Following the high of the holiday season, winter-weary Canadians are scrambling for ways to escape the cold. Answering the call is the sun-soaked destination of St. Maarten, long known for its world class cuisine, beautiful beaches and a standard of service and excellence that’s hard to beat in the Caribbean. We sit down with Catherine Pentiricci, Sales & Marketing Manager for St. Maarten in Canada to discuss the latest news from the island and what makes it a clear choice this year for vacationers.
1. How many tourist arrivals did St. Maarten receive in 2013 and of that, how many were Canadian?
We don’t have our full year data yet. However, we are expecting year-end arrivals from Canada will be over 40,000 in 2013. As of September 2013, YTD Canadian arrivals were up + 13.7%.
2. What’s the biggest news coming out of St. Maarten these days?
We have several great updates. Many of our hotels and resorts continue to receive awards. Princess Heights Luxury Boutique Hotel has been named the “Leading Hotel in St. Maarten for 2013″ by the World Travel Awards (WTA) and has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for the past three years. The Westin Dawn Beach Hotel opened just a few years ago and boasts the largest pool in St. Maarten, right on Dawn Beach, with a view of St. Bart’s. Both the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort have evolved to true all-inclusive resorts with “stay-at-one, play-at-two” in effect for all-inclusive guests. Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort recently reopened after a two-month renovation, and as of Jan. 1, 2014 is adults-only and offers butler service. The Holland House Beach Hotel has undergone a renaissance as a chic boutique hotel and hotspot in the heart of Philipsburg.
3. St. Maarten has long since been considered one of the more elite Caribbean islands. What do you say to travel agents and travellers who say it’s too expensive or offer less value than other islands like the D.R. and Cuba?
St. Maarten is probably the most affordable of the ‘elite’ islands. It is not as expensive as most people believe it is. All-inclusive packages in the 2013 off-season were as low as $900, inclusive of taxes with Sunwing. There are great deals to be found in all types of accommodations, including guesthouses, luxury condo-style accommodations and private villa rentals. St. Maarten is 100% duty-free so other expenses like shopping, dining out or groceries and alcohol are incredibly inexpensive. Beer at a beach bar can be found for $2.50, and a 24-pack of Heineken is as low as $20. St. Maarten, of course, is known for fantastic deals on jewelry including gold, gemstones, watches and electronics. In terms of value, there is no other island that offers the range of experiences and activities that St. Maarten has in only 37 square miles. Everything that the island has to offer is easily accessible within a short drive to any guest staying anywhere in St. Maarten. It’s like the entire island is your resort.
4. In your opinion, what sets St. Maarten apart from all other Caribbean islands?
Both sides have their own distinct character and attractions. It takes less than 2 hours to drive around the entire island. In that time, guests will visit two countries (French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten), and pass by 37 gorgeous beaches, 13 casinos and more than 365 restaurants. Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, boasts more than 120 jewelry stores. There are endless possibilities for land and sea activities, including day trips to Anguilla, St. Bart’s and Saba, which are all accessible by ferry.
5. Aside from lying on the beach, what are a few things that every visitor must do while in St. Maarten?
First of all, even those who just want to lie on the beach should try at least a few of the 37 beaches. Everyone visiting St. Maarten needs to take time to explore the island. Even if guests are staying at an all-inclusive, dine out at least once – St. Maarten is the Cuisine Capital of the Caribbean! In St. Maarten’s turquoise waters, out our 12-M sailing excursion in Great Bay, a catamaran snorkelling excursion, and day trip to Anguilla, Saba and St. Bart’s. Guests can be a little adventurous on land by visiting the Loterie Farm Nature Reserve and zip-lining or hiking on Pic Paradis. In the evenings, they can enjoy the fun nightlife throughout the island, including in the Maho Village area (at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort), home to casinos, nightclubs, beach bars and shops that open late.