St. Maarten-St.Martin: Promoting The Caribbean Experience

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten – Caribbean leaders who continue to resist the call to market the region as a single destination should be inspired by the nations of St. Maarten and St. Martin, which share an island and are successfully branding themselves in the global marketplace by embracing the concept that, often, the sum is greater than the parts.

Governed by two sovereign nations, the Netherlands and France, the countries are steeped in a rich history that spans more than 350 years of peaceful co-existence.

Before my arrival, I was contemplating planning an “Around the World” trip to perhaps 10 different countries some time later this year. Those plans quickly evaporated upon realizing the cultural diversity this tropical paradise has to offer where more than 100 nationalities intersect.

Dubbed “the culinary capital of the Caribbean,” St. Maarten offers a dining experience that is second to none in the region. In this food lover’s paradise, chefs combine Caribbean and international flavors into a smorgasbord of sumptuous fare.

The national dish is rather simple: grilled chicken with “Johnny cakes,” or “bakes” as they are known in the Southern Caribbean. But as Marla Chemont of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau explains, there are about 350 restaurants to choose from, including Indonesian, Moroccan, French Creole, Italian, German, Argentinean, Sushi, Thai, Indian, Kosher and Mexican. During a seven-day stay, a visitor can sample almost anything, Chemont reports, even the American fast food variety! But why would you?

It is not surprising also that their recently concluded Carnival celebrations featured not only calypso and soca music, but attracted international expressions of zouk, compa, Latin music and even R & B, reflecting the cultural mosaic of the island.

Known for its duty free shopping (which attracts visitors from as far south as Brazil), art galleries, spas, nightlife and world class beaches, St. Maarten – with a brand new international airport – also is a gateway for its neighbors, including Anguilla, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius and St. Kitts and Nevis. In keeping with its focus on the “total” Caribbean experience, tourism officials aren’t at all reluctant to promote excursions across and off the island.

This week, in the spirit of collaboration, the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, L’Office du Tourisme de St. Martin, St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association and L’Association des Hoteliers de St. Martin present the 2009 St. Maarten-St. Martin Annual Regional Tradeshow (SMART), now in its eighth edition.

SMART, being held at the Radisson on the French side, showcases the hotels and general tourism services of the Northeastern Caribbean Region, including destinations such as Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Maarten-St. Martin, and Barbados in the southeast.

At the show, international buyers meet one-on-one with suppliers of the Caribbean region’s tourism industry. More than 50 supplier companies will present their product to more than 30 buyers.

These regional shows augur well for the spirit of Caribbean integration, and I am confident there is much the rest of the Caribbean can learn from this multi-destination experience.

With just a few more days to spend here, my “Around the World” travel plans may take on less significance.

A plus tard!

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