Jeff Burger writes: Why business is downPOSTED: 03/1/16 5:59 PM
Stayover tourists are the people who propel the St. Maarten economy. Most stayover tourists are timeshare owners since the clear majority of accommodations here are in timeshare resorts.
Since the island has never enacted any genuine Timeshare Owner Consumer Protection legislation, owners / developers at several resorts, feeling unrestrained, have run amuck on several occasions and “screwed” timeshare owners, to use a term first applied by a revered local TV talk show personality, Oral Gibbs. Big problems have occurred at Caravanserai, Atrium, Diamond Resorts, and others.
The island has focused on attracting cruise ship tourists by the boatload instead of more remunerative stayover tourists, and as we said above it hasn’t passed consumer protection for them. Consequently tens of thousands of timeshare owners have left with no intention to return. As we’ve said many times, cruise ship passengers do not spend money in Front Street stores according to the people who really matter — the merchants themselves.
For some time, a good friend has been asking cruise ship passengers where their ships stop prior to SXM. Apparently, he says, SXM is well down the list of stops in many cases, which means that passengers are spent-out or ported-out when they arrive in SXM. A number of ships go to Tortola first (new cruise facilities) or St. Kitts or St. Thomas, where they shop and spend money.
Cruise ships promote two primary things in St. Maarten / St. Martin, apparently: Orient Beach (naturists), where passengers gawk and have a beer at Pedro’s; and the Airport, where passengers gawk and have another beer. Those that go to Front Street window shop, buy next to nothing, and drink beer.
“Port St. Maarten’s” job is to bring people onto SXM who buy things. People who gawk, drink a beer, and leave don’t cut it. Visitors often remark that the first thing they notice is that “mountain” in town with heavy equipment on top — the dump. That’s not a good thing. Neither is the fact that the best island with the best restaurants, beaches, and shopping is one of the last on the itinerary of many ships, our source found. The result has been a big drop in business, Front Street stores are telling us.
The other problem is the astounding lack of promotion of SXM. We’re told that Aruba’s tourism promotion budget is $20-$24-million. SXM’s is roughly $1.5-million, we’re told by government sources. That’s useless. And in the face of Cuba, it’s also foolhardy and dangerous.
We’ll have more comments about this to come. Infrastructure needs serious immediate improvement to attract the numbers of visitors the island needs, and the island must give heavy priority to tourism promotion if it is ever going to realize its potential and mark its territory before the Cuba Craze takes hold.
Right now, it’s nowhere close.
Jeff Berger on St. Maarten Weekly News