Over the past decade, the St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SHGC) has invested more than US$100 million in its infrastructure and equipment, with its future focus on investing in personnel and processes to continue to improve efficiency.
Over the same period SHGC has been transformed into a more commercially oriented operation with the aid of a US$150 million refinancing package from the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten.
The most recent major investments include the Down Street Cruise Heritage Development and the Simpson Bay Causeway, along with smaller ventures such as the Caribbean’s first crew lounge.
The year of 2014 is proving a special one for both Port St. Maarten and the country. Marking 50 years as a cruise destination, it is also hosting the twenty-first Annual Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Conference & Trade Show from 6-10 October. This is the second time St. Maarten has hosted this event and it remains dedicated to making this another memorable FCCA convention for delegates. The Port of St. Maarten’s motto is a ‘port to remember’ and the destination will also be unforgettable, as the clock ticks down to this prestigious convention and preparations ahead of it are ramped up.
“The relationship the country has built with the FCCA has stood the test of time,” says Mark Mingo, CEO of St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies. “Trust, understanding and cooperation have resulted in a mutually beneficial and enduring partnership, the outcome seen in positive development of the cruise sector within the Caribbean Basin. The Port of St. Maarten has gone above and beyond to facilitate the much anticipated high turnout for the FCCA event.
“For those who visited the island ten years ago, much has changed. Apart from the destination’s status as the cuisine and entertainment capital of the Caribbean, cruise executives and conference delegates are assured of a grand St. Maarten welcome, from arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport to the many activities planned throughout the FCCA congress.”
Both the port and the national Government are working hand in hand to make this the event of the century. Much effort is being directed at collaborating with various businesses linked to the cruise sector in order to create an amazing experience and ensure a ‘wow’ factor for all conference attendees.
The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa has been selected as the official hotel for the conference. Nestled into a hillside right next to Dawn Beach, one of the country’s finest seashore spots, the Westin is one of the country’s leading brand-name hotels and offers an array of amenities for guests, with St. Maarten hospitality the most important.
In addition to enhancing the welcome for VIP visitors, St. Maarten has also made significant strides in meeting the needs of another group of regular visitors to the island: those working on ships. The Telem Group and SHGC have joined forces to create the Caribbean’s first crew lounge. The high-tech venue offers a purpose-built facility where ships’ staff can relax, make calls to their families and friends back home or spend time browsing the internet. Located upstairs in the harbour’s Cruise & Cargo building, the lounge features high-speed internet access as well as voice and data services, while luxury seating, ambient lighting and cool colour tones ensure a comfortable environment for up to 60 crew members at a time.
“Crew members are an important group that should also be catered for by both the harbour and the destination, because this group of visitors has considerable spending power while in port,” says Mingo.
The new venue was officially opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in December 2013, by Prime Minister and Telem Group shareholder representative Sarah Wescott-Williams and the minister for telecommunications, harbour and economic affairs, Ted Richardson.
Another significant initiative impacting cruise business in St. Maarten is the Simpson Bay Causeway. Inaugurated in January 2014, the causeway presents an alternative arterial route that is crucial to the daily economic activity of the island’s mainstay, tourism. The initial vision for its construction was born of a need to accommodate the volume of vehicular traffic travelling back and forth on a daily basis from the Airport area to Cole Bay and on to the French side of the island, or to Philipsburg and the surrounding area. The second element was to ensure an alternative road network guaranteeing continual connection between Cole Bay and the Airport area.
The causeway is 2,493ft long and features a two-lane motorway, a bicycle track and footpaths. Two roundabouts are in place at Airport Road near the end of the runway and at Union Road near the border. A 220ft-long swing bridge weighing 450 tons is a unique addition which was built in the Netherlands. The swing bridge opens to allow boats to simultaneously pass each other side-by-side through two navigating channels.
Large mega yachts can also sail through as they head towards the Cupecoy area, also known as the ‘Riviera’ part of the island. Marinas and anchoring facilities make Simpson Bay Lagoon important for the yachting community. It is under the jurisdiction of the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation, which aims to ensure that St. Maarten remains a top Caribbean yachting destination while at the same time maintaining a safe, secure, pollution-free and environmentally sustainable lagoon. This is one of several improvements designed to achieve these outcomes. The lagoon authority continues to improve the accessibility of Simpson Bay and enhance the living and working conditions for all those working in the marine sector. Following upgrades to yacht access from the sea, as well as road access for vehicles, the causeway meets those market demands. As well as its critical strategic value, Simpson Bay Causeway is an aesthetic addition to the landscape and with lighting running along its length it is considered one of the wonders of St. Maarten during evening hours. The causeway is expected to be seen as one of the island’s national monuments in time.
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.