Draft STA law seeks to cover quality control, licensing of tour operators

PHILIPSBURG - A proposed law to establish the long-in-the-pipelines St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA) foundation as an independent governing body ZBO with the ability to issue tour operator’s licences, review destination product quality control and general standards for tourism operators (and staff) in the form of licences, certification and training has drawn heavy criticism from Oyster Bay Beach Resort (OBBR).
 
The resort, in a press statement late Monday night, expressed outrage at the change in “the new statutes” of the STA that “gives the organisation powers equal to that of a public prosecutor and completely deviates from its intended purpose of destination marketing.”
 
The press statement quotes OBBR Owner and Managing Director Joshua Gold as saying: “The statutes have changed and now speak of new tax inspectors and regulations.” Some of the inspections relate to facility inspection and Gold believes that while monitoring the quality of service hotels provide can help improve the overall tourism product the STA imposing its inspectors seems to be of a punitive nature.
 
It is not, however, the STA foundation statutes that Gold appears to find fault with; it is the proposed law that suggests STA inspectors be able to enter tourism-oriented businesses unannounced to do quality control checks.
 
The STA foundation, a temporary organisation set up to ensure the establishment of the STA as an independent governing body, has proposed a draft law to tourism stakeholders for review and feedback. That law includes a proposal for the financing of the authority via tourist operators, licensing, taxes and fees levied on tourism operations and three per cent of the monthly revenues of government-owned companies.
 
The draft law is nowhere close to implementation. The STA foundation is still collecting feedback from industry stakeholders on the proposal. “Parts of the law that do not have the support of the stakeholders would then be omitted and the stakeholder consultative process would continue until a draft law is achieved that has full stakeholder support,” STA Chairwoman Valya Lake-Pantophlet told The Daily Herald. This line of thought was also shared in the July 5 stakeholders’ session.
 
It was “mutually agreed” during the session that all stakeholders would submit feedback and concerns in writing to STA within one week, after which the draft would be tweaked and a follow-up session would be organised.
 
“Unfortunately, we have so far only received feedback on the draft law from the Indian Merchants Association [IMA – Ed.], who was not present at the stakeholder session. We take the opportunity to thank the IMA for complying with our request,” said Lake-Pantophlet. Written feedback from St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), St. Maarten Timeshare Association (SMTA), Small Properties Association, Princess Juliana International Airport, Port St. Maarten and the Marine Trades Association is still awaited on for the draft law.
 
The draft law will need the support of the tourism and economic affairs minister before it can ultimately reach the floor of Parliament.
 
That buy-in may not come from current Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Stuart Johnson. He is quoted in the same press statement as OBBR, saying: “The STA does not have his support in its present form and requires further dialogue with stakeholders to get a clear understanding of its proposed new direction.” The STA “was never intended to police hotels.”
 
“The STA foundation agrees that destination marketing should be at the forefront of the STA, but also believes that because of the heavy competition within the region, focus should also be placed on ensuring that our tourism product can back up our marketing efforts. Further discussions on this will be held in consequent stakeholder sessions,” said Lake-Pantophlet in the statement to this newspaper.
 
The STA foundation was established by government and its board is appointed by government. The current board was appointed in November 2017, by then Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Mellissa Doncher.
 
The present foundation was established in 2014 with the goal of executing tourism policy and destination marketing, basically duplicating the efforts of the Tourist Bureau. After the current board’s appointment, the statutes were changed to no longer duplicate those efforts, but to focus on establishing the STA as a financially independent governing body.
 
The body, once established, “would replace the present tourist bureau as the destination marketing entity, while also focussing on raising the level of service and ensuring quality products and offerings to our guests,” Lake-Pantophlet told this newspaper. “This task requires the introduction of a law that would govern the STA as an independent entity, which once established would no longer be subject to lengthy bureaucratic procedures and would thus ensure swift decision-making.”
 
In the OBBR/Johnson press statement, it is stated that “after seeing the new statutes,” OBBR called on Johnson “to intervene and return the STA to its originally intended function.”
 
OBBR General Manager Ricardo Perez, also in the press statement, said the resort representatives also expressed concerns to the STA board. He felt the meeting with stakeholders was “ill-timed as the board should have given the new Minister of Tourism an opportunity to evaluate the STA.”
 
The Daily Herald

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