Nearly 15,000 tourists graced the shores of St. Maarten this week in what acting Secretary of Tourism Omar Ottley called “a stunning sign that the Caribbean’s number one cruise destination is back in business”.
“We had a perfect first day of six cruise lines back in port which is a good feeling. We have worked diligently on this while recovering from two difficult years and seven months of very little economic activity,” he told Ottley.
The minister said St. Maarten could expect six new port calls from cruise ships that have never been to the island, in addition to the regular port calls. He also confirmed that cruise bookings to the island are now at around 120 percent. “This is a good indication of what’s to come this tourism season,” Ottley said.
The six cruise ships Star Pride, AidaLuna, Grandeur of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Carnival Magic could be seen from afar in Port SXM as early as 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
Thousands of passengers disembarked in anticipation of seeing the island for the first time or returning for the first time since the global pandemic COVID-19 forced ports to close over two years ago.
The streets were packed with visitors on quads, many in rental cars and SUVs, and taxis. The tour operators were also able to show some visitors the hidden beauty of the island on land and sea, as well as in bars and restaurants. The shopping districts were filled with happy travelers basking in the joy of returning to the Friendly Island.
Ottley, Acting Minister for Tourism, spent some time interacting with visitors and local providers. “I wanted to get first-hand information from vendors and visitors about the return of cruise lines in such a grand style. I am pleased to say that the vendor feedback was positive and visitors were beyond thrilled to be able to do so, visit our beautiful island and its people,” said Ottley.
Ottley and a team from the ministry visited vendors at Philipsburg Market Place and spoke to tourists at Walter Plants on Front Street.
He said that over the coming six months, the economic impact of the cruise industry on the island is expected to match that of pre-pandemic 2019.
Secretary Ottley congratulated St Maarten residents on restoring cruise tourism in such grand style from the Chamber of Parliament, where he answered questions from MPs about layoffs at Princess Juliana International Airport PJIA.