Wednesday, 2 November 2016

ST MAARTEN: Tourism Accounts For 80% Of Revenues Generated

St Maarten Prime Minister William Marlin has offered to assist Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands with the development of their fledging timeshare markets.

St Maarten is among the small number of countries in the region that are said to be taking advantage of the lucrative timeshare market, which recorded global sales of US$19.6 billion last year.

In fact, industry players have described St Maarten as “the trendsetter in the timeshare business” in the Caribbean.

“Other Caribbean destinations need to come on board and be more receptive to the timeshare business, and St Maarten is willing to share their experiences with other countries in the region,” said Martin during a panel discussion on the topic ‘Timeshare’s Economic Impact on Destination Markets’, at the 18th Annual Shared Ownership Investment Conference at the Eden Roc Miami Beach Hotel in Florida last week.

Timeshare is a model in which multiple parties own rights to use typically a resort condominium unit at different time periods.

Stressing the importance of tourism to St Maarten’s economy, Marlin said the industry accounts for 80 per cent of the revenues generated, three-quarters of which, he said, is derived from the timeshare sub-sector.

“Timeshare started in our island over 40 years ago and despite our small size and population, we have developed and expanded and is now a leader in the timeshare business in that part of the Caribbean. For the past 15 years, 75 per cent of our stay-over tourists have been persons who stayed at timeshare properties,” he stated.

Martin said that St Maarten has the highest percentage of repeat visitors in the timeshare business in the Caribbean, adding that the sub-sector contributes US$500 million annually to the economy.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlet, who was also one of the panellists, said that Jamaica would be willing to learn from the experiences of other countries, including St Maarten, which has a vibrant timeshare market.

“We are interested in best practices; we are new on the block, we are ready to learn from the experiences of others in the region,” said Bartlett.

“The Caribbean has not had a strong experience in timeshare investments. The bigger countries in the Caribbean have not really embraced timeshare. The Bahamas has some, there are little bits and pieces all around, but we have seen it worked in St Maarten, Aruba and Dominican Republic, and so Jamaica is looking in that direction.”

In his remarks during the panel discussion earlier, the tourism minister told hundreds of industry players that Jamaica was ready to conduct business in the lucrative timeshare industry.

He noted that the Timeshare Vacation Act, which came into effect on May 1, signalled that the island is open for business.

“We represent a new frontier with new opportunities and new prospects. So I am here primarily to begin the conversations for us to embrace some of your experiences and, more importantly, your investments, because we want to diversify our product offerings, particularly in the accommodations sub-sector,” Bartlett told the gathering.

There are a few timeshare properties in Jamaica, which account for less than one per cent of the market in the region.

The island’s poor showing in that tourism sub-sector has long been blamed, by tourism industry stakeholders primarily, on the delay by the country in putting in legislation to guide property development and to protect the interests of investors and consumers.

Bartlett noted that successive governments have long recognised that the timeshare sub-sector is a key element of diversification which could provide a better flow of experiences that will enable the country to respond to the diverse needs of consumers and visitors.

He said he has already identified several coastal areas which have high elevations and “certain privacy” that are best suited for timeshare business, adding that meetings have been held with several potential investors. Other meetings, he said, are planned for later this year.

And Howard Nusbaum, the president and chief executive officer of the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), while commending Jamaica for putting the timeshare legislation in place, said his association is currently looking at aspects of the law to see how it will be beneficial to investors and customers.

“We are looking at the law to see if that law matches where we want to go… I applaud the Government for creating rules, passing the legislation, now we need to roll up our sleeves and look at the details of the legislation. There has to be a delicate balance. A good legislation needs to protect both consumers and developers, so if you do it right, then you can create a very vibrant industry,” he argued.

He stressed, however, that ARDA is willing to work with the Jamaican Government to develop its timeshare market.

“Jamaica has made a commitment to the industry, and for that I am grateful, and I want to work with the Government to make sure that they have the best consumer protection, and yet a platform that will grow their economy,” said Nusbaum.

Dmitri Pekhterev, Interval International’s assistant vice-president for resorts sales and services in the Caribbean, Central and South America, said that over the past four months there has been a renewed interest in Jamaica by developers.

“The legislation definitely helps. It has brought a renewed interest, and it will show that timeshare is a business that produces a lot of benefits for developers as well as the country’s economy,” he argued, stressing that “there is a lot of demand for Jamaica”.