Smart move: Smaller islands host trade show

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PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten -- The smaller islands of the northeastern Caribbean, often overshadowed by their larger neighbors, took the initiative this spring to increase their visibility.

The result was the first St. Maarten/St. Martin Annual Regional Tradeshow (Smart), held at Maho Beach Resort & Casino on St. Maarten.

The effort was spearheaded by the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SMHTA) and the tourism offices of St. Maarten and St. Martin. Liesa Euton-Marinaro, who previously served as SMHTA president, chaired the event.

She said Smart's objectives were to showcase the region and bring together area tourism and industry officials to unite the smaller islands behind a joint marketing effort. Apparently, the first Smart attempt did just that.

Theo Heyliger, St. Maarten minister of tourism, said the show generated exposure for those islands and hotels "that lack the budgets and resources to regularly attend the Caribbean Hotel Association's annual Marketplace.

"As Smart evolves, it will allow small Caribbean properties a presence in the trade show arena," Heyliger said. "Our goal is to become the Caribbean's premier regional trade show, with CHA's Marketplace as our model for success."

Smart brought together representatives from 13 islands who met with more than 150 suppliers, tour operators, meeting planners and travel agents.

Regina LaBega, director of tourism for St. Maarten, said many attendees were first-time visitors to the dual-nation destination.

The Smart trade show was created to showcase the region's smaller islands and to unite them in a joint marketing effort. Above, the Guavaberry Emporium, a shop in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the host town for this year's show. The presence of U.S. and Canadian agents was key to the success of the first Smart show, LaBega said. "Travel agents are at the center of our efforts to sell our destination," she said.

Smart dovetailed nicely with St. Maarten's Fourth Night Free program and a $1 million ad campaign launched earlier this year.

Both promotions were aimed at the U.S. market and were bolstered by concentrated sales efforts in California and the Pacific Northwest -- two of St. Maarten's fastest-growing regions.

"The promotions, combined with Smart, stimulated top-of-mind awareness about the region," LaBega said.

Smart was held at the 600-room Maho Beach Resort & Casino, giving that property an opportunity to tout its recent $23 million renovation.

Maho closed its doors in November 1998, following extensive damage from Hurricane Lenny. The property reopened in April 2001 with 11,000 square feet of new meetings space.

"Finally, we are seeing a turnaround in business, helped in large part by Smart and by Maho's new facilities," said Bernard Hunt, the resort's director of marketing.

Smart will be held in 2003 at Le Meridien L'Habitation Le Domaine on St. Martin, but the dates have not been finalized.

Room key: Maho Beach Resort & Casino
Address: Box 834, Maho Bay, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
Phone: (800) 223-0757; (599) 545-2115
Fax: (599) 545-3180
Web:www.mahobeach.com
E-mail:[email protected]
Sample rates: From $165 per room, double, in low season; from $225 in high season.
Location: Beachfront resort on the Dutch side of the island.
Room count: 600.
Raves: Location, location, location. Great beach; huge casino; lots of shops.
Rants: No in-room irons; no room service. So close to the airport that the sign on the beach that warns of low-flying aircraft is no joke. It's fascinating the first time to see a jumbo jet touch down or take off seemingly within splashing distance of your beach blanket. After that, it's intrusive.

Islands participating in Smart

Anguilla
Antigua & Barbuda
Barbados
Dominica
Guadeloupe
Montserrat
Saba
St. Barts
St. Eustatius
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Maarten
St. Martin

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