During a trade mission to New York in mid-June, Valerie Damaseau, president of the St. Martin Tourist Office, marked the importance of the visit.
"This is our first in-market visit since the pandemic," she said, "and it underscores the significant value we place on the U.S. market, and in particular the northeast region, which continues to be our most important source market."
Arrivals to St. Martin, the French side of the Dutch-French island, "are ahead of our projections," she said. "We relaxed our entry protocols on April 1, eliminating the testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers in acknowledgement of our successful management of the Covid pandemic."
One thing helping propel the arrival numbers is the destination's 2022 theme and focus on gastronomy and culinary culture. (Last year's theme was romance; 2023 will showcase events.)
"The culinary theme was chosen for this year in the wake of media coverage and public success of our Festival de la Gastronomie held last November," Damaseau said.
Travel advisors are 'carrying the message'
Travel advisors are also being used to showcase the island and draw visitors, according to Damaseau. "They are so important to carry the message of St. Martin to their clients who may not have considered St. Martin in their travel plans," she said.
The tourist office staged its first Fly In June 18 to 21, during which advisors from St. Martin's main U.S. markets were brought to the island to experience "what they see at trade shows." They selected their activities, were given cars to explore both the Dutch and French sides, accommodations were split between St. Martin and St. Maarten - "and off they went to explore," Damaseau said.
More Fly Ins are planned.
Who is traveling to St. Martin?
"Our challenge now is to find out who our visitors are and determine what are they looking for," Damaseau said. "The pandemic shifted not only the visitor mix but also visitor expectations. We have quite a few millennials, families, environmentalists, activity-seekers, history buffs, those who want boutique accommodations or villas as well as day-trippers and our returning guests who know exactly where they want to stay and what they want to do while here."
The tourist office launched a new website earlier this year as part of its overall communications strategy. The navigational tool offers content in four languages (English, French, Spanish and Portuguese), lots of photos and an updated design.
Its home page captures the user's attention with drop-down choices to complete this sentence: "I want to ___ with ___" (example: I want to 'a taste of paradise' with 'my family') It offers suggestions on dining choices, accommodations, activities and experiences with links to information and location coordinates.