted for the candidate of my choice. Not too long ago, not everyone could vote, including women. To date there are millions of people around the world who still cannot or are not allowed to freely vote for the party or candidate of their choice.”

Initiatives such as an information session at the University of St. Martin and an appeal by several political leaders were carried out in St. Maarten to improve the level of interest in the 2014 EU elections. But efforts proved futile. There was a very poor turnout at the information session and ultimately only 178 persons registered to vote.

Van der Lee said it is not the responsibility of her office to drum up support for the elections, however because there is an agreement to use their office facilities, there was an extra effort to get a strong support from Dutch nationals living in St. Maarten.

Brussels and the candidates are responsible for motivating voters, however EU candidates provided no broad-base public information about their platform to the St. Maarten public. The Netherlands has 26 seats in the EU parliament. As of 2009, Dutch nationals living in the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are able to vote in these elections. The fact that St. Maarten seems so far from the EU, has influenced a negative turn-out in this elections as some potential voters feel there is not much influence for policy that affect the daily lives of the people of St. Maarten.

The European elections give voters the chance to influence the future political course of the EU when they elect the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent their interests for the next five years.

There have been 766 Members of the European Parliament since Croatia joined the EU in July 2013 but this number is being scaled down at the 2014 elections to 751 and will stay at that level in future. These MEPs will represent over 500 million citizens in 28 member states. The seats are allocated among the various states, by the EU treaties, on the basis of ‘digressive proportionality’, meaning countries with larger populations have more seats than smaller ones but the latter have more seats than strict proportionality would imply.

The new political majority that emerges from this elections will shape European legislation over the next five years especially in areas from the single market to civil liberties. The Parliament – the only directly elected EU institution – is now a linchpin of the European decision-making system and has an equal say with national governments on nearly all EU laws.

Of interest to St. Maarten is the European Union’s long-term spending budget which has to be approved by national governments and MEPs, then each year the two sides decide together how the annual budget will be spent. Policies such as agriculture, regional development, energy, transport, the environment, development aid and scientific research all receive EU funding. Parliament is also responsible for checking later if the taxpayer’s money has been used as intended and for signing off on the accounts if it is satisfied.

Is Peace In Paradise At Risk In The Caribbean?

The Caribbean is in every sense of the word the neighbor of the United States. All islands in the Caribbean and specifically those heavily dependent on tourism (like St. Maarten) know the saying: “If the US sneezes, the Caribbean gets a cold.” This is often used in relation to the economy. In today’s reality, the governments and peoples of the Caribbean have to be aware and prepared to deal with possible threats to US citizens in this part of the world.

Though the Caribbean is and, hopefully, continue to be peaceful, level-headed and not prone to any form of fundamentalist ideas, it is necessary to have contingency plans to identify, combat and quell any threat. A threat to US citizens in any part of the Caribbean is a threat to all the people of the Caribbean.

Any threat or suggestion of a threat means the life blood of our chain of islands in this azure sea is at risk. It means the livelihood of us as a people is threatened. It means our ability to take care of our children, ability to buy medicine, to look after our elderly, simply to grow from peaceful, developing countries to peaceful developed countries are challenged by forces, who do not belong or realize that the Caribbean is not a place to fight battles or to alienate.

The Caribbean has longer been a place that brought people together geographically and after many struggles have keep us together in one spirit with different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. Our unique differences bind us. Our determination to build countries surpasses any divider.

It is unnerving to read the warning issued “out of an abundance of caution” on Sunday, February 9, 2014, by the US Embassy in Guyana that called on all US citizens booked to travel on Caribbean Airlines CAL flight to make alternative travel arrangements. No details – quite possibly for security purposes – were given about the “unconfirmed threats” which led the embassy to issue such a specific travel warning.

Despite for which country the threat is issued for, the one motivating fact in this un-Caribbean situation is Caribbean Airlines is as vital to these islands in the sun as milk is to a new-born. It does not matter to which country this regional airline belongs. What matters is those white iron birds so poignantly embolden with a hummingbird is a Caribbean symbol, through and through.

Any warning, therefore, is a resounding warning to the Caribbean as a region. It is a warning for every country and its people to become aware that we must be ready for the new realities of the world we live in. Being ready does not mean paranoid; it means we as a region need to become even more vigilant to protect our life source – tourism.

The Caribbean must remain a place where our neighbors to the north can visit us freely and not have to watch over their shoulders. But for that secure feeling to remain, all countries need to be prepared to deal with the fallout of travel warnings whether it is related to a mosquito disease threat or threats of a man-made and sinister kind.

Tourism officials, locally and regionally, must come up with contingency plans to deal with any travel warning. They must be ready to counter any misgivings, ready to accommodate displaced passengers – ready and always prepared to take care of their countries and by extension the wider Caribbean. The waters of the Caribbean Sea separates one island from the other. The innovations in air travel keep us forever linked together through airlines such as Caribbean Airlines, LIAT, Inselair, Winair and AirStMaarten.

No one in the Caribbean, not now in the reality of today’s world, can turn away and say: “No, it can’t happen to us.” Yes, when the US sneezes, the Caribbean catches a cold. Same holds true that when a symbol, a vital link for our islands, is cast in a shadow, the Caribbean can’t see its famous sun. Peace in paradise would definitely be at risked if that was to be the case in the Caribbean.

St. Maarten should be on the road to Economic Transformation

At this point in our development as country St. Maarten, we need to look at areas of possible economic transformation. Such a vision would incorporate and be part and parcel of continuing to improve the quality of life of people and that of the country.

The areas identified for sustainable development would not increase our foot print as a society on our fragile environment, but would only enhance our country’s wealth which in turn can be re-invested for future generations.

As part of the vision, why can’t we develop the “St. Maarten Shipping Registry” and achieve recognition from the global market as a top jurisdiction for vessel registration and a popular flag of choice. Yes we can, we have achieved as a destination where our Port of St. Maarten is one of the top cruise ports in the Caribbean. Yes, we can, and yes we have achieved in cruise tourism, so we can also become one of the top Shipping Registry destinations of the world. And besides a shipping registry, let us not stop there but also develop our own “St. Maarten Aircraft Registry.”

The Cayman Islands (a British dependency) has developed this sector and they see the enormous opportunity for growth and development of the shipping industry, which has been considered so significant as a third pillar of the Cayman economy in the long-run. The registry has 1,900 vessels carrying the Cayman Islands flag and over 800 are mega/super-yachts which we see every season docked in Great Bay, Simpson Bay or in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Besides the Cayman’s being a top jurisdiction for vessel registration, the additional benefits in this area still to be explored and developed by the Cayman Islands are environmental studies, maritime law, naval architecture and servicing commercial and leisure traffic.

As part of the vision, why not develop the “St. Maarten Stock Exchange” (SSX). The SSX can be a supporting element of a shipping registry, and is considered as a cost-effective alternative to listing on larger exchanges in North America or Europe, and would provide benefits to ship owners and managers.

Why not envision the development of the “St. Maarten International Business & Financial Center” that encompasses asset protection, wealthy management, insurance and banking services. This area has successfully been developed in other parts of the Caribbean and has contributed to the wealth of those countries.

The Cayman Islands for example in this sector employs 12,600 people or 36 per cent of total employment, out of a total population of 57,000. In December 2010, Barbados had 45 offshore banks, 242 captive insurance companies, 3.065 international business companies and 408 international societies with restricted liability.

In Bermuda (British dependency), the international business & financial sector contributes 24.2 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so one quarter of their economy is based on this sector, and provides 3,867 direct jobs. The British Virgin Islands (British dependency) gets 45 per cent of its GDP from this sector and has 750,000 offshore companies registered.

These sectors are all high paying jobs. All these new areas of opportunities for country Sint Maarten will have a spill-over affect into other areas of our national economy if we as a country were to facilitate economic transformation. It will besides creating opportunities for our educated people and those studying abroad first and foremost, it will also result in a better quality of life for all.

The trickle down affect will be felt throughout society; better services (education, health, senior citizens, youth care and development); better infrastructure; more public housing; and helping to create and build wealth for every member of society.

Again, do not let it become an excuse that because other islands already have these sectors that I mentioned, that we as a people cannot venture out and facilitate their development, because 25+ other islands in the region today are in the cruise and stay-over tourism business as well, and that never stopped us from developing both. We have succeeded in doing it the St. Maarten way; by being visionary, innovative, and pro-active; the hospitality and friendliness of our people both North and South; and the natural beauty of our country, are some of the feats and assets that have kept us ahead and up-front.

Key to economic transformation and development is a stable political, social and economic environment. The country has experienced some turbulent times within its first three years and two-months of country status.

The dynamics of country St. Maarten should not dare us to dream. We have done it before, but we need to continue. The region and the world are not static. What is an advantage today is a disadvantage tomorrow.

2014 and beyond will require 21st century thinking.

By Roddy Heyliger

Another area of economic transformation: St. Maarten E-Business Enterprise Center (SEBEC). Read more>>>

Is St. Maarten innovative enough?

Is St. Maarten innovative enough?

As St. Maarten tiptoes on some levels to prove its worth as a country, “innovation” still proves to be the illusive boon. This situation is not unique to St. Maarten. A recent World Bank report says Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs “lack innovation curbs” in creating quality jobs.

Are we so contented with the way things are, that we fail to risk the unknown, for fear of not making the grade? Too often, we see companies and people shuttered in their old ways of doing things.

The World Bank says “a deep cultural shame of failure” is hindering innovation in the region by dissuading entrepreneurs from taking risks. When will St. Maarten see more, new and innovative ideas?

We have heard talk over the years about plunging into offshore banking, expanding St. Maarten influence in the field of regional telecommunications, becoming the region’s shipping hub, restructuring or modernizing the way we embrace the adult entertainment industry and commercial sex workers to name a few. But, we are yet to see tangible steps forward.

What is innovation? The Conference Board of Canada defines innovation as “the process through which economic and social value is extracted from knowledge through the generation, development, and implementation of ideas to produce new or improved strategies, capabilities, products, services, or processes.”

Simply put, innovation can be described as the introduction of something new. The something new can be a new idea, a new device, or a new method of doing something. Something new does not necessarily have to be something entirely new; it can be an improvement of something that already exists.

Are we really too comfortable to risk it all on dreams of being the frontrunners. Why do we sit around and wait for the others to “come in” and do it.

To be fair, we are a young nation, though in the making for some years. Our visionaries need to be nourished with the food of all the possibilities. Visionaries also need to be empowered to return to the island.

The World Bank say entrepreneurs are “key actors” in turning low productivity around to create quality jobs and lasting economic benefit for the region.

Consequently, the report recommends establishing an economic environment, which enables entrepreneurs to innovate and compete, thereby reducing the grip of monopolies, increasing productivity and diversifying the business environment.

In launching the new Washington-based financial institution’s flagship report, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean, Augusto de la Torre, said “a massive” 60 per cent regional employees work for businesses with five or fewer employees. “This is evident as much in individual reticence at a business level as in the low levels of investment in research and development, especially from the private sector,” it said

President of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, Dr Emsley Tromp, at the National Economic Forum, organized by Fundashon Pro Inovashon Nashonal, Curaçao, in October 2013, said it is very important to make sure the necessary conditions exist or can be created to increase innovations. He was speaking on the backdrop of a recent visit by Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

He said, “In the central bank, innovation plays a role from things as basic as the central bank’s office operations to new ways of fulfilling our main tasks laid down in the Central Bank Charter. In our general office operations, we are constantly seeking ways to reduce costs. Some recent examples are internet phone services, the replacement of fluorescent light bulbs by LED light bulbs, and the placement of solar panels.”

Tromp went as far as calling for “innovation” in the way Kingdom partners co-exist. “Three years of new constitutional relations have been overshadowed by frequent tensions between the new Kingdom partners and the Netherlands. These tensions included the intended limitations on settlement in the Netherlands for citizens from the Caribbean Kingdom partners and instructions by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to balance the government budget and improve public governance.”

Another suggestion from The World Bank is modernizing ports, transport, and customs. This “can add a competitive edge to products from the region”. Currently, it said poor public services, communication links and transport infrastructure are “adding to the obstacles to boosting production capacity in the region.

St. Maarten is miles ahead in the areas of cruise tourism and (trans-)shipping, as a regional airport hub and is looked to by others in the region as an example of (positive and negative) infrastructural development. But more innovations are needed. St. Maarten has the languages, the geographical position and the drive of its people to become more of a forerunner for the next big thing in the Caribbean, be it clean energy production, e-zone hub or just an outstanding holiday spot that exceeds expectations.

St. Maarten Should Romance Regional Caribbean Shoppers

St. Maarten Should Romance Regional Caribbean Shoppers

by Rajesh Chintaman

St. Maarten should be doing more to attract regional Caribbean shoppers.

Large groups of people crowding the corridors of St. Maarten supermarkets and meticulously packing boxes and barrels on the outside are becoming a normal and welcomed spectacle. They chat in melodious Caribbean dialects as they bustle obviously to beat a travel clock. These big spenders and year-round visitors are a major group of shoppers St. Maarten too often overlook.

These shoppers are worth romancing. They are from “sister islands” as far as Dominica, Montserrat and Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis. Just a glimpse at their boxes and barrels tell the stories of their final destination scrawled in permanent marker: St. John’s Parish, the Gut, Roseau, …

There is no doubt this homogenous group of visitors are here to enjoy St. Maarten’s duty free shopping, an escape from their islands’ high Value Added Tax (VAT) on many items. They come to shop, but they also squeeze in a mini vacation by staying in small hotels, dine in our restaurants, and shop on Back Street and Front Street and, in some cases, visits with family and friends. They are a steady flow of economy boosting visitors who purchase everything from food items, electronics, household items, clothing and even brand name luxury goods such as watches and jewellery.

Observing all of this, the following question comes to mind…

Is St. Maarten doing enough to fuel this money making sector?

St. Maarten Small Properties Association (SSPA) President, Nzinga Lake says, “St. Maarten is not doing enough for our Caribbean brothers and sisters. They spend, from my estimation, more than most traditional stay-over visitors and, definitely more, than cruise passengers. We see them here three to four times a year.”

These regional shoppers stay about three to four days and can easily spend at least US $300 to US $400 a day just shopping and about US $350 alone on hotel stay. They shell out still more cash on car rentals, meals and incidentals.

Lake says it is time St. Maarten bands together. Stakeholders should make it a priority to better facilitate the Caribbean visitor. “We need to make our Caribbean brothers and sisters feel more welcomed in our Friendly Island.”

Lake says St. Maarten is not alone in vying for the attention of these regional shoppers. Several other Caribbean islands (with lower VAT than small Caribbean islands) have woken up to the spending trend and are trying to lure these big, frequent shoppers from around the Caribbean.

Several major United States stores have already spotted the spending trends of these often overlooked Caribbean relatives. Big chain stores are now targeting these shoppers with online shopping, shipping and even delivery schedules.

Focussing on regional shoppers is not sexy enough for our tourism decision-makers.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AirStMaarten, Terrance Rey says, “Definitely, more can be done. I posted the idea a couple of years ago that we should offer free flights to St. Maarten. You know how much money this island can make? Caribbean visitors come here and load up boxes and barrels and send them home by boat. However, this is not sexy enough for the attention of our tourism decision-makers and overlooked by many in the business community.”

Airline prices are “a huge hurdle” to many shoppers. Small hotel representative, Nzinga Lake says airline tickets should somehow be subsidized by at least US $150.

We would then see much more Caribbean big spenders, says Nzinga Lake.

These Caribbean visitors are some of our biggest shoppers and spenders. Boutique hotels such as Paradise Inn, Llama Guesthouse, Bute Hotel and Seaview Hotel and others have capitalized on this development.

Paradise Inn, for example, has the advantage of close proximity to several major supermarkets and superstores and is usually solidly booked out by regional shoppers and tourists, who spend a day, a weekend or often at the most an entire week.

Llama Guesthouse is a hub for visitors from St. Kitts and Nevis who arrive by ferry to St. Maarten regularly. One downside for these visitors is that they lose valuable shopping time waiting on Immigration Officials at the dock. The boat often arrives around 5:00am and passengers have to wait some two to three hours for go through the official screening which in itself takes time.

For many of these regional visitors, it is a race against the clock to get everything on their shopping list. Some smart local businesses have learnt this and try to facilitate their needs with delivery to the ferry service at the dock when possible.

We need to make our Caribbean brothers and sisters feel more welcomed in our Friendly Island. – Nzinga Lake

St. Maarten needs to fully embrace its position as a hub for the North-Eastern Caribbean. With this embrace, there needs to be the respect for our Caribbean visitors, who share so many commonalities with the people of St. Maarten.

As they shop, there is some grumble of dissatisfaction about the way they are sometimes treated. Though technically tourists, they don’t fit the perception of the “typical tourist” to some in St. Maarten’s tourism and hospitality sector and can, at times, be treated as a bother than the big spenders that they are.

They are still faced with that unfriendly official, the unscrupulous taxi or gypsy driver who tries to overcharge them and, of course, the “fancy” Front Street store that snubbed them often just based on looks alone.

It is time to show more love to this very essential economy moving group of shoppers, so St. Maarten can add another feather in its cap, the Friendly Island that welcomes regional Caribbean shoppers with open arms and a welcoming heart.

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Rajesh Chintaman is an editor at St. Maarten’s main daily newspaper. He is also a freelance writer and an avid volunteer for HIV/AIDS awareness and eradication of poverty. Rajesh Chintaman is a regular contributor to the StMaarten-Info.com Blog, StMaartenNews.com and the new newspaper subscription site, StMaartenNews.net.

Who is prepared to clock in overtime to improve the economy of St. Maarten?

WHO IS PREPARED TO CLOCK IN OVERTIME TO IMPROVE THE ECONOMY OF ST. MAARTEN?

Terrance Rey

By Terrance Rey

Jacob Gelt Dekker wrote an interesting column about what Curacao needed to improve its economy immediately. Contrary to Curacao, eventhough both islands share a joint central bank, St. Maarten does not have much export products that can generate foreign currency revenues – dollars, euro’s, francs, yens, yuans, etc. – because all we have basically is sea, sun and sand and that has generated enough tourism dollars over the years to sustain our island’s one pillar economy.

But what about the future? How can we enhance our tourism economy to make it sustainable and give it longevity? The Today newspaper has been featuring some small business entrepreneurs on St. Maarten that make their own little contributions in stimulating our island’s economy, like the gentleman that makes his own cigars and sell them at the cruise terminal. We need more of that, no matter how small.

Even the internet offers us a lot of great opportunities to generate a positive cash influx of foreign currency into the island’s economy. Especially for the young people, the internet and ecommerce can offer them great opportunities, not only for stimulating the island’s economy and alleviating its job market, but also offer young people themselves great opportunities to become rich as well. I read about a young kid in England, 14 years old, who developed an app that made him the youngest self-made millionaire ever.

Why can’t a young kid right here in St. Maarten do that as well? What’s to hold them back from doing the same? All that is required is ingenuity, creativity and lots of perspiration, meaning lots of hard work. I say hard work because I don’t want them to think that it will be easy. Other people make it look easy, but it isn’t really. You’ve got to clock in the hours. Who is prepared to clock in the hours?

Who is prepared to clock in overtime to stimulate St. Maarten’s economy with new products and services that can be ‘exported’ and used to generate a nett inflow of foreign currency into the island’s economy? Remember, this is the kind of overtime where you don’t get 50% or 100% overtime pay, but you get 100000% or more in income if you do a great job. I am quite sure there is an app that can do that. So I ask again: WHO IS PREPARED TO CLOCK IN OVERTIME TO IMPROVE ST. MAARTEN’S ECONOMY?

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Terrance Rey is owner and operator of AirStMaarten, Caribbean’s first virtual airline based in St. Maarten; organizing and coordinating commercial flights, shared charters and private charters to and from St. Maarten, St. Barths, Anguilla, Antigua, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao and throughout the rest of the Caribbean.