PHILIPSBURG--With news over the weekend of Antigua's intention to construct a multi-million-dollar cruise facility, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Port of St. Maarten Mark Mingo used the opportunity to re-iterate a position he has championed on numerous occasions: the importance of St. Maarten re-inventing itself as a cruise destination.
Local online news outlet Soualiga Newsday
(www. soualiganewsday.com) reported on Friday that the Antigua Port Authority announced a US $200 million redevelopment of its current facilities that serve cruise passengers.
This redevelopment includes a new cruise terminal; cargo/container facility; a logistics park; warehousing; distribution and fulfilment services; and bunkering facilities. The project is forecast, according to Antiguan port authorities, to get off the ground early 2015 and take 36 months to complete. Financing for the US $200 million project is expected to come from the Chinese.
Invited for his reaction by The Daily Herald, Mingo said that after hitting 50 years of cruising in 2014, Port St. Maarten has reached the crossroads in its cruise development and is now considered a mature destination. "As a cruise destination, we now have to reinvent ourselves.
"If we keep looking in the past, we will not move forward. The competition is fierce in the cruise business. St. Maarten as a cruise destination has to look at where we go from here. We don't have any time to waste, because our competitors are moving forward," he said.
"We have competitors at our doorstep, such as the Federations of St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, as well as the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. They are all working on expanding their cruise facilities and securing millions of dollars to do so, because they also want to be on top," he added.
Mingo explained that, at the moment, St. Maarten is focused on coastal blue tourism, where the emphasis is on anything and everything related to the sea, sun and sand. All services and products mostly cater to the cruise passenger and are primarily beach-related. This, he stressed, must be complemented with more.
"We need to transition from this area and add something else as part of reinventing cruise tourism. Blue coastal tourism will always be there. We now need to add urban heritage grey tourism to our tourism mix, which looks at cultural/heritage and environmental/green tourism. The development of the aforementioned will give an impetus in economic development, environmental conservation, enhancement of heritage and cultural sites, which in turn will increase the identity and well-being of our community," he explained.
Mingo said the 21st FCCA Cruise Convention and Exhibition being hosted by destination St. Maarten will allow the port to bring all stakeholders together at one location. Insight will be provided into current trends and developments in the cruise sector and where things will be in five to 10 years from now.
He added that the formation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority is also very essential in reinventing our tourism product, and Port of St. Maarten has played an important role in getting this moving in collaboration with the minister of tourism and other stakeholders.
"The continued innovation and development of shore excursions is necessary to keep the cruise sector alive and vibrant. New excursions mean new entrepreneurs are in business, which also translates into job creation. We also need additional brand-named hotels as well as cruise conversions. The latter is very important because, when there is a dip in cruise, we can offset with stay-over visitors and vice versa.
"St. Maarten's cruise sector is worth more than US $350 million annually and employs directly and indirectly thousands of people. This is a sector that we cannot fool around with, and we have to plan in a strategic manner to protect the sector by reinventing cruise St. Maarten in order to maintain the economic input into our economy and protect existing jobs and create more jobs for our people," CEO Mark Mingo said on Sunday.