PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – President of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Michele M. Paige said this week “we in the industry are proud to sail full steam ahead with numerous progressive initiatives from world-leading environmental innovations to empowering minorities in the workplace and embracing all people and communities, including LGBTQ, who incidentally tend to travel and spend more in destinations than average.”
Her statement follows a series of questions and negative comments made by Opposition Members in the Parliament of St. Maarten regarding the recent travel of Tourism Minister the Honourable Stuart Johnson in which the opposition members questioned whether the trip was “a family cruise or a gay cruise.”
Paige said, “Our recent PAMAC Cruise Summit was anything but a typical pleasure cruise. As a fixture of our Platinum Membership program for more than 20 years, it is one of our annual events giving our Platinum Members, key private and public sector representatives throughout Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America, a direct line to executives from our Member Lines, which account for about 95 percent of the global ocean cruising capacity.”
“This year’s event featured nearly 30 high-level executives who decide where ships call, what is sold and used on board, and how to invest in destinations and infrastructure, along with ample opportunities to develop business and relationships through everything from scheduled one-on-one meetings. A large-scale meeting between all members and executives, and networking functions, to informal meetings both on board and on land, with St. Maarten also maximizes the chance to impress the prestigious audience with an exclusive excursion and preview of the upcoming PAMAC Conference that will be hosted at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa this June 12-15.”
It was also the opinion of the opposition that the decision to travel to attend the summit did not supersede Johnson’s responsibility as Shareholder Representative of PJIA to address the “financially precarious situation at the Princess Juliana International Airport 9pjIA) at the time.” Johnson maintained that all provisions for the USD$5 million liquidity support were in place with the full support of the Council of Ministers. When he learnt the preparations for liquidity support, had a “bump in the road” Johnson cut short the Summit and convened an emergency meeting with the Minister of Finance and the Airport upon his return to ensure, with the help of his colleague Minister, that the airport workers received their salary.
The need to protect and improve the quality of the Cruise Industry on St. Maarten and address concerns from Taxi Drivers, Tour Operators and other local businesses were amongst the reasons given for attending the PAMAC Summit. The event was also a forum for discussing the concerns of cruise passengers and finding ways to improve visitor experience. Paige said, "Considering the decision-making power at our events, it is no surprise that they have been the spawning point for everything from new tours to entire destination developments, and from securing an inaugural call to 1,000 per cent increases in passenger arrivals.” Paige said, “Minister Johnson and Port St Maarten are well aware of this. Their regular participation at our meetings and events in conjunction with their constant communication, partnership and willingness to implement feedback and initiatives has been absolutely crucial in the destination actualising the potential of cruise tourism.” This includes St. Maarten being able to boast having the second-highest average spend per passenger ($142.23) in the 2018 BREA study.
From the perspective of the PAMAC Cruise, Minister Johnson's attendance was necessary to discuss the destination's recent and pending initiatives to continue its reinvention following the 2017 storms and offer more experiences with the aim of converting additional cruisers to overnight guests and attracting homeported vessels. In the bigger picture, his work with us following the storms was essential in navigating the destination through that tragic time rebounding to 1.6 million in 2018 along with also being poised to beat its record guest satisfaction level, as shared at the PAMAC Cruise.
According to the FCCA President one of the reasons St. Maarten has become a premier cruise destination extends past the focus on constant improvement, from first implementing water transportation, and centres instead on the “constant” of that equation provided by Port St. Maarten.
Paige said, “Consistency with our destination partners is always advantageous. At FCCA, our largest role is forging partnerships with private and public sector representatives, educating about the industry and then working to mutual understanding and success between our partners and Member Lines.”
With this mutual understanding already in place, the path is streamlined to discuss and develop initiatives building that mutual success and building on FCCA’s foundation: to maximize cruise passenger, crew and cruise line spending, as well as enhance the destination experience and increase the amount of cruise passengers returning as stay-over visitors.