Minister’s address for World Tourism Day

In highlighting the theme of World Tourism Day, United Nations Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “Harnessing innovation and digital advances provide tourism with opportunities to improve inclusiveness, local community empowerment and efficient resource management, amongst other objectives within the wider sustainable development agenda.”

This year’s World Tourism Day seeks to highlight the investment needs in the tourism industry in what the United Nations calls “disruptive digital technologies” as a means of creating a more innovative and entrepreneurship-friendly environment within the tourism sector.

Already, both French and Dutch tourism offices have displayed a keen understanding of the benefits of incorporating more technological innovations in the marketing and promotion of the destination when they streamed live videos of St. Maarten for stakeholders in Holland to get real-time images of the progress being made on both sides post-Irma.

There are also efforts to generate statistical data electronically, which the secretary-general for TEATT is finalizing.

This, along with the digital kiosks and e-Gate service at the Princess Juliana International Airport, forms part of how St. Maarten is already doing as it prepares to lead the Caribbean in digital innovation in the hospitality industry.

As we work to recover from the worst natural disaster in our history, this government is mindful of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Opportunities for setting it right and building better, forms the basis of the government and the Ministry of Tourism’s approach on the road to economic revitalization.

We remain cognizant of the cost of change and the challenge in financing improvements. This requires strategic partnerships as we continue to push for the urgent completion of Princess Juliana International Airport with a fully operational US-Pre-Clearance facility. This will increase our regional presence as a hub for airlifts to and from the US mainland and make us the preferred direct link in the region, to the rest of the world.

Rebuilding brings with it an opportunity to redefine how we market our annual activities, such as the Heineken Regatta, Carnival, and the newly launched Oualichi Festival in July, as well as the Lighting Parade.

Support for these events and the promotion of them parallel to our destination marketing will strengthen our efforts to build a year-round sustainable tourism product with many attractive offers.

Adequately recognizing them as part of the overall product we have to offer as a destination, will significantly increase visitor arrival throughout the year and contributes to our effort to move away from what traditionally has been a seasonal tourism market.

The rebuilding of our destination also creates an opportunity for us to improve inclusiveness by better recognizing a large number of people with disabilities who travel globally and ensuring that our road and building infrastructure, as well as our methods of disseminating information about the destination, align with international standards and norms to accommodate visitors with disabilities.

Making our tourism product stand out as it did in the past and restoring our destination to being the beacon of the Caribbean, are part of our collective responsibilities as citizens of this great country. While we seek to foster local community empowerment, we must, as a community, take advantage of the unique opportunity to reinvigorate positive activities. Cleaning campaigns within the community ensures that a positive impression is given to visitors and residents who come into our areas. Providing friendly customer service in all areas, ensures that we are doing our part of rebuilding our tourism.

After all, we have been known for being the friendly island for years. Let this friendliness be evident in our interactions with the many guests who visit our shores, and let it begin with how we interact with each other here at home.
We live in a time of considerable advances in technology, and at this critical juncture in the rebuilding of our hospitality industry and recreating our tourism, I encourage industry partners to incorporate frontier technology as much as possible in the way they deliver their services.

As a country, maximizing the use of technology to disseminate the message about our tourism product, will double our reach in an era where the average person uses a cell phone more than any other device and relies on electronic devices and technology for communication, research, and decision-making about almost anything, including where to vacation.

This is why I have asked the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau to use the best technology available to recreate our website and media presence. Our communication via social media and the consistency in the delivery of our message will make the difference in how quickly the world learns about our resilience and readiness to welcome them back to our shores.
These opportunities and challenges that lie ahead will be tackled on all fronts with the combined resources and experience of the men and women in the Hospitality Industry on both sides of the island thanks to the memorandum of understanding recently signed between French and Dutch St. Maarten.

We must capitalize on this relationship to maximize the overall impact of our message of being ready to welcome visitors to our shores. On that note, to those of our visitors, the timeshare industry, those who have St. Maarten as a second home, and the Free and Independent Traveller (FIT Guests) who have returned, some several times since the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September last year, I wish to give a huge thank you on behalf of the government and people of St. Maarten.

Finally, almost two decades ago, a group of local experts and professionals in the Hospitality Industry came together with the support and leadership of some of the most visionary political figures of our time to form the St. Maarten Tourist Authority. Since then, the St. Maarten Tourist Authority has gone through several transformations, ultimately losing focus on its intended goal of being the body that reduces the bureaucracy that restrains the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau from providing timely responses in a continually evolving and fast-paced global travel and tourism industry.

If we are to improve the way we promote our destination, the pulling on all sides of the St. Maarten Tourist Authority must end, and as such, a model that meets the demands of the market and satisfies our partners in the industry will soon be realized.

Let us remember that we are all part of what makes St. Maarten stand out. We have the ability to make St. Maarten better by being better at providing service in our restaurants, building our hotels and homes to be stronger than before, and creating community beautification programs that transform our destination into the beautiful gem of the Caribbean it once was. Let us continue to rebuild an amazing St. Maarten sustainably.