St. Maarten Is Back And Wants Canadians To Discover Its Energy And Flair
May-Ling Chun, Director of Tourism of the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau, makes it quite clear in conversation with Travel Courier this week that although it has been a while, St. Maarten is “back and ready to remind Canadians why they should choose St. Maarten for their next beach vacation.”
So, St. Maarten is coming back into the Canadian market this winter… It has been a while and I’m hoping you can bring Travel Courier’s travel agent readers up to speed… What’s been going on since 2016? Has it been that long?
It really has been that long, sadly. When Hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten in 2017 a lot of the island was affected, and since then there’s been a lot of re-building, including of our airport terminal. Then of course the whole world was rocked by the pandemic which held us all back from our tropical vacations! But we are back and ready to remind Canadians why they should choose St. Maarten for their next beach vacation.
That’s quite a story. What’s the plan for the winter 2023-2024 for the Canadian market? What’s St. Maarten’s message that you want to deliver to travel agents here?
The upcoming winter season sees some incredible air options from Toronto and Montreal, which we are so pleased about. From November to April, the 4.5-hour direct flight to the famous Princess Juliana International Airport will be offered by Air Canada, Sunwing, Transat and WestJet. We’re working closely with airlines and tour operators to keep providing Canadians with easy access to St. Maarten.
I think it’s important for agents to know we will support them in any way we can when it comes to selling SXM – we’re going to be hosting trainings, a FAM in the spring and we hope to get a destination specialist portal live in the near future.
We are also running a couple of campaigns targeting the trade to provide more real time updates and easy access to the promotional offers from the private sector partners. In essence, we are here to provide the support and information to aid the travel trade partners with the necessary tools to sell the island.
Maybe you can help agents a bit by telling them about St. Maarten. What’s the attraction of the destination for Canadian travellers? How is it different from other Caribbean destinations? I guess what I’m asking is, what’s its unique selling point?
It’s tough to put all of the selling points into one answer, but our unique social landscape makes us pretty special. We have a motto of ‘Two Nations, One Island’ and our visitors love that they can experience such multicultural Caribbean energy on the Dutch side, and then the French flair of St. Martin in one trip. A good point to highlight for advisors is that an integral part of our ‘Two Nations, One Island’ duality means that Canadian travellers love the ease of communicating in their native languages, both English & French.
The global pandemic has certainly brought a lot of changes and I’m wondering if you’ve seen changes in what visitors to St. Maarten are looking for when they come there for a vacation? Have their attitudes and expectations changed? And if they have, how have they changed?
I have certainly noticed that visitors are now much more intentional with their vacation time. They want to see and do a lot more off the resort, whether that be eating BBQ at a lo-lo one evening, or seeing our coastline from the water on board a catamaran. They are looking for more personal experiences with the residents and seeking to explore the culture, sounds and food that are so readily accessible on the island.
As a follow up, how has St. Maarten responded to the changing attitudes and expectations of visitors?
That intentionality of time is demonstrated in the increasing tailoring of trips, even all-inclusive ones. To help our visitors do that easily, we work closely with the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association to ensure tourism businesses across the island are offering unique, one of a kind experiences. For those who check in and think ‘what next,’ the Visit St. Maarten guide is carefully crafted to showcase activities across the island. Equally, it’s a great tool for travellers who like to plan in advance with their travel advisor. Our website is also a wealth of information featuring itineraries and digital brochures.
What about travel agents? Where do they fit in St. Maarten’s plan? How is St. Maarten supporting agents?
Agents are so valuable to our country’s tourism industry — they are trusted travel visionaries and have the innate ability to know what their clients want from their vacations. I believe in building relationships, so if we can help foster their destination knowledge and learning, then bookings will surely follow. We’ll be hosting a group FAM in 2024, several webinars in collaboration with some of our Canadian tour operators, and have a Spoiled Agent hub for destination information and incentives.
What about some selling tips for agents? What type of client will St. Maarten appeal to?
St. Maarten’s an absolute haven for foodies and beachgoers alike, with a twist of adventure thrown in for good measure. We have 37 stunning beaches, a vibrant and colourful capital with amazing duty free shopping, and a melting pot of cultures influencing our cuisines. We have excellent water sports opportunities, including an amazing new eco-attraction, the Spirit of Soualiga, which is the Caribbean’s first artificial reef snorkelling park. There is truly something for everyone, from small, luxury resorts to all inclusives and boutique inns.
Now, I always get to ask the questions, but I’m wondering if there’s a question that I haven’t asked you that I should have asked you? If there is… what’s the question and, naturally, what’s the answer?
You should have asked what my favourite beach on the island is, and I’d have told you it’s got to be Mullet Bay Beach located on the Southern side of the island. It’s known as one of the most popular beaches amongst residents and visitors alike, has a lovely white sand beach and turquoise waters that lure you in for a serene swim. Mullet Bay Beach also has three restaurants nestled along the tree line where you can treat yourself to a scrumptious meal or sit back and enjoy a refreshing cocktail, while taking in a breathtaking sunset.
Last question… What’s your message to the Canadian market? What’s the one thing that they need to remember about St. Maarten?
We’re referred to as the ‘Friendly Island’ and the culinary capital of the Caribbean, so come and find out why we earned those accolades. Our landscape is even more special because of the 100 plus nationalities that call St. Maarten home — we’re a melting pot of languages, food, cultures, music, and traditions from around the world.