St. Maarten is back at the annual Dutch Holiday Expo (Vakantiebeurs) which started in Utrecht on Tuesday, and with two large booths, no less: one combined stand with the sister islands St. Eustatius and Saba, plus one large booth of Port St. Maarten and Caribbean Luxury Club.
St. Maarten’s absence from the holiday fair, the largest of its kind in Europe, for two years and the lack of permanent marketing representation in the Netherlands inspired resourcefulness. Port St. Maarten hooked up with Caribbean Luxury Club, a brand-new initiative to promote St. Maarten. The marketing company TVC that represents St. Eustatius and Saba set up a large booth with the cooperation of St. Maarten Tourist Office.
Saba Tourist Bureau and St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation were elated that “finally” they could promote their islands together with St. Maarten. “St. Eustatius needs St. Maarten. We can’t sell St. Eustatius without St. Maarten,” said St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation Director Charles Lindo.
“We have been trying to get this together for years. St. Maarten has realised that it needed to come back, especially now that TUI has started to fly to St. Maarten. I am very pleased. This works out for the best for all of us,” said Glenn Holm of Saba Tourist Bureau.
TVC’s Creative Director Chantal van Heertum said TVC had wanted to add St. Maarten for several years to create a joint stand for the Windward Islands. “Combining the three islands is a logical thing from a Dutch promotional perspective, because after all, visitors to St. Eustatius and Saba have to fly to St. Maarten first,” she told The Daily Herald.
The fact that TUI is now flying from Amsterdam to St. Maarten is a big plus and merited more promotion of the destination. Not only the participants of the combined TVC Windward Islands booth agreed on that, but also the Caribbean Luxury Club initiative which partnered with TUI and is raffling an all-inclusive vacation to St. Maarten for two persons offered by the airline at the Holiday Expo.
Maggie van Hemmen and Darryl Stuart of the Q&E design/marketing firm in the Netherlands launched the Caribbean Luxury Club in October last year to promote St. Maarten. “St. Maarten’s promotion in the Netherlands was lacking so we came up with the idea to create a platform where St. Maarten companies can promote their products in the Netherlands,” said Van Hemmen.
Port St. Maarten was immediately enthusiastic about the concept, as were TUI, The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort and Spa, and Sonesta Resorts in St. Maarten. Van Hemmen hopes that more businesses from St. Maarten will join the initiative. “We want to be there especially for the business sector. More participating businesses means a more complete view of what St. Maarten has to offer,” she said.
According to Van Hemmen, St. Maarten has a lot of potential and there is so much more that can be done to promote the destination. “St. Maarten is not sufficiently known in the Netherlands. We want to create a greater awareness for this beautiful destination,” she said.
The TUI raffle already drew many people on the first day of the Holiday Expo, she said, adding, “Everybody wants to win, but at the same time people are showing genuine interest in St. Maarten.”
The Port St. Maarten/Caribbean Luxury Club stand and the combined Windward Islands stand are both located in the Caribbean Village at the Holiday Expo, but not next to each other. Stuart of Q&E said he would love to combine the efforts at the next Holiday Expo to optimise the promotion.
Van Heertum of TVC pointed out the importance of joint promotion of the Windward Islands: “Together the islands can achieve more than separately.” She explained that the cooperation with the St. Maarten Tourist Office to set up a joint booth had gone smoothly.
St. Maarten Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Irania Arrindell and Marla Chemont of the Tourist Office will be joining the team today, Wednesday.
St. Eustatius and Saba have a lot to offer where it comes to diving and ecotourism, while St. Maarten is more of a luxury destination, Van Heertum said, “An ideal combination.” She said people had responded very positively on the first day of the fair. “People are glad that St. Maarten is back.”
Lindo called the joint promotion of the Windward Islands “very important.” “The fact is that St. Maarten is our hub. Having them on board facilitates the providing of the right information to the people visiting our stand,” he said.
Holm said he was very happy with the set-up of the booth. “It is an open and inviting design which still allows us to maintain our own identity,” he said.
Both Holm and Lindo were very positive about the plans to initiate a cheap fast-ferry service between the Windward Islands. “It creates a lot of perspective,” said Lindo.
Holm said the high airfares to Saba and St. Eustatius remained a big problem and that it would help a lot if the taxes on the tickets could be reduced. “A round-trip ticket to Saba costs around US $200, which is very expensive for a 12-minute flight. We receive constant complaints,” he said.
Holm and Lindo reported positive developments on their respective islands in relation to tourism. “We have seen an increase in the number of visitors. We are growing slowly, but surely, and that is the way it needs to go, not in leaps and bounds,” said Holm.
He mentioned several positive aspects such as the increased number of medical students, the opening of Courtney Hassell’s new restaurant The Hideaway and the great interest in free diving. “There is also talk of new boutique hotels, which is good, because we need more rooms to properly market Saba,” he said. New promotional material has been developed with TVC’s assistance, including a new brochure and a 2016 calendar.
Dive and nature tourism are growing in St. Eustatius, said Lindo. “We don’t need mass tourism. We are a niche market destination,” he said.
St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation Public Relations Officer Teena Lopes mentioned the tourism awareness campaign that started in November 2015 and will last until September 2016. “The objective is to increase the awareness among our people: what tourism can mean for you and what you can do to contribute to tourism. We have to get people to buy in, to be part. We are a hospitable people, but we need to work on the awareness part,” said Lopes. A different kind of tourism is highlighted every month.
Other islands that are part of the Caribbean Village at the Holiday Expo are Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation also has a booth. The colourful Caribbean Village always attracts many visitors with its energetic atmosphere and live music performances.
The Holiday Expo closes on Sunday. The fair with close to 1,300 exhibitors drew more than 117,000 visitors in 2015.
The Daily Herald.