CONSISTENCY AND FAMILIARITY • 50 years of SHTA

The St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association celebrates half a century of commitment.
 
Like any successful organization, the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA) has flourished by adapting to the inevitable changes that life brings.
 
The group was founded as the St. Maarten Hotel Association in 1970 by two hoteliers who proposed that hotels work together, not separately, to boost tourism throughout the whole
of the Dutch-French island.
 
Because the island is shared by two nations with distinct styles and cultures, not to mention languages, business procedures and laws, it was perhaps inevitable that tourism efforts eventually would operate independently. That is what happened in 1975, although both sides continued to cooperate for the common good.
 
Tourism continued to grow, but it became apparent to the SHTA that the hotel aspect was not the whole picture. There were time-shares, restaurants, yacht clubs and travel links to consider. So in 1991 the organization remodeled itself to become the St. Maarten Hotel and Tourism Association, a nonpolitical, nonprofit entity.
 
The concept was developed further in 1998 when the group renamed itself the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association. This reflected the growing realization that tourism efforts must consider all aspects of life here. In 1999, SHTA launched its website, www.shta.com.
 
In 2004, SHTA took an awareness program into the schools to give students a better understanding of the importance of tourism. Two years later came “The Vision: A Work in Progress,” which spelled out the vital elements of education, the environment, the economy, employment, cost of living, traffic and safety and security.
 
Recent years have seen the island adapt to meet the growth of cruise tourism. Ship arrivals have not increased that much in frequency, but more and more passengers descend on the island in one fell swoop.
 
While the history books will show that hurricanes are significant markers in our story, just as important is the response to these natural phenomena, with the unprecedented ferocity of 2017’s Irma having been matched by St. Maarten/St. Martin’s determination to rebuild quickly and come back better than ever.
 
The development of SHTA reflects changing attitudes and an increased awareness of the responsibility we must all take for the welfare of our part of the world.
 
The St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA) has celebrated a number of milestones over the past 50 years. Here’s a glimpse at just a handful of these moments.
 
1970
The SHTA was founded as the St. Maarten Hotel Association (SHA) on St. Maarten.
 
1975
In 1975 the Dutch and the French parted ways and continued working together as separate hotel associations.
 
1991
The SHA changed its name to SHTA (St. Maarten Hotel and Tourism Association) and was founded as a nonpolitical, nonprofit organization.
 
1998
The SHTA changes its name to St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association, enabling the SHTA to become a representative of the total private sector — not just a hotel association.
 
2000
SHTA’s Dollar-A-Day program was introduced. Guests at participating properties are asked to contribute $1 per day of their stay to the fund, which helps finance product development, educational and environmental programs, as well as destination marketing and research.
 
2005
The SHTA’s official in-room publication, Experience St. Maarten/St. Martin (now called Visit St. Maarten/St. Martin) was launched.
 
2016
SHTA qualified to become a member of the Caribbean Employer Confederation (CEC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE) at the International Labor Organization (ILO).
 
How Tourism Came to Paradise
Discover St. Maarten/St. Martin’s charms — again and again.
 
Once upon a time there was no tourism. As strange as that might seem to us now — we of the fortunate generations who can’t wait to hop on a plane and go somewhere exotic — pleasure trips were only for the elite.
 
The Caribbean was a place of fable where the Arawak and Carib tribes had arrived long ago from South America and the only foreigners were invaders intent on grabbing land or traders looking to profit. And pirates, of course, who did both.
 
In the eastern Caribbean was an island called by the natives Soualiga (land of salt) or Oualichi (land of strong women). After Christopher Columbus “discovered” the island in the 15th century, he named it for St. Martin of Tours. European powers — especially France and the Netherlands — long squabbled over the rights to the island but eventually agreed to share it.
 
Legend has it that a Frenchman and a Dutchman set off on foot in opposite directions to determine which country owned what. The point at which they met again was to mark the border. However it happened, 1648 saw the emergence of French St. Martin in the north and Dutch St. Maarten in the south.
 
For centuries the salt and sugarcane trades provided a living for islanders. Then in the early 1950s, businessman Erik Lawaetz was shipwrecked near French Marigot. Enchanted by the island, Lawaetz bought large amounts of land in the Lowlands area. After he put the word out in the United States, the rich and famous took notice. Today, Lawaetz is known by many as the “Father of Tourism” in St. Maarten/St. Martin.
 
The Dutch side, at any rate, came alive with tourism efforts. Accommodations at that time included only the Pasanggrahan and Sea View guesthouses in Philipsburg. Then developers built a big hotel at dreamy Mullet Bay, and the island became “fashionable,” drawing the likes of Henry Ford II and the Shah of Iran.
 
Hotels were built at Maho, Philipsburg (Isle Hotel – later Great Bay, Holland House) and Oyster Pond. Even after 1995’s Hurricane Luis devastated the Mullet Bay operation, development continued and the island continued to be a playground for the rich and beautiful, with hotels around the coast.
 
Time-shares gained popularity and became the backbone of the island’s tourism industry.
Cruise ships, which began operating as long ago as the 1950s, brought more and more tourists; and the island’s port facilities grew exponentially.
 
In recent years, cruise ships have become floating palaces that bring thousands of visitors at a time. Onshore operations have grown to take visitors on tour by bus, taxi or quad bikes. Philipsburg’s Front Street, with its duty-free shops and emporiums, is a hive of activity, along with the beach at Great Bay and the Boardwalk lined with bars and restaurants.
 
French St. Martin comes alive, too, with its world-class shops and restaurants. The adventurous can be found at the top of the island, exploring the hills beyond Mount Vernon, or down at exotic Orient Bay, where one part of the beach is reserved for naturists.
 
A wealth of amenities has led to the island’s reputation as a classy, stylish holiday spot — and a self-regenerating destination that stands up to storms. Hotels, restaurants and shops may come and go, but the destination continues to flourish. The world keeps changing, and so does St. Maarten/St. Martin.
 
With Your Memory, We Persevere
 
Remembering Robert Dubourcq, founding member, past President and Director of the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association
 
A ray of hope. A source of comfort. A force of passion. That was Robert Dubourcq for so many people within the hospitality industry. Dubourcq, fondly known as Bob, was the co-founder, past President and Director of the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA).
 
Dubourcq had a remarkable vision for St. Maarten and spent years advancing its hospitality and tourism scene. He founded the Sint Maarten Hotel Association (SHA) as a young hotelier in the 1970s and in the 1990s helped develop it into the multi-sector association it is now. He is known for always keeping his hotels full. His endeavors resulted in hotel guests returning for more; in fact, he had the highest repeat guest percentages in St. Maarten.
 
He was also the mind behind the association’s Dollar-A-Day program, implemented in 2000. Dollar-A-Day was started in several hotels to increase funds for training and education in the industry. Hotel guests voluntarily contributed $1 per night per occupied room. SHTA is proud of the program’s continued success, as this program was one of the many efforts made to support the hospitality industry in St. Maarten.
 
“Bob was THE man in the hotel industry of St. Maarten, locally and regionally. He contributed to my salesmanship development in filling rooms and, most important, I learned from him how to develop loyal repeat clients,” Keith Franca, Managing Director of the St. Maarten Development Fund, wrote in The Daily Herald. “Bob’s mannerism and gentleman-ship are additional attributes that Bob possessed that I will always remember, besides his singing and dancing abilities.”
 
Over the course of 40 years, Dubourcq steered the association toward professionalism and expansion. His dedication and love for the industry led him to win the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s
Hotelier of the Year Award in 2004 and the SHTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
 
But that was not all. Dubourcq was a local soul and strived to make island life better for its people. He volunteered in many ways, and was recognized by Rotary as a Paul Harris Fellow for his valuable contributions. Many people in St. Maarten’s hospitality and tourism industry, as well as local residents, are aware of his contribution to the country’s advancement.
 
Dubourcq’s time and efforts have helped make St. Maarten one of the premier destinations of the Caribbean, and the SHTA — as well as locals — will never forget all that he achieved for their beloved island.
 
Hotelier with a Heart
Keith Graham stands up to tough times.
 
Keith Graham is a veteran of the St. Maarten hotel world. Born in Hong Kong to British parents, he was raised and educated in the United Kingdom. Now he’s Executive Board Member and Treasurer of the St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association. His story exemplifies the old adage: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
 
Graham arrived on the island in 1983 to work as Financial Controller at the Great Bay Beach Hotel. In later years he worked as well with Divi and Maho resorts before returning to Great Bay in 1992 as Managing Director.
 
“And that’s when my involvement with SHTA really got going,” he says.
 
In 1995, Hurricane Luis brought considerable damage to the island’s Dutch side. Because of Great Bay’s southern beach location, the hotel bore the brunt of Luis’s Category 4 winds and swells.
 
“Sixty percent of the hotel was badly damaged,” Graham recalls, “but we were able to rebuild in four construction months, opening again in January 1996 with half the rooms and all the public areas completed, and finally completing the rest by April 1996.”
 
But the hurricane’s damage had long-term effects on the island’s tourism product, so an Emergency Recovery Fund was established in 1999.
 
“That was an equal partnership of tourism, government and the private sector; and there was an environmental consideration, too,” Graham says. “We ran a marketing program for two or three years, and the SHTA appointed Emil Lee and me to be the private sector representatives.”
 
“Things ran very smoothly,” Graham says, “because all the interested parties were on the same page. Everything geared to marketing the tourism product was evaluated, properly set up and paid for on time.
 
“With everyone working together, we were able to cast our tourism net far and wide. We were able to bring in the South American charters and increase the US. and Canadian market share. We also went to Europe for summer charter flights. Frankly, we were able to work wonders.”
 
That was the case as well in 2017, Graham says. Hurricane Irma caused even more damage than Luis, but the island quickly rebuilt and rebounded.
 
In Graham’s view, “St. Maarten has everything for tourism one could want from a tropical island: beautiful beaches, spectacular green hills, duty-free shopping, world-class restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. And, of course, this island is two countries in one, with visitors able to pop into the French part to enjoy that distinctive culture — and you don’t even have to show your passport. With the completion of the resorts, we are proud to welcome visitors to our beautiful island.”
 
DID YOU KNOW?
St. Maarten/St. Martin is chock-full of interesting and fun facts.
 
St. Maarten is famous for making guavaberry rum, the national spirit, from the fruit of trees that grow on the island. Tourists can find Old Man Guavaberry Liqueur in a West Indies–style shop on Front Street. You can even order a Guavaberry mojito at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan.
 
Established in 1904, Pasanggrahan Boutique Hotel enjoys a colorful history. It has been a rooster farm, a governor’s residence and a residence for the Dutch royal family.
 
The Flying Dutchman zip line at Rockland Estate is the steepest in the world, dropping 1,050 feet across 2,800 feet of cable. Riders zip down over greenery at 56 miles per hour.
 
AMA Jewellers boasts an authentic Amsterdam streetcar on its premises. Browse among quality gems, sip Heineken beer and enjoy a sweet Dutch treat, a freshly baked stroopwafel.
 
Jimbo’s Rock & Blues Café has served up its share of celebrities, among them King Willem Alexander of The Netherlands, Quincy Jones, Walter Cronkite and Chris Rock.
 
Domino’s Pizza at Princess Juliana International Airport claims the world record for delivering fresh pies to the most countries — St. Maarten, St. Martin, Saba, Statia, St. Barths and St. Kitts and Nevis — in under 45 minutes.
 
Caribbean Brewing Company is the first beer bottle recycler in St. Martin, with drop-offs in Point Blanche and at Meadowlands.
 
Aqua Mania Adventures started out as a water-skiing and parasailing outfit with a few Jet Skis in 1987. The founders, US national skiing champions, ran a slalom course in Mullet Bay Pond and staged a water-skiing show. Today the company introduces tourists to all sorts of adventures.
 
Only 12 sailboats raced in the first St. Maarten Regatta in 1980. Three years later, Heineken International became a major sponsor and the race was renamed St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Today the event draws competitors from around the world.
 
The first guests of L’Espérance Hotel, a couple from Europe, felt so much at home in paradise that they spent their days in the nude. Everyone had an unforgettable time.
 
Fort Amsterdam, the first fort built by Dutch settlers in the Caribbean, shares the same peninsula as Divi Little Bay Beach Resort.
 
St. Maarten’s 12 Metre Regatta is the only attraction where tourists can help to crew an authentic America’s Cup yacht in a breathtaking race.
 
Tri-Sport SXM reopened two days after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017. But first it had to clean up the mess left at the shop by the monster storm. How to do so without clean water? The store accessed a Simpson Bay well donated years ago by the Rockefellers.
 
Topper’s Rhum Distillery is the best in the Caribbean, according to the 2019 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards.
 
Maduro Travel, offering tours in St. Maarten since 1963, traces its roots to 1837, when SEL Maduro and Sons, N.V., began specializing in transportation by air, land and sea.

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