photo: Jacqueline Hooftman

PHILIPSBURG – Thousands of cruise passengers disembark in Phillipsburg on a daily basis. The water taxis can barely handle the flow of tourists and crew from the cruise ships. It’s very busy on the boardwalk but not everyone benefits equally from cruise tourism.

Frontstreet is the most famous street in Philipsburg. It starts Downtown with workers houses on both sides of the street followed by clothing- and souvenir shops, and ends Uptown with a slew of jewelers and expensive boutiques. Halfway up Frontstreet, next to the church there has stood a barrier for years. Even though this barrier has been unlocked and open for years, inhabitants and shop owners from Downtown still experience a barrier on a daily basis.

This is according to Gregory Arrindell, chairman of the Downstreet Business Council. “They promote this part of town as if it’s dangerous, as if the locals are going to harass you.”

Gregory Arrindell in conversation with Jacqueline Hooftman

Sint-Maarten is highly dependent on tourism for employment and revenues. The Caribbean is the most popular cruise destination on the planet, accounting for 44,5% of the global market share.

Marketing for certain stores
Cruise passengers receive a map of Philipsburg which only shows Uptown onboard of the cruise ship. “The marketing teams of the cruise ships receive a fee from certain shops in the city center for providing them with tourists” says Arrindell. “They are incentivized to promote only those shops. Next to the fee they also receive a commission over the sale of products to tourists in those shops. They check this by keeping track of coupons, cards, and stamps.”

The businesses Downtown can’t afford to shell out ‘big dollars’ to pay for marketing to compete with the designer brands located in Uptown, says Arrindell. “It shouldn’t just be about sales. Sint Maarten can provide tourists with a unique experience by including the village and promoting the local cuisine, music, art, and monuments.”

Most of the cruise tourists return to the ship after lunch. After four o’clock the Great Bay beach in Philipsburg feels deserted. Restaurants and the boardwalk get ready to close up. At the end of the afternoon the edge of the boardwalk is littered with overfull garbage bins, stacks of boxes, and filled up garbage bags. A few moments later, it’s pitch black.

‘A big portion of the boardwalk is pitch black at night. That discourages people from coming here’ – restaurateur Sabrina Petrone

Antoine by the Sea is one of the few restaurants on the boardwalk that stays open till early in the evening. “There are no street lights in this area, Downtown. A big portion of the boardwalk is pitch black at night. That discourages people from coming here for a stroll at night,’ according to restaurateur Sabrina Petrone.

Four years ago Petrone traded in her restaurant on the French Rivièra for a restaurant in Philipsburg. One and a half years ago her restaurant was severely damaged by hurricane Irma. The Peruvian restaurant next door was sold a month ago. Nearby, two large restaurants are closed and the Honky Tonk bar, which was completely rebuilt after Irma, is up for sale.

Cruise tourism for everyone
“On the Rivièra the stores would be open at night, from seven to twelve. There was live music and a lot of ambiance,” says Petrone. “It’s my dream for Downtown Philipsburg, that we get some nightlife here and that the cruise ships adjust their schedule to match up with it. That way everyone benefits from cruise tourism.”