It is never easy to be the Commissioner of Tourism. The position requires an understanding of business and politics, consideration for the country’s culture and customs, financial wizardry to work with a budget that is never large enough and empathy for the traveler’s wants/needs,
The good news is that St. Maarten appears to be setting a new trend by bringing into the very important position of Commissioner of Tourism and Economic Affairs, Aviation and Sports, an individual who has the background and experience to handle the multiple and complex responsibilities associated with the hospitality, travel and tourism industry.
Transportation, Real Estate, Entertainment and Politics
Richardson started his career in operations at the St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport which is the second busiest airport in the eastern Caribbean (San Juan, PR is first). He extended his business interests to include car rentals, cinema, real estate and construction. Venturing into politics he represented St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles Parliament as a Senator.
With Richardson’s’ background in aviation it is not a surprise that his first objective focused on increasing airlift to St. Maarten. To his credit, during his first 11 months he has attracted Gol Airlines to St. Maarten and, according to the Brazilian National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC), Gol (also known as the Intelligent Airlines) has ranked second among Brazilian airlines. Richardson is optimistic that Air Berlin and Copa airlines will soon be following the trend set by (among others): Air Canada, Air France, American, Continental, Delta, Jet Blue, KLM, Spirit, United and US Air.
Getting From Here to There
If you speak with anyone recently returning from a visit to St. Maarten you are likely to hear comments about traffic jams and congestion and inadequate public transportation. On Richardson’s mid-term “to do” list is the improvement of the road system throughout the country and the enhancement of busses to move St. Maarten residents and visitors. To accomplish these goals, approximately US$ 4 million is being invested to develop a new bus terminal in Phillipsburg, enhance bus stops that will provide shade, and increase the number of busses running on different routes. Additional marinas are not a top priority although Richardson is considering the enhancement of one or two of the existing sites. His main focus, however, is on increasing services and is even looking at establishing an educational program that will focus on Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
Stay Here, Go There
Becoming a Country
In 2008, St. Maarten started the process that will make it a country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the past two years the government has been identifying tasks and duties that identifies and determines the best use of human, financial and technical resources. This new status encourages investments in telecommunication, financial services, marine industry, education and agriculture as well as new hotel development. As a result, we may see a new a 4/ 5 star property (developed by the Atlantis Group), a few smaller branded boutique properties and a water park added to the St. Maarten landscape. There will also be new joint venture and strategic alliances with Dutch investors to expand infrastructure projects.
Noting that is challenging for artists to find markets for their work, Richardson has been working with local artists, encouraging them to create original dolls that will be available for sale.
Another major change is the extension of business and shopping hours. As of February 2010 shops are open from 6 AM – 6:30 PM on Monday-Saturday. On Thursday (“koopavond”) opening hours have been extended to 9 PM. In addition, businesses can apply for (and pay a fee) to extend opening hours to include Sunday from 11 AM to 3 PM.
St. Maarten has many of the infrastructure challenges that all countries face including septic tank leakage, pollution of ponds, lagoons, beaches and coral reefs and streets littered with wrecked cars, plastic bottles and other urban debris. With a population of nearly 70,000 inhabitants St. Maarten has no solid waste or sewage treatment facility.
However, Commissioner Richardson and the Tourist Bureau’s ongoing support of Blue Flag, an organization that works towards sustainable development at beaches/marinas through strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and other services (www.blueflag.org) as well as developing environmental codes of conduct projects is setting an example and both the public and private sectors are taking heed.
Visitors and More Visitors
For the first quarter of 2010 air arrivals are up 7.9 percent (from 2009). US visitors have increased their trips to St. Maarten by 6.4 percent. Hotel occupancy has increased by almost 6 percent. Timeshare continues to be an economic engine with occupancy during the first three months of 2010 at 83.3 percent. Cruise arrivals have also increased from 541, 023 in 2009 to 542,012 for the first quarter of 2010.
Uniquely St. Maarten
St. Maarten is the smallest island in the world to be shared by two nations, the Netherlands and France. It is considered a foodie destination (300 restaurants), a beach destination (37), a historic destination (Fort Amsterdam, Mount Concordia) and thanks to duty-free shopping – a destination for the fashionistas.
While some destinations encourage “early to bed early to rise” St. Maarten has always been a destination for high-energy nightlife and the island boasts nine casinos, jazz and reggae clubs, a comedy club, discos, local clubs with live Caribbean music and late night shopping and dining.
Additional information is available @ www.VacationStMaarten.com