The Buzz at the SMART Meeting

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The island of Saba in the Caribbean.
The island of Saba in the Caribbean.

I’m just back from the Sint Maarten/St. Martin Annual Regional Tradeshow (SMART), a meeting for travel industry people from both sides of this island, Anguilla and Saba, and tour operators. There’s a lot happening in this neck of the Caribbean: hotel renovations, completely new hotels, upgrades of attractions (e.g. St. Martin’s Lotterie Farm), and more. Three developments, in particular, caught my attention:

Saba Grows Its Markets
Until recently, almost nobody went to this little island bereft of beaches, so why the sudden interest? “Better marketing, a commitment to deliver what we promote, an absence of crime, and no mosquitos,” says tourism director, Glenn C. Holm. “We’ve also expanded niche markets,” he notes. For example, Saba has been recognized as one of the top five dive destinations in the world. “In 1987 we declared all of our surrounding waters a marine park. These waters have dramatic underwater pinnacles and are teeming with turtles and fish,” says Holm.

Terrestrial ecotourism (e.g. hiking in Saba’s lush forests and highlands) also draws visitors, as does LGBT tourism. Gay travelers are genuinely welcome on Saba, and this is that rare island where same-sex weddings are legal. High on Holm’s wish list: that the currently up-for-sale Shearwater Resort, a potential alternative to the Queen’s Gardens Resort for luxury travelers, soon finds a good buyer. Tempting, eh?

Wedding Markets Multiply
Speaking of LGBT travel, “Whereas we used to get a no-LGBT-wedding business, we’re doing more and more of them now,” says Suzie Gary of Sint Maarten Marry-Me, which arranges events on both sides of St. Martin. “In fact, we have a gay wedding tomorrow.” The ceremonies are conducted on the French side of the island, she explains, “because they no longer require that you have to be there physically for the 30 days prior to a wedding.”

“Another trend we see is that more couples are opting for villas rather than resorts,” adds sales manager, Julie Zambrini. “They’re also turning honeymoons into ‘groupmoons’ by inviting friends to join them.”

Look for more on wedding trends in an upcoming issue of Recommend.

Simpson Bay Redefines “Upgrade”
Sint Maarten’s sprawling Simpson Bay Resort & Marina is in the last stage of upgrading its 300-plus suites and condos, its marina, boardwalk and seaside shopping/dining facilities. All accommodations, even studios, have full kitchens, and the renovated units feature dark wood furniture, clean white furnishings, and splashes of red. What’s more, many units have a space-saving amenity almost never seen in the Caribbean: Murphy beds, and these Murphy beds actually have top-rated mattresses.

Ready for the capper? Simpson Bay Resort has long had a beach, but it wasn’t near the newer villa building, so as you read this, engineers are creating a third beach for these premium units where there had been a stone seawall. This new beach should be in place before the end of 2015, and it will dramatically increase the appeal of Simpson Bay’s newest accommodations. For more information about the island of Saba, visit Saba Tourist Bureau.