Last week I had the opportunity to visit Saint-Martin/St Maarten on a business trip and was amazed at what the destination has to offer. As a huge fan of Europe, and also of the Caribbean, this place ranks very highly on my list. My expectations were completely surpassed by the people, food, beaches and unique the European feel.
As foodie, I was not disappointed. I got my fill of fabulous French pastries, cheeses and wine as well as Dutch treats. Unlike other parts of the Caribbean, the island is very safe and friendly. Many of the products are imported from France and the Netherlands. (You’ll find all the top wine labels there, especially French, and it is also a lot cheaper than in the US!)
Saint-Martin/St Maarten is also flooded with the mega-rich and we saw about 50 corporate jets parked at the airport and marinas packed with some of the most impressive boats in the world. (I have never seen so many super yachts in one place!) The cruise season is in full swing with Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Windstar and other lines bringing passengers in daily to St Maarten – adding between 4,000 to 36,000 passengers to the population in one day.
What set my expectations so low? What I saw online. Before the trip I scoured the web to find as much information as possible. Unfortunately I found the tourism board websites tough to find and difficult to navigate. There is no one source for objective information as the island is split down the middle (half French, half Dutch) so each side does it’s own thing. Many of the operators and villa rental websites are dated. The overall impression I got was that it was backward, unsophisticated, and overpriced – and that I would be seeing a lot of airplanes. My expectations were low.
About those planes, yes, it’s true. If you try searching for video or photos for St Maarten/Saint Martin you would think the sound of aircraft landing and taking off is what to expect during your stay. Actually, a very popular thing to do is to visit the Sunset Beach Bar, located at the end of the airport’s runway. Obviously this appeals to a certain traveler, but not likely to give savvy and sophisticated travelers the impression of this upscale and exotic slice of Europe.
Take a look at YouTube and you will see A LOT of:
This video in particular has over 8 million views!
Where I’m heading with this is for destinations to be aware of the impression travelers are getting about their brand online. This is not just about your website, but what comes up on Google searches, YouTube, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Twitter etc. You want to make sure the impression travelers get (and yes, they will search several sources) is the impression you want them to have. Destinations also need to develop social strategies to inspire visitors to upload the content that will encourage others to travel there. The great news is that there is a lot of room for improvement for this unique, special place, and others just like it, to develop and improve their brand online.