Category Archives: St.Maarten News

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>>>

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.

How To Navigate Philipsburg, St. Maarten, During the Holiday Frenzy

How To Navigate Philipsburg, St. Maarten, during the Holiday Frenzy

St. Maarten, especially during the Holiday/Christmas season, is like most major metropolis of the world with a few exceptions and these exceptions are based on knowing the ins and outs of St. Maarten shopping.

Although the Dutch side is roughly 16 square miles, your shopping excursions need to be planned out, of course, based on your particular shopping style.

The “browser,” for example, needs to have started at the beginning of December. This is to ensure that he/she is able to experience the wide array of party specials, Christmas and staff parties, sales and not to forget the groceries for the private home parties. All of this is to make sure that the best gifts are bought and the biggest ham and turkey are baked for guests.

The “last minute shopper” has time on his/her hands. However, they will quickly realize that the gift of time is not always given, but carved out careful from a busy schedule. There is also the risk that the gift they had in mind of their sweetheart is no longer in stock. He/she is usually the one enjoying the month’s festivities until the last minute and is then rushing around to get what he/she needs to make the season bright.

No matter the type of shopper you are, there are a few things that will make your life easier:

* Avoid heavy cruise days. (Check cruise ships schedule via this link: http://201.220.14.28/sxm/MainMenu.aspx?ShipScheduleType=2)

On Wednesday, December 18, 2013, eight large cruise ships (and one small one) will be in Port. More than 30,000 people will be arriving by cruise ship on that day.

* Check for rerouting of traffic & road closure notices.

As is usual with busy ship days and extra traffic on the roadways, there will be some rerouting of traffic and road closures will take place in Philipsburg. Front Street and Back Street will be closed for motor vehicle traffic.

Special additional measures are being taken to ensure that all goes well Wednesday. The alleys in Philipsburg leading from Boardwalk Boulevard to Back Street will be cleared. No vehicles will be allowed to park in those alleys until Front Street and Back Street are reopened for motor vehicle traffic. This measure is to ensure that emergency vehicles can enter and exit the Philipsburg area without any difficulties.

In other words, local shoppers might want to save themselves that hassle of town on that day. It should be noted that most of the days for the rest of this year, St. Maarten will be accommodating cruise ships.

Here are some handy tips for navigation Philipsburg during the busy cruise ships days and holiday frenzy:

  • Parking on the Ring Road or Pond Island and walking into town is advisable. Apart from walking being healthy, a decision to park on the outskirts of town will reduce the traffic congestion and make for a pleasant Philipsburg excursion. Saving gas and saving the environment. Carpooling is also a very good option.
  • Take advantage of extended shopping hours. Most likely, some of the more popular stores will open later, allowing for more browsing time. Like most places in the world remember to pay close attention to your handbag, wallet or pocket, pickpockets might take the opportunity to try their luck.
  • And to get it right, make a list, check it twice and off you go to make the 2013 holiday shopping season the best you can make it.

See you in Philipsburg !!!

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Update:
Wednesday, Dec. 18th, 2013: “Philipsburg bustles with thousands of cruise visitors”

 

How Unfavorable Conditions Led To A Favorable Hurricane-free Season for St. Maarten in 2013

St. Maarten enjoys holiday breeze as annual hurricane season ends

Apart from some sweltering days of summer, the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season proved to be an easy, sometimes a little breezy one. The annual season officially ended with the fewest number of storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean since 1982.

St. Maarten/St. Martin counts itself lucky and appreciative that it was spared the rigors of being touched by one of the 13 named storms formed between June and November 2013. There is even more thankfulness that the island was spared the wrath of storms Ingrid and Humberto, which developed into hurricanes, though not major ones.

As the island enjoy much welcomed wintery after hurricane season breezes, it serves us well to reflect of the suffering of our fellow human beings in the Pacific side who have had to endure the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan (called Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines). This exceptionally powerful Category 5-equivalent super typhoon devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November 2013.

Hurricane Luis - Sept. 4th, 1995

Hurricane Luis – Sept. 4th, 1995

Scenes from the typhoon devastation, conjures up memories of devastating Hurricane Luis of 1995. That super storm flattened the island and changed life in St. Maarten/St. Martin forever. The economy came to standstill, food and water were scarce, and housing was limited. The scenes flicking on television screens from the affected areas in Southeast Asia strike a chord here in the peaceful tropics of the Caribbean.

The United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attributed the fewer hurricanes in large part to “persistent, unfavourable atmospheric conditions over the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and tropical Atlantic Ocean.

This year is expected to rank as the sixth-least-active Atlantic hurricane season since 1950, in terms of the collective strength and duration of named storms and hurricanes. Although the number of named storms was above the average of 12, the numbers of hurricanes and major hurricanes were “well below” their averages of six and three, respectively. Major hurricanes are categories three and above.

This unexpectedly low activity is linked to an unpredictable atmospheric pattern that prevented the growth of storms by producing exceptionally dry, sinking air and strong vertical wind shear in much of the main hurricane formation region, which spans the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

NOAA said it will issue its 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in late May, prior to the start of the season on June 1.

Weather has no master and its domain is the world. As we move on to cooler times and the new year of 2014, let’s remember to be always prepared.

For more information about St. Maarten weather and hurricanes, visit https://www.stmaarten-info.com/st-maarten-weather-information/.

IS IT DOLLARS OR NOTHING FOR ST. MAARTEN?

Is it Dollars or Nothing for St. Maarten?

As it seems, many are sitting on the fence as it relates to dollarizing the St. Maarten economy. The Social Economic Council (SER) has taken a strong position calling for “immediate steps” to be taken for an orderly transition to the circulation of the United States Dollar (USD) as the official currency in St. Maarten. The Dutch Caribbean Country St. Maarten currently uses the Netherlands Antilles Guilder (ANG) as its official currency.

The reluctance in some sectors in the community to take an active stance baffles outsiders, who ask why the business community isn’t demanding this change. Even after SER released their follow-up advice on dollarization there is still deafening silence from in the country.

That advice from SER comes as reports surface of the mounting current account deficit of the joint monetary union of Curaçao and St. Maarten reported by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS). This deficit is primarily caused by Curaçao.

The SER advice, published on November 22nd, 2013, in the National Gazette, also urges government to take measures to avoid any negative price effects on consumer goods from the elimination of the Netherlands Antilles guilder.

From the point of view of risk aversion, SER emphasized that a well-prepared and organized move to dollarization “will probably take at least a full year.”

Government also has to “accept compliance” with fiscal rules and benchmarks. Those include rules and benchmarks implemented by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT and measures to compensate for the loss of seigniorage and licence fee revenues. Government must find ways for the maintenance of sufficient reserves in the event of external shocks as this is among the central concerns in the new dollarized situation.

In the CBCS report, “Is Dollarization the Right Approach?” the banks makes the case for dollarization. The report concludes, “Dollarization is a viable alternative monetary system for Curaçao and St. Maarten, as it eliminates the balance of payments risk. Hence in our case, dollarization is not a prescription for inflation but a measure to protectus from perils and promote sound and sustainable economic growth.”

Conventional wisdom is that countries dollarize to restore monetary stability and to impose fiscal discipline. However, the lessons learnt from the 2008 great recession have served to drive home the fact that St. Maarten and Curaçao are susceptible to other kinds of risks including balance of payments risk and supervisory risks, according to Central Bank President, Emsley Tromp.

Now the onus is on St. Maarten authorities to get the ball rolling, but some support from the wider community will definitely help fuel the dollarization movement.

Government Extends Opening Hours Businesses

Opening Hours

BREAKING NEWS!

St. Maarten Government extends opening hours supermarkets, barber shops, gas stations

St. Maarten Government, via a new policy of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication, has extended the business opening hours for service providing businesses such as supermarkets, barber shops, beauty supply stores and gas stations for a period of one year.

All supermarkets, beauty supply stores (wholesale and retail), hair salons, and barber shops have been are granted an exemption and extended opening hours until 11:00pm for all days of the week (including Sunday) for a period of one (1) year.

All gas stations and the convenient store attached to the gas station are granted an exemption, and allowed extended opening of 24 hours, for all days of the week (including Sunday) for a period of one year.

These extended hours went into immediate effect as of the ministerial decree and opening hours policy publication in the Landscourant van St. Maarten (National Gazette) on November 22, 2013. This new decree and the policy is valid for one year and will subsequently be evaluated by government after one year on its effectiveness and compliance, to determine whether to make it permanent.

Those exempted form of businesses, no longer have to apply for extending hours permission from the ministry. All other forms of businesses must abide by the Landsverordening Winkelsluiting (Law on Business Opening Hours) and where applicable apply for the extended opening hours.

The ministry stated in the published policy by extending the opening hours of these service providing businesses, it is expected that consumers e.g. local community and tourists – in particular the shopping tourists from the surrounding neighboring islands- will be accommodated.

No exceptions will be granted for the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, St. Maarten Day and any other day that has been designated as a National Holiday, as stipulated in the Arbeidsregeling (Labour Law).

The policy adjustment, according to Government, is due to economic developments the existing trend is that many businesses, especially in the Philipsburg Center (Front Street, Back Street and Cannegieter Street) are closing later and opening on Sundays to accommodate consumers. In addition several supermarkets, hair salons, beauty supply stores, convenient stores attached to gas stations and barber shops as being service providing businesses- have extended their daily opening hours to accommodate the market.

That trend is a consequence of St. Maarten having developed into a dynamic metropolitan island and the demand by consumers (local and tourist alike) for more convenient hours has led several stores to extend their opening hours, government stated in the policy.

The existing ordinance governing the opening hours of business was first established in 1969 no.58 referred to as “Landsverordening Winkelsluiting.” The ordinance calls for stores to be closed on Sundays and days equal to Sunday and limited opening hours during the weekdays from 06:30am to 6:30pm.

According to Article 3 of the “Winkelsluiting Verordening” the following businesses are exempted:

a. Pharmacies as long as it regards the selling of medicines, pharmaceuticals and medical related items;

b. Coffee shops, ice shops, beerhouses, bars, pubs, restaurants and businesses that solely sell strong alcoholic beverages;

c. Lodgments, guesthouses and hotels

d. Shops located in hotels and buildings belonging to the airport and harbor.

e. Shops who specialized in selling:

i. burial clothing and accessories;

ii. fuel and lubricants for engines, motor oil, fuel, parts of engines and vehicles;

iii. Bread, fresh milk and products of fresh milk

All other types of businesses that are considered as “winkels” can apply for a permit as per Article 1 (een winkel is een besloten ruimte waar of van waaruit waren in het klein, anders dan uitsluitend door middel van verkoop automaten, aan het publiek plegen te worden verkocht); excluding wholesalers and where solely vending machines are stationed, or any other type of business as stipulated by “landsbesluit h.a.m.” as a “winkel”.

Exception of Article 2 includes shops, which sell fresh meat, and products made of fresh meat and fresh fish to the public are allowed to open on Sundays and days equal to Sunday (in conformity with the Labour regulation) from 6 to 10.

The scope does not address the period November 28- December 4 and December 17 – December 30, because the opening hours are already regulated in article 5 of the aforementioned ordinance.

The legal basis for the policy change is regulated in article 7 of the “Landsverordening Winkelsluiting”. Given the possibility of an exemption in article 3 regulated in Article 6, the proposed amended policy is in conformity with all laws and regulations.

Goals and Principles

The existing ordinance on business hours (“Landsverordening Winkelsluiting) allows stores to open from 6:30am and close at 6:30pm during weekdays and to be closed on Sundays and days equal to Sunday.

To facilitate the changing social and economic climate of St Maarten, a policy was approved in 1996 to allow for stores in certain areas to open later than the regulated hours. In addition, in 2009, the concept of “Koopavond‟ was introduced on the Thursday evenings, allowing all stores on the Dutch side to be open until 9pm. However, due to the ongoing changing economic climate and in light of accommodating the business community, these policies need to be revisited and amended to further liberalizing of the opening hours.

Safety

Safety and security measures will have to be taken by the applicable store owners to ensure a safe and secure shopping environment for their shoppers e.g. consumers.

Enforcement

At present, since closing hours of businesses are in general after usual working hours of the economic controllers, police officers carry out the opening hours controls. Since the establishment of the Multi-Disciplinary Control Unit, consisting of economic, health, and labor controllers as well as members of the police force, the recommendation is to authorize this Control Unit to conduct controls pertaining opening hours. With the establishment of the Control Unit and therefore controls will be carried out on a consistent and regular basis, it’s recommended to look into the possibility towards a more liberalizing approach of the business opening hours.

 

St. Maarten vs Dengue Mosquito - Fight of the Year

St. Maarten versus Dengue MosquitoDengue Mosquito

As Dengue teeters on the verge of an epidemic in many parts of the Caribbean and the world, the tiny 16-square-mile nation of St. Maarten is fighting back in a big way.  The Ministry of Health has launched a “Get Checked” campaign aimed at broader community involvement in swatting out the dengue causing Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Cognisant of the fact that tourism is the country’s economic bloodline and that visitors should have hindrance-free fun without the worry of Dengue Fever, the “Get Checked” campaign puts the responsibility of waging the battle against the tiny mosquito and its off-springs in the hands of each resident.

The Health Ministry has taken the fight against the mosquito into neighbourhoods with public information sessions. These sessions impart vital information to arm residents with options to stop mosquito breeding and methods of protection if a swarm of mosquitoes launches an attack.

All residents (and visitors) are encouraged by the health officials to check their immediate surroundings for potential mosquito breeding areas and to eliminate these as quickly as possible and on a regular basis.

Elimination of mosquitoes and breeding sites are both an individual responsibility and a community responsibility. Anything that can trap stagnant water is a potential breeding site such as potted plants, old or discarded buckets, water tanks, old tires and overgrown vegetation that allows for the water.

The Aedes Aegypti mosquito lays its eggs in clear and clean stagnant water and can complete its life-cycle of egg, larvae, pupae to adult mosquito within eight days. It can be recognised by alternate black and white horizontal stripes about its body.

People bitten by the female vector Aedes Aegypti mosquito are exposed to Dengue, which is fatal in some cases.

Dengue Symptoms

Dengue symptoms include high fever, severe headache, backache, joint and eye pain, nausea and vomiting and rash.

Persons with dengue fever symptoms are urged to consult with a physician, who can then refer them to the lab for a laboratory test that would confirm if they have dengue or not.

Persons can also expect proper advice to ensure a healthy recovery while avoiding other health risks associated with Dengue Fever.

Once a person has developed a fever, the infectious period lasts for about a week. Most people recover without any complications, using pain relievers, liquid intake (preferably water or juice) and lots of bed rest. Self-medication should be avoided and a physician should be consulted.

So, for visitors and residents alike, apart from applying a generous amount of sunscreen persons should also consider a generous splash of insect repellent to warn off mosquitoes.

It is also advisable to skip the skimpy outfits in the evening leaving less skin exposed to mosquitoes.

For more information about Aedes Aegypti mosquito breeding sites and preventive measures, call the Health Ministry on  +1-721-542-2078  or +1-721-542-3003 or e-mail surveillance@sintmaartengov.org.

Heritage Development Planned at Tourism Conference

Heritage Development Planned at Tourism Conference
By Les Fruits de Mer

Anse Marcel, October 17th, 2013 – A diverse group of people came together around a conference room table at the Radisson Hotel in Anse Marcel, to spend the day planning how to develop St. Martin’s cultural and natural heritage assets to attract a portion of the growing experiential tourism market.

Experiential tourism, one term for the growing market of tourists seeking authentic experiences centered around nature, culture, arts and heritage, is a fast growing segment of the global tourism market, and typically includes visitors that stay longer and spend more than traditional tourists.

The workshop, moderated by Christophe Henocq, aimed to outline a strategy and action plan to guide future efforts in these areas as a way to increase tourism on the island, particularly during low season.

Part of a two-day tourism conference organized by Député Daniel Gibbs in partnership with Air France and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the heritage and environment “think tank” session attracted a mix of business owners and representatives of associations working in ecology, history, culture and the arts to share ideas for development in these areas and seek cooperative solutions to make them a reality.

“For those of us who have been working to develop natural and cultural assets for years or decades, this is a very exciting time due to the rapid growth of heritage tourism worldwide,” explained roundtable facilitator Christophe Henocq. “The tremendous economic potential of the island’s heritage has created mainstream interest in promoting and protecting the things that make St. Martin unique.”

Two hours of roundtable discussion in the morning focused on identifying existing assets on the island, exploring new opportunities and addressing obstacles to developing heritage tourism. Assets identified in the discussion were plentiful and diverse, including protected wetlands of international importance, historical sites like Fort Louis, attractions such as Loterie Farm and public events like Mardis de Grand Case. Cuisine, traditional architecture and local arts were also pinpointed as key elements of the authentic St. Martin experience.

A rich variety of future opportunities were also explored. The team considered attractions and events that combine multiple aspects of heritage to be especially promising, due to their potential to attract a broader audience. A wildlife trail on the Grand Case salt pond that also tells the story of the salt industry was one suggestion. In keeping with the theme of the conference, the group also investigated specific ways to attract tourism during the low season, such as increasing the international appeal of off-season events such as the St. Martin Book Fair and Migratory Bird Festival and creating new magnet events such as art/history/film fusion exhibitions and hiking festivals.

Regrouping after lunch, the workshop created an action plan based on the discussion from the morning, and presented it to the general conference and the press. Key objectives included expanding and improving the island’s heritage offerings to increase their appeal and reach new niche markets, creating a committee to develop heritage tourism on the island, and developing a unified brand and message around St. Martin’s heritage offerings that it can promote in key international markets.

Significant challenges remain. Difficulty finding information about heritage attractions, the need for improved logistics and parking for events, and security issues were identified as obstacles facing tourists on the island today. However, with a lucrative and growing market to address, a plan of action, and broad interest in developing these assets, the future of heritage-based tourism on St. Martin looks brighter than ever.

Is St. Maarten’s engine set for overdrive?

KLM Jumbo Jet Landing over Maho BeachIs St. Maarten’s Engine Set For Overdrive?

Talking to businesspersons in St. Maarten you initially get the complaint mode that most of everything is bad. But delve a little deeper and you will uncover a complex explanation that leaves any newcomers wondering what makes St. Maarten the place “to be”.

The majority of the country’s well oiled businesses are making money and this can be attributed to the fact that there is a sense of global recovery. This year’s “slow season” is being described as better than last year’s…a good sign for the layman trying to gauge if St. Maarten is in recovery mode.

This “good sign” brings high hopes for the people of St. Maarten even as speculations swirl and a congregation of businesspersons debate the impact the American government shutdown and the debacle over the raising of the US debt ceiling.

As the Friendly Island’s economic engine picks up pace and speeds into our “high season” optimism is high; mainly due to the fact that most of our visitors have already booked their vacations.

Government has finally passed a workable budget adding another layer of good spenders to strengthen economic growth. This development is making savvy political observers breathe a lot easier with the knowledge that by averting possible austerity measures, which was more than likely if the Dutch were forced to balance St. Maarten’s budget, the country is continuing to climb the “growth hill”. And of course now this means that money should be available.

So as we meander into the coming New Year our next big challenge is passing that long overdue 2014 budget.

Migrate for free to French Cul-de-Sac for Saint Martin's Migratory Bird Festival

Whimbrel at Étang de la Barrière in Saint Martin.

This whimbrel is noticeably skinny after flying several days without stopping to reach St. Martin. It will spend the winter here, fattening up on fiddler crabs in preparation for its journey back to the Arctic in the spring.

Migrate to French Cul-de-Sac for Free Bird Event

Cul-de-Sac, September 23, 2013 – Nature lovers of all ages are invited to attend St. Martin’s celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). The event will be held at the mangrove discovery trail at Étang de la Barrière, right beside the Pinel ferry dock in French Cul-de-Sac on Sunday, September 29th from 8 to 11am. Attendees can stop by any time during the festival and stay as long as they like.

St. Martin’s Migratory Bird Festival is free and open to the public. Guided tours of the mangrove discovery trail in English, French and Dutch will help guests understand these birds, their miraculous journeys, and the important wetland habitats that they depend on. Photographers will be on hand to give tips on how to get the best bird and wildlife photos. There will be bird art activities for children and free Caribbean bird coloring books. Attendees are encouraged to bring photos and memories of St. Martin birds and wetlands to add to a scrapbook that will be compiled at the event.

“The annual bird migrations are one of the most fascinating natural phenomena in the Western Hemisphere,” explains event organizer Mark Yokoyama. “Each year, migratory birds travel between their North American breeding sites, and wintering grounds in Central America, South America and right here in the Caribbean. These birds travel thousands of miles, some flying for days without stopping. In St. Martin, some birds will stop to rest in September and October before flying on to South America, while others will spend the winter here, returning north in the spring.”

Many of these birds are shorebirds. Although varied, they often have long legs for wading in shallow water and long bills they use to catch small fish and probe the mud for snails and crabs. Most of our shorebirds can be found on our beaches and salt ponds.

Étang de la Barrière, with its mudflats and shallow mangrove wetlands, is an ideal place to see these birds. An elevated boardwalk through this wetland was completed earlier this year and is now part of the Caribbean Birding Trail, a collection of the best birding sites in the Caribbean. Along with a number of other ponds and marine areas in St. Martin, it is considered a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

“We built the boardwalk trail at Étang de la Barrière to make it easier for residents and tourists to enjoy this unique part of our natural heritage,” says Julien Chalifour, the Officer of Scientific Missions for the Réserve Naturelle. “We look forward to sharing it with the public at this event.”

St. Martin’s Migratory Bird Festival was organized by Les Fruits de Mer, a non-profit association dedicated to raising ecological and cultural awareness, through publications like The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin and events like this bird festival. The Réserve Naturelle de Saint-Martin and Conservatoire du Littoral are co-hosts for the Migratory Bird Festival on St. Martin. Réserve Naturelle staff will be guiding tours at the event, teaching guests about our migratory birds and the wetland ecosystems that support them. The Réserve Naturelle and Conservatoire du Littoral protect and manage St. Martin’s marine and terrestrial protected areas and constructed the discovery trail at Étang de la Barrière where the event will be held.

A number of additional partners and supporters, both local and international, are contributing to this event. Birdwatching equipment and educational materials for this event will be provided by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC). EPIC has been working on St. Martin for over 12 years to protect the local environment through research and community-based action. For the LOVE of Grand Case will be providing refreshments for the attendees. They are a group of Grand Case residents dedicated to improving and enjoying Grand Case, through cleanups and other events. The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) is the regional coordinator for IMBD events for the Caribbean. The Society is the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, and has been coordinating IMBD events throughout the Caribbean for six years. Environment for the Americas produces educational materials for IMBD and is the overall organizer for IMBD events from Canada to South America.

To find out more about the event, visit http://www.sxmwildlife.com. Birders and non-birders alike are encouraged to attend and learn more about our fine, feathered friends.