PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — The Sint Maarten Chamber of Commerce (COCI) has continued its consultations with key stakeholders this past week, and met with representatives of Tours and Shipping lines/agents on the Island.
It will come as no surprise that concerns regarding safety and security, parking facilities (more the lack thereof) and traffic congestion were raised. Tour operators indicated that from their end much was done to ensure that tour pick up and drop off would strategically serve visits to the town area as well, however in the absence of enforcement it must be conclude that designated Tour bus parking does not exist.
The facility created across from the Vineyard Building for the Tour busses is at all times occupied by parked vehicles carrying L-P-M number plates. Tours are therefore forced to depart from the Port, as safe embarkation and disembarkation can occur here, to tour destinations directly. It is subsequent the traffic congestion that largely prevents a stop in the town area as well, as tours most often now require police escort to make it back to the ship on time. Tour cancellations have already followed as the risk of not being able to conclude the tour on time is extremely high.
Tour operators and merchants seem to be on one line and most willing to work together, but are forced to face difficulties on their own as the Government does not have the enforcement resources to assist. At least so the information suggests when parties are advised to use their own resources to man the parking facility to prevent its use by others. The consultation on the flip side confirmed promise for joint collaboration between stakeholders to redress and address the issues that hamper their operations.
COCI further learned from its consultation with the shipping line/agent representatives of the impacts on this industry both from international and national perspective. The implementation of legislation has impacted businesses in Sint Maarten, yet many have not yet sounded the alarm. Businesses will be most impacted by the abrupt and immediate implementation of the changes to the labor laws, as well as the changed threshold for coverage under the SZV. These changes have come with a tremendous impact on the bottom line of businesses, as costs increase have been a result of these changes of the law. The afore is compounded by the change in minimum wage as businesses grapple with increased costs for contributions towards social premiums. The cost of coverage by SZV in comparison to the cost of private insurance is higher and so businesses struggling to emerge out of hurricane and covid periods are faced with a decline in business and an ever-increasing cost. While the need for law amendments is understood, the lack of consultations prior and failure to provide for a phased implementation or transition terms, is believed to have served to the detriment of businesses.
Consultations would have afforded businesses the opportunity to provide vital feedback and to prepare for the impact of changes to come, which opportunity was not granted by the Government. The implementation of customs checks on all shipments, was welcomed and requested information provided, however the actual enforcement has adversely impacted business due to caused delays. Limited resources are the main reason for the delays encountered in this industry, as customs checks are not executed within a consistent and reasonable timeframe. The liabilities so created for the shipping lines/agents are another concern for this industry; one that requires urgent attention and prompt resolve.
The information that this industry has, can positively impact business enterprises in Sint Maarten, and from Sint Maarten with other regions, yet is largely untapped. The willingness to share information and expertise and collaborate with COCI in its projects to propel business growth, is definitely one of the positive results from this consultation with the shipping line/agent representatives.
COCI while expressing its appreciation for the participation of the stakeholders, has taken keen note of the raised concerns and will in its planning for 2023 undertake to address the concerns in a structural manner with the relevant authorities, entities and institutions.