In the absence of St. Maarten from the annual Vacation Fair in Utrecht this week, the promotion of the Windward Islands is left up to St. Eustatius and Saba. This writes The Daily Herald. St. Maartener Marlon Beauperthuy of Le Beau Reizen at the United States pavilion is helping out where he can.
This year marks the second time St. Maarten has been absent from the largest travel fair in Europe, and its absence is duly noted by visitors and booth-holders in the Caribbean Village. The absence is especially felt by St. Eustatius and Saba, as they depend on their larger sister island. “We need St. Maarten to be here because they are our gateway. People are asking me why St. Maarten is not here, and I try to answer them as well as I can. We miss St. Maarten not being here,” said Saba Tourist Bureau Director Glenn Holm.
St. Maarten has not had a tourist office in the Netherlands since the contract with Interreps was not renewed in July 2014. Due to representation issues, St. Maarten also was not present at last year’s Vacation Fair. “St. Maarten should be present here, because people, including our visitors, need to pass through there to get to us. St. Maarten is really lacking at this fair,” said St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation Public Relations Officer Teena Lopes, who is manning the booth with her colleagues Office Manager Sharmin Turner and tour operator Francine Harrigan-Foe.
Lopes said the cooperation with Saba in the area of tourism had been very productive. “We are always working together.” St. Eustatius is also working with Bonaire and Beauperthuy of Le Beau Reizen. “They help us out when we have questions, promoting us where they can,” Lopes said. Beauperthuy said the absence of a St. Maarten tourism bureau in the Netherlands was hurting St. Eustatius and Saba. He said Dutch tour operators basically knew how to get tourists to the two islands, but St. Maarten was missing out on packages for Dutch tourists and the spending of additional nights by this group of visitors. According to Beauperthuy, who has been coming to the Vacation Fair since 2005, St. Maarten is in dire need of restablishing representation in the Netherlands. He said it was important for local people to do this instead of foreigners “just like Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire are doing it. People from the islands know their market best.”
There is also good news: both Saba and St. Eustatius have seen an increase in the number of visitors in recent years. According to Lopes, more Dutch tourists are coming to St. Eustatius. These visitors mostly do this in combination with Saba. Holm, who has been coming to the Vacation Fair for more than 10 years and who recently celebrated his 40th anniversary in civil service, said tourism in Saba was doing well in general, but he had noticed a drop in the number of Dutch visitors, mainly day trippers. “We largely depend on day trippers from St. Maarten. It is a big part of the market. We noticed a drop in this segment. The fact that there are barely affordable packages from the Netherlands to St. Maarten has an effect on us,” Holm said.
Holm said he had no visitor figures over the last few years, but this was being remedied with the assistance of the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS). What used to be the Immigration Department on the island became the Border Control unit when Saba became a Dutch public entity in 2010. This unit does not provide visitor figures for tourism purposes.
New developments are adding a dimension to Saba as a tourist destination, such as the addition of a spa to Queen’s Gardens, the new owners of Saba Divers and the free diving school that is being established. Saba is a favourite diving destination for Dutch tourists. Gay weddings are another way to promote the island. “The growth progress is going slowly, in a controlled way, and that is exactly how it needs to happen,” said Holm.
Lopes reported positive developments in St. Eustatius as well. The number of visiting mini-cruises increased last year and St. Eustatius is again on the itinerary this year. Statia’s rich culture and history are being noticed more and more by visitors from the Netherlands and other countries. “Our culture and heritage are moving. There is an increased interest, also in community tourism, where we get the local population more involved. The people can share the true Statia experience and be ambassadors of their island,” said Lopes, who announced the visit by Jamaica Community tourism consultant and trainer, tour operator, artist, and motivational speaker Diana McIntyre- Pike in April for the community tourism project in St. Eustatius. St. Eustatius continues to market the island as a hiking and diving destination. Cees Timmer’s marketing company TVC is assisting St. Eustatius with developing a new Website for the island. The new logo and promotional material launched last year, also designed by TVC, have had a positive effect, said Lopes.
Featuring prominently at the 45th edition of the Vacation Fair this week is Curaçao, which is the host country, together with Spain. During the opening of the six-day fair, the attention of visitors was directed to Curaçao everywhere through signs, banners, posters, Curaçao music and food and drink samples. The name Curaçao also is printed on the admittance badges of the thousands of visitors expected in the coming days. Curaçao and Spain hosted the official opening on Tuesday, together with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders.
Curaçao dancers spiced up the opening act, followed by a speech by Curaçao Tourist Board Europe (CTBE) Director Edward Suares, who praised his island as the heart of the Caribbean. At the heart of it were the Curaçao people, including famous names such as Izaline Calister, Jandino Asporaat, Churandy Martina, Tania Kross and Dinah Veeris, said Suares. “Curaçao is a small country with big ambitions from where possibly in the future the first commercial space flights will leave,” he said. Aruba and Curaçao had the two largest stands at the Caribbean Village. Other countries at the Caribbean Village are Bonaire, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.