Saturday,  August 24, 2019  4:42 pm

PAX On Location: St. Martin's SMART conference now underway

PAX On Location: St. Martin's SMART conference now underway
Christine Hogg

Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch:

From May 21 through May 23, the largest trade show in the Northeastern Caribbean is unwinding at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa in St. Martin.

This year marks the 15th edition of the annual Saint Martin/Sint Maarten Annual Regional Tradeshow (SMART). The event, organized by the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau and St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association, sees tour operators, airlines and hotel partners to network and make appointments in order to allow foreign operators and local tourism companies to have business meetings in an organized manner.

READ MORE: Hotels reopen, post-Irma, in "safe and clean” St. Martin

There are 141 companies present this year (not including the ministries, governments and NGOs/associations invited by the four partners) with attendance recorded from countries including Anguilla, Antigua, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bonaire, Canada, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Guadeloupe, Italy, Martinique, Montserrat, the Netherlands, Panama, Puerto-Rico, Saba, St. Barths, St. Eustatius, St. Martin, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

New this year, more than 30 workshops are available to sign up for, covering everything from social media to improving the way data is used and interpreted.

Making a comeback—together

The trade show is also a great opportunity to learn more about the various products and tourism offerings available in St. Martin/St. Maarten. At the same time, it allows those who may have not visited since before Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria to truly get a good look at the island's recovery process to date.

This year's underlying theme, trade show organizers told PAX, is to show the world that the island is "working on coming back in an even better way while providing the tools for that: innovation(s) in the industry and sustainability, while standing as one destination."

On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in St. Martin as a Category 5 storm, causing significant damage and widespread destruction to buildings and roadways. Ultimately, the storm had a devastating impact on the tourism industry, as the Princess Juliana Airport was damaged, along with the Anguilla-St. Maarten ferry terminal, which shut down business between the two countries.

In the midst of the chaos, a disconnect between the Dutch and French sides of the island caused a lot of confusion. Communications were down and the French army was sent over to the Dutch side. Speaking at the CTO's Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism Conference held in St. Kitts and Nevis at the end of 2017, Rolando Brison, director of tourism, St. Maarten Tourist Bureau noted: 

“It was a very awkward situation legally speaking, and I think the shock of the situation sometimes doesn’t let people realize the need for alternative protocols. On a typical day, there’s no way the French military should be on the Dutch side of Philipsburg because there are huge international implications for that, but let’s be practical: it’s a 37-square mile island and the French initially did have more military presence than the Dutch side did, and it was a really confusing situation. What exacerbated that was the lack of communication between the chief of command."

The new Sonesta Maho Beach Resort

During the conference, PAX is staying at the recently-reopened and renovated Sonesta Maho Beach Resort.

Speaking with PAX, SMART organizers said that Sonesta was chosen as this year's venue given that it's currently the largest resort on the island and is brand new to the public. 

In September 2017, the property was significantly damaged by both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. A portion of the residences were damaged, including the Sky Tower (the main hotel building at Sonesta Maho). 

As the island began recovery efforts, the Sonesta underwent renovations which included having the Sky Tower stripped right down to its bare frame again in order to rebuild a brand new residency. Back in April 2018, the property released a few teaser images of how the redesign was going.

The all-inclusive, adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort reopened on Dec. 15, 2018 while the all-inclusive, family-friendly Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, reopened on Feb.27, 2019, with Sunwing returning to the property on March 14. 

We'll be showing you all of the new renovations that the hotel has gone through, stay tuned for more details!

In the meantime, make sure you follow along for behind the scenes photos on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more coverage on the conference and the beautiful island of St. Martin/St. Maarten!

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