Port St. Maarten, an always popular cruise port in the Caribbean, has recorded higher than expected cruise ship arrivals and passenger numbers over the first eight months of 2022. However, those numbers only show one side of the story.
The Caribbean cruise port is one of many experiencing the effects of the drive for renewal that we’ve seen from several cruise lines in the past two years. Many ships sold off or scrapped were the vessels that often called to St. Maarten on the longer 7-day plus cruises, putting a damper on the arrival numbers this past summer.
St. Maarten Sees Decrease in Cruise Activity
Over the first eight months of 2022, the Dutch-French Caribbean island of St. Maarten in the Leeward Islands recorded 316 cruise ship calls. Those ships brought 493,000 guests to the Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten (the French side known as St. Martin), exceeding expectations by 55,000 guests.
While those numbers would seem promising in a post-pandemic year, where most of the cruise industry has been rebuilding, the fact is that St. Maarten has been seeing a decrease in cruise ship activity during the summer months.
Many business owners and those dependent on the cruise industry have seen less business than they used to in the past. The reason? Cruise companies have scrapped more than 25 ships in the last two years.
Minister of Tourism & Economic Affairs, Hon. Omar Ottley said: “Many business owners and stakeholders have been concerned with the low cruise activity during the summer period. We found it important to notify the public that the decrease in cruise activity was no fault of the destination but due to the salvaging of numerous ships during the pandemic.”
The summer season in the Caribbean is typically a quieter time, as cruise companies prefer to send ships to the Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe, and the UK.
Although this has always been the case, most ships that have been scrapped would usually stay in the Caribbean sailing on longer 7-day cruises, typically including St. Maarten.
Port St. Maarten Group (PSG) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alexander Gumbs: “More than 25 ships were taken out of service, which we are now feeling the effects as a seven-day itinerary destination. Many of the brands are still sailing shorter itineraries of four to five days due to industry concerns surrounding the pandemic.”
Looking Towards a Strong Recovery This Winter
While local businesses will be disappointed and struggling to recover from the summer season, they will be happy to hear that Port St. Maarten expects a strong recovery this winter. From November, most ships will have returned to the Caribbean and will be sailing at full capacity.
Omar Ottley: “What is important is to focus on the promising season ahead where vessels are expecting a 100% and above occupancy. This projection will increase activity in Phillipsburg and throughout the island, boosting economic activity.”
Cruise companies have been performing well over the last months, with many ships returning to 100% occupancy, with some vessels achieving 110% occupancy levels. For both Carnival and Royal Caribbean, this number is expected to remain high due to the relaxed COVID-19 measures onboard the ships.
For September, only seven cruise ship calls are scheduled for St. Maarten, from Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, and Disney Fantasy. For October, there are eleven calls scheduled. However, more than 50 ships are scheduled for November, and 87 cruise ships will visit St. Maarten in December.
While business has been slow in St. Maarten over the last couple of months, the island’s inhabitants will see a significant increase towards the end of the year and into the new year.