Damaseau and Johnson lead tourism product assessment

From the left Gianira Arrindell Marketing officer for St. Maarten Tourist Bureau (STB), Aida Weinum Director General for the French Tourist Bureau, the Honourable Stuart Johnson Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication (TEATT), First Vice President of the Collectivity and President of the St. Martin Tourist Office, Ms Valerie Damaseau, Interim Director of the STB May-Ling Chun, and Celine Euson-Gumbs of the French Tourist Office.

Vice President of the Collectivity and President of the St. Martin Tourist Office, Ms Valerie Damaseau, and Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication (TEATT), on Dutch St. Maarten the Honourable Stuart Johnson, led a delegation of tourism specialists on an island-wide assessment of the St. Maarten tourism product on Thursday December 20.

The island-wide tour now puts substance to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was signed a year ago as an agreement to market St. Maarten jointly.

After the tour Minister Johnson said, the idea behind the tour is to work directly with stakeholders on the island to find ways of improving the way we sell our product. “St. Maarten has a wide variety of services and products, and many are some of our best-kept secrets. But to get to the next level, we have to think of marketing the destination from the standpoint of inclusion, ensuring that everyone who has something to offer our visitors, gets the exposure they need, as this benefits the island and moves our economy forward” said Johnson.

First VP Damaseau said she was pleased with the efforts both sides of the island were finally putting into strengthening the MOU as it is “a significant step in the right direction.” She said, “Marketing our destination collectively makes good financial sense, as we are able to pull together our resources and maximise our reach. We also have a major benefit when we speak to especially larger airlines we want to attract to the island because we can sell a combined number of hotel rooms for example which is a more attractive offer to them once they start considering offering our destination to their passengers.” VP Damaseau has extended congratulations to those who managed to reopen. “I want to encourage those also who are trying to reopen their business, as I know it can be challenging, but know that we are all in this together, because tourism, is you, tourism is me, tourism is all of us,” said Damaseau.

The two government officials along with several members of their respective Tourism Offices carried out inspections at hotels, bars and other tourist attractions on both sides of the island. The intention is to use the information gathered during the tour to update the destination’s marketing information and to provide guests with accurate information about what is available on St. Maarten.

The tour started around 9:00 a.m. at the Simpson Bay Market where Minister Johnson gave information about plans to erect ten permanent structures and an improved bathroom facility for vendors to offer their services to visitors and residents. “We hope to be able to construct in the near future and we are looking at how best to relocate or shift the vendors operating now to a temporary location for both the Simpson Bay and Philipsburg operation,” explained Johnson. Once construction of the Market Place starts, the project should take three months to be completed. He also indicated that the Roxy Beach project next to the Simpson Bay Market is slated to be completed early in 2019.

The next stop was the famous Toppers Rum Distillery where “Crazy Dave” told the delegation about their latest large shipment of Topper’s Rum labelled “Hand Made in St. Maarten” which was shipped to the United States of America for distribution. The distillery is a favourite stop for tour operators who service the cruise lines and is also a favourite for many residents and guests at local resorts who especially love the personalised Topper’s rum bottle options offered at the distillery. During the tour, the group were told about the six commercial Toppers rum products and the many fun flavours that were created especially for the Christmas holidays.

The tour proceeded towards Phippsburg stopping first at the lookout point on Cole Bay Hill, then at the L’Esperance Hotel in Cay Hill. At the lookout point, Minister Johnson and First VP Damaseau learnt first-hand from a returning family of tourists, how happy they were to finally be able to return to the island since it was devastated by hurricane Irma and Maria in September 2017. The Moore family said they travelled from Philadelphia to Charlotte then to St. Maarten and it took six months to get the booking. They even bought a book with photos of the aftermath of Irma once they got here to see for themselves what destruction had been caused to their “second home.” Before the storm, they came to the island at least twice annually and enjoyed the direct flight options that they hope will be returning soon.

Johnson told his delegation that some new plans are being worked on, but will have to be finalised in close consultation with the family that owns the property where the flag and statue were erected. The plans will primarily improve the existing structure to make it easier to access, safer and more information based, and make it a more attractive national monument. The L’Esperance Hodel was extensively damaged during the hurricanes but has since reinforced its swimming pool and renovated its 22 rooms. It was the next stop for the group. The hotel’s rooms are complete with kitchenettes, and there is complimentary Wi-Fi service throughout the property and a large sunroom and a lounge for relaxation.

After visiting L’Esperance and attending the inaugural call for the new state of the art Cruise Ship “Celebrity Edge” at Port St. Maarten, the group travelled to French St. Maarten where they were treated to lunch, and a brief overview of the special offers for guests at the new “Kakao Beach restaurant opened four days before on Orient Beach.

First VP Damaseau took the opportunity to explain some of the process involved in reopening the Orient Bay local restaurants. She said the Beach is now “back”, but the government wants to ensure that the local restaurants are opened as a priority. She said that a bid has been extended for local contractors to build the new facilities that are to come at Orient Bay. The French government has also approved a “Bay Watch” lifeguard service that will be stationed in the centre of Orient Beach and will patrol the entire beach to ensure visitor safety, in the event of an emergency.

The group visited several other locations on French St. Martin including the Tijon Parfumerie which offers classes in perfume making and options of creating your own fragrance, and the Grand Case Beach Hotel which is still recovering from hurricane damage. Grand Case Beach Hotel has made significant progress in its reconstruction. The hotel now has its own dedicated fibre optic cable, providing 15 MPS per second free Internet. It boasts several beautifully designed side table lamps made from recycled storm material, solar lighting complements of the French Commune, a new beachside restaurant “Baranco.” Soon to come is a bunker-style building to house a state of the art conference room, which will double as a shelter for guests and staff during a storm, and will have a rooftop tennis court.

The group also visited Le Temps de Cerises an eight-suite hotel on the Grand Case Beach. During their visit to Grand Case First VP Damaseau spoke of the long-awaited return of Mardi De Grand Case. The first event for 2019 will be held on February 5th. Mardi De Grand Case features a wide range of entertainment, arts and crafts and some of the most exquisite culinary dishes in the Caribbean on display in a Carnival-style atmosphere.

The final stop on tour was a visit to the Colimbier Tradition, a local guava berry retail out which is run by a local St. Martin family who makes and bottle their own products for resale. The facility, located in the heart of Marigot the French Capital, sells a wide variety of homemade liquor.