THE BOTTOM – In efforts to boost tourism on Saba several local restaurants and hotels teamed up to organize for the first time in Saba a restaurant week. Hotel rooms were discounted 50 percent and 30 dollar full course menus were offered at the participating hotels and restaurants.
The local government has put together a Tourism Action Plan 2016-2018 which contains specific action points. In line with the plan the restaurant week focused on attracting tourist from the nearby islands like St. Maarten. “I thought it was time for the local restaurants and hotels to start working together. We can’t always depend on the tourist office or government to help to stimulate tourism or our businesses.” commented Claire Verbeke–Nuyens, owner of Queens Gardens Resorts. The local government is looking for support from the Dutch government to accomplish the goals set in the plan.
Verbeke-Nuyens and her team consisting of Johanna Schutten and Xiomara Coffie of Juliana’s Hotel and Tropics Café and Tjeerd Abma of Brigadoon Restaurant were the driving force behind this event which was also well received by the local community. “It was a great success. We saw 20 plus persons every night in our restaurant, which in September during the slow season is a very good thing. Even locals who we don’t normally see in our restaurants came out and they seemed to have enjoyed it,” said Verbeke–Nuyens.
A copy of the Tourism Action Plan was presented to Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp during his recent visit to Saba. A number of activities mentioned in the Action Plan will be financed through the available local funds. Additional funding will be requested from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment I&M and the Ministry of Economic Affairs EZ.
The restaurant week was advertised in St. Maarten and the main airline agency to Saba Windward Islands Airways (WINAIR) offered special discounted rates throughout the week. St. Maarten as one of the main hubs for travelers to the region is important to Saba.
In July Tourism Commissioner Bruce Zagers and his team travelled to St. Maarten to meet with key partners in the mission such as activity desks, management of marinas, yacht rental companies and St. Maarten’s Minister of Tourism.
While praising the Commissioners plan Verbeke–Nuyens suggested more be done on the short term in terms of advertising Saba to potential visitors in St. Maarten. Although the hotels offered half price on hotel rooms, not many reservations were received as anticipated. “The activity desks in St. Maarten need to be made more aware about what Saba actually has to offer,” she pointed out.
The Tourism Action Plan highlights several indications of the drop in tourism activities on Saba. Examples noted were the decisions by management of two of the three dive shops to put their businesses up for sale seeing that they are barely operational. Also in the past there were seven fulltime dive boats operational, however now there are only two. In line the number of dives per year has decreased. Moreover over the past five years airline and ferry trips to Saba have decreased significantly.
Keeping in the momentum Verbeke-Nuyens and her team are organizing a lobster weekend in the last weekend of October, where they will team up with local fishermen to offer affordable lobster menus. And the team is already working towards hosting a Taste of Saba weekend next June, where all hotels and restaurants will team up to attract visitors and locals alike to engage in a weekend of special deals.