In The Caribbean: Complement, Not Compete – St. Maarten Shares Its Vision

By Bevan Springer

NEW YORK – The scriptures teach us that there is safety in the multitude of counselors, and following a recent visit to the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten I got the impression that tourism leaders there – from the director of tourism to the head of a local destination management company – have expelled insularity from their thinking, opting instead to embrace a regional identity and spirit of cooperation.

Earlier this year a retired New York television producer made a comment to me that suggested she couldn’t understand why Caribbean nations would combine resources to promote competing experiences. Aren’t you each in competition with each other? she wondered.

I told the lady that Martinique, for example – which is essentially a part of France – was only a short ferry ride away from St. Lucia. And while our nations do compete for business, wouldn’t it be powerful to see St. Lucia and Martinique holding hands in the marketplace to promote a French Creole twin-island experience? After all, the Caribbean’s real competition comes from outside the region.

On another occasion, integrating a second Caribbean hotel for a foreign press itinerary I was preparing for a primary hotel client may have been surprising to some. While maximizing exposure for one’s client clearly is important, I also believe it is important for visiting journalists to understand and appreciate the diverse accommodation attractions which can lend to multi-vacation experiences even in the same country. Not only does it stimulate demand in the marketplace, but also fosters healthy relationships among partner hoteliers on island.

Life is too short for us to overlook opportunities to set a new standard for our children’s children.

Every Caribbean country is increasingly becoming a melting pot, comprising nationals from within and without our waters, and while we ought to develop a manageable approach to the movement of people, we must also fervently strengthen our familial ties.

Regina Labega, St. Maarten’s Director of Tourism, believes that since “we are friends, neighbors, family and relatives,” it not only makes sense, but it is also imperative that Caribbean countries work together to raise all sails.

Regina Labega, St. Maarten’s Director of Tourism (left) stands next to Ida Zin-Ka-Ieu, President of French St. Martin’s Tourism Office at the SMART Regional Tradeshow last week.

In her country of St. Maarten, tourism officials have attracted enviable airlift from both the legacy and low cost carrier thanks in part to this partnership philosophy.

Speaking in between appointments at the recent SMART travel show at the Radisson St. Martin Resort, Marina & Spa, Labega explained that St. Maarten is blessed with a strategic geographic position and her Caribbean neighbors have become very dependent on the newly unveiled Princess Juliana International Airport to attract visitors to their shores. “We recognize that people who go to Anguilla, for example, for their primary vacation experience also come to St. Maarten for a day or two to experience the shopping and nightlife. Similarly, the converse is also true. Therefore, instead of competing with one another, we complement each other.”

The tourism director admits that regional cooperation is not as easy as it sounds, but lauded her neighbors Anguilla, St. Barts and St. Martin for partnering with St. Maarten to support a US$300,000 cooperative marketing campaign to attract JetBlue Airways’ non-stop services from the northeastern seaboard to the island. “We went together to JetBlue. We discussed the relationship, how the public and private sectors will work together and that was extremely successful. If we would do that more often it would bear more fruit for sure.”

African/Caribbean author Fabian Badejo, a veteran media practitioner on St. Maarten who recently started the East Caribbean Destination Management Company, writes that the St. Martin-St. Maarten experience is neither Fantastically French nor Delightfully Dutch. “It is really neither French nor Dutch. The soul of its people is undoubtedly Caribbean, charismatically Caribbean.”

And so are our Caribbean island nations and countries, who have produced some of the world’s greatest authors, poets, scientists, mathematicians, lawyers, politicians, engineers, surgeons, trade union leaders, business professionals, cricketers, athletes and the like.

As we march onwards, let our successes and our failures teach us that the sum is greater than the parts, and maybe one day we’ll identify ourselves as Caribbean first, then St. Maartener, Barbadian, Jamaican and Trinidadian a distant second.

The region should be thankful to St. Maarten for showing us what the future could possibly look like. Maybe we should seek its counsel.

Bevan Springer

Bevan Springer, who writes frequently on travel and tourism issues, is the President of the New Jersey-headquartered Marketplace Excellence LLC – a full-service public relations, marketing and media company. He is also the executive producer of the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism – CMEx.

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