Star Clipper to return to St. Maarten as homeport; Air Berlin eyes direct service

Star Clipper will be returning to St. Maarten as a home port after three years’ absence, while Air Berlin is very interested in starting direct flights from Germany to St. Maarten. 

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Both the cruise ship and the airline are likely to work together, with Star Clipper using Air Berlin to fly in its passengers to begin their week-long cruise here.

These were among the most important results Commissioner of Tourism, Frans Richardson, brought back from the ITB Berlin Monday.

"The first cruise of Star Clipper will be on November 20, 2010. It will bring 50 – 60 upscale passengers from Germany and other parts of Europe weekly. This was announced at the ITB Berlin," Commissioner Frans Richardson disclosed in a press release.

The Commissioner met with Star Clipper’s Sales Executive, Helmut Kutzner, who expressed satisfaction at the return of the tall ships sailing vessels to St. Maarten later in the year.

"This is good for St. Maarten and the small hoteliers in particular," explained Commissioner Frans Richardson, "because the cruise passengers have to spend a day or two here before they board their vessel."

It was a very busy time for the Commissioner at the ITB, the world’s largest travel trade show with about 180,000 visitors for the five-day exhibition spread over an area of 160,000 sq. meters.

According to the Commissioner, Air Berlin Group’s Senior Vice-President (Strategy), Stephan Nagel, put off his vacation at the request of the owner of the airline to meet with him.

"They are very interested in flying to St. Maarten and are hoping this could happen this year, and if not, it will be the next. They however plan to come here for a fam trip later this year," Commissioner Frans Richardson revealed.

Air Berlin is currently building its own airport which will serve as a European hub for all its other destinations, including the Caribbean and the U.S. This, according to the Commissioner, would make partnering with the airline even easier and create a synergy with Star Clipper that would be able to reserve seats on Air Berlin for its passengers.

"All we need now is the full support of all the stakeholders. We need everybody to make this work," the Commissioner said.

"I also had very good discussions with Condor airline’s Head of Planning, Mr. Herwig Oberhuber who showed a lot of interest in having Condor add St. Maarten to its destinations in the Caribbean," he continued. Condor already services Barbados, St. Lucia and Santo Domingo from Germany.

Commissioner Frans Richardson, who was accompanied by Mr. Edward Dest of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, met with other representatives and tour operators who told him that the island has lost its competitive edge in Germany and the wider European market basically because of lack of funding.

"They were very happy to see that my person was there so they could express their concerns directly to me," he continued, adding that the issue of funding for the European market is being addressed. "In fact, we now have a firm that represents us in The Netherlands."

The Commissioner also met with LIAT officials at the CTO meeting held at the ITB Berlin.

"The main topic of our discussions are the high fares to Caribbean destinations which the airline charges. We, as St. Maarten, are suffering from these high fares which are making travel from the other Caribbean islands very expensive. The other islands are talking to WINAIR to see if it can’t chip in to bring down prices," Commissioner Frans Richardson said.

"All in all, I would say it was a very productive trip even though I was a little under the weather," he said. "I’m now looking forward to following up with all the opportunities that have opened up with this trip."