SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Chistophe Emmanuel on Monday said the challenge that’s facing St. Maarten, like every Caribbean country, will be the recovery of tourism and questioned what the destination is doing to position itself in what will be a very competitive industry post pandemic.
MP Emmanuel said St. Maarten’s competition in the region has been very active with discussing and planning for long-term trends and how their tourism models should adapt. These Caribbean nations, he said, are also busy almost daily reminding the world and future potential visitors about their destination using their social media platforms and creative marketing even in the pandemic.
“Meanwhile, a quick view of St. Maarten’s tourism portal on Facebook, Vacation St. Maarten, will show that our last post was on January 4, 2021. A page with 184,000 likes and followers. This is a wasted opportunity to keep potential visitors excited and engaged about St. Maarten. While others are being active and creative, we have fallen into a coma it seems,” the MP said.
He said tourism will remain the island’s main economic pillar well into the future until a new diversified economic approach is identified. As such, the MP opined that the Minister of Tourism and/or the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau (STB) should be updating the public and Parliament about its plans to compete.
The MP said issues such as identifying what exactly our product has to recover from, future options to consider for the island's tourism, develop strategies on how to attract people back to the island, how to be better prepared for the next external shock and more must be established.
"Moreover, who will be travelling? We can expect maybe younger people to be the first to want to explore post-pandemic, but older people might not want to at first which affects our timeshare industry. There is so much to consider but we are not hearing anything from government about preparing for the future," the MP said.
He goes on to say that he is most impressed by how Caribbean destinations are using their social media platforms and digital assets to keep potential visitors engaged. “They are using people, heritage, culture, attractions all across their social media. They are doing little things to keep people engaged and wanting to come back. It’s all new content. How do you have a page with 184,000 followers and your posts are getting 15 likes? We are doing something wrong,” MP Emmanuel said.
He continued: “Why not show videos for example of our various tours and encourage new ones. The old sun, sea, sand approach worked for older visitors, but we need to tap into a demographic that is willing to explore and mix with our people who can feel some of the economic benefits of tourism. Why not push our cultural festivals and develop heritage attractions which speak to the Caribbean traveller and people from the Caribbean who reside in the US or Canada? Why not highlight our many home gardens that have popped-up since the start of the pandemic and link that with a tangible approach to agriculture and tourism?”
MP Emmanuel questioned if the STB along with its industry partners have looked seriously at developing local and regional tourism. He said travel from the US will be unpredictable and a plan should be in place to attract regional visitors. He admitted that will never replace what the country gets from US travellers but regional tourism can stimulate the economy.
“We have to be realistic about our tourism product moving forward. We cannot assume that the industry and travellers will be receptive to the same old approaches. In fact I think if you just do some research you will see that change is expected. It feels like St. Maarten is way behind on this front and it behooves government to let us know what their road-map is. We cannot be talking cuts and being abl to stand on our own while not looking at the one pillar that we are still dependent on and how that pillar should be approached in a very competitive region,” the MP said.
The MP said that in “good times” the country hosts “conferences for everything under the sun”, but should actually do so now with tourism experts and perhaps even establish a tourism recovery task force. “I don’t know what we have currently, all I know is our efforts are not ambitious, forward-thinking, competitive, exciting or innovative,” the MP concluded.