Optimism for High-Season intensifies as Port St. Maarten Group and Minister Lawrence confirms possibility of new Homeporting options

PORT ST. MAARTEN – During the Caribbean’s largest and only official Cruise event in the region, the 27th Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) took place in Panama this week, Port St. Maarten Group and the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications (Minister of TEATT) Hon. Roger Lawrence, held great discussions with cruise industry leaders regarding aligning visions of St. Maarten and the cruise industry. One of the key meetings held by Minister Lawrence, accompanied by Port St. Maarten Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alexander Gumbs, was with MSC Cruise Chairman for North America, Rick Sasso. “MSC is 1000% interested in working with St. Maarten,” stated Sasso. MSC Cruises is the world’s third-largest cruise brand, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, employing over 30,000 staff globally and sells cruise holidays in many countries around the world. MSC Cruises has six classes of vessels, and the fleet is expected to grow. MSC is rolling out with four new ships from November 2022 – April 2023. In total MSC expects to grow to 23 cruise ships by 2025, with options for six vessel orders in place through 2030. Both Lawrence and Gumbs had held initial discussions over the past weeks with MSC Cruises discussing alternatives to turn one of their newest ships MSC Seaview into a homeport vessel out of Port St. Maarten as early as December 2021.

MSC Seaview was launched in 2018 and is part of the Seaside Class and has a guest capacity of over 5000 passengers. Minister Lawrence and Gumbs said on Thursday that this is potentially a great opportunity for the destination. Operation teams from Port St. Maarten Group and MSC Cruises will meet to discuss and review logistical operations to make sure that all is up to par, assuring smooth and efficient turn arounds can be accomplished. Based on current discussions the vessel may have up to 85% occupancy in guests who will travel to the destination through multiple charter flights from Europe prior to embarking on their Caribbean cruise out of Port St. Maarten. CEO Gumbs also alluded to the fact that he has had preliminary discussions with Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) CEO Brian Mingo last week regarding the potential to cater to such an operation during the week.

“The initial talks are about catering to this opportunity for the next four-five months as the cruise line assesses challenges in the other destinations that generally cater to this magnitude of operation.

“Port St. Maarten Group identifies that additional investments will be required in homeporting facilities in order to strategically move ahead as a major cruise destination in the Northeastern Caribbean if it is the intention of the destination to cater to this scale of operations structurally in the future. “Great potential is identified as St. Maarten is well positioned and already functions as a hub for the neighbouring destinations within the region further strengthening the destinations potential to tap into such opportunities. “We are simultaneously looking at strategically planning with MSC Cruises from an investment perspective for long term initiatives and becoming strategic partners in future port developments. Rick Sasso Chairman of MSC Cruises North America said the company still has great interest in exploring opportunities with St. Maarten as they see great potential and a great product,” Port St. Maarten CEO Alexander Gumbs said on Thursday. Minister Lawrence said that the Port St. Maarten Group has his full support in terms of its strategic objectives, and also looks forward to the engagements Port St. Maarten has with the industry going forward with regards to their strategic initiatives which was recently presented to the St. Maarten House of Parliament.

Minister Hon. Roger Lawrence further stated that these discussions are currently ongoing and not limited to only homeporting in terms of developing this niche, will also be further developed in conjunction with other key stakeholders such as PJIA, St. Maarten Tourism Bureau and transportation companies, adding that in the near future, meetings will have to take place with the hospitality sector regarding catering to this potential market. Gumbs added that with the potential penetration of MSC Cruises to the homeporting niche of the destination, it also diversifies the product mix of country St. Maarten along with beneficial factors to the cargo pillar where provisioning of vessels and providing additional auxiliary services are concerned.

The 27th Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), took place from October 18th to 21st in Panama City, Panama. The cruise conference offered participants a series of meetings, workshops, networking opportunities and more with 100 high-level executives from FCCA Member Lines, which operate about 200 vessels and 95 percent of the global ocean cruising capacity were present to give industry updates. Created in 1972, the FCCA is a not-for-profit trade organization that provides a forum for discussion on tourism development, ports, safety, security, and other cruise industry issue and builds bilateral relationships with destinations’ private and public sectors.

The FCCA Conference was a four-day event designed to create a better understanding of the inner workings of the cruise industry and help attendees improve their cruise tourism business.