The island of ST. Maarten has developed a 10-year tourism master plan that addresses issues pertaining to land-based and cruise tourism and subsequent actions to be taken.
St. Maarten, whose tourism industry took a serious hit after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has recognized cruising as the principal vehicle for recovery - and the main issue today, as outlined in the master plan, is how to balance the needs of stay-over visitors with those who arrive via cruise ships. But cruising isn't without its challenges for the island, however, and the master plan also addresses those issues.
"'We have a problem with geographic location in that one day a week is when we get the most cruise ships based on the itineraries," said Veronica Webster, market researcher and project manager. "It's something like nine ships on Wednesdays and not a single one on Fridays or Saturdays. Because of the nine, it puts strains on our resources and infrastructure, leading to problems like traffic jams. It also affects the experience of the visitor." Webster said part of the plan is to encourage the cruise industry to visit the island on a more spread out basis.
"We don't really want to exceed more than four or five ships per day," she noted. St. Maarten will also, over the next decade, improve its shoreside attractions, the plan said, for a better distribution of passengers and revenue over the island.
The island also wants to make sure that "its range of shopping possibilities," the plan said, is relevant to the market to encourage spending from cruise passengers.
Another issue the plan outlines is the fact that the cruise sector is heavily dependent on the U.S.-based, seasonal market. Year-round cruising - and the development of the island as a homeport - is something St. Maarten would also like to encourage.
The master plan has been in the works since August 2004, when St. Maarten started surveying visitors and businesses about what they perceived the issues to be. ''We held focus groups and conducted all kinds of surveys," Webster said. ''We did a lot of public relations in the community as well as workshops and lectures to get feedback to see where people would like the industry to go on St. Maarten."
The plan still has to go through final governmental approval processes, however, said Webster. After government approval is gained, plan's various initiatives will be implemented over the next decade.