RIJSWIJK--After ceasing service to St. Maarten six years ago, Arkefly (Shortened to Arke in the current corporate design to match the travel agency) is resuming flights to St. Maarten per November this year, the Dutch airline announced on Tuesday.
Flights from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to St. Maarten will be carried out with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner at considerably lower fares, some twenty per cent cheaper at least, than competitors Royal Dutch Airline KLM and Air France.
Arke, a subsidiary of travel organisation TUI Netherlands, will be scheduling two flights per week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. Arke's flights to St. Maarten on board the comfortable, innovative Dreamliner will be combined with flights to Curacao. The first flight is scheduled to land at the Princess Juliana International Airport on Sunday, November 1, 2015.
According to a press release issued by the Government Press Secretariat, Minister of Toursim and Economic Affairs Claret Connor, his Cabinet and the management of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau recently met with the Arke representatives, Rob Oostendorp, Product Group Manager Caribbean, The Americas & Southern Africa, and Sebastiaan de Vries, Product & Purchasing Manager Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao, to discuss the possibility of having Arke/TUI provide service to St. Maarten once again.
"We are pleased that Arkefly is returning to St. Maarten/St. Martin and already have 14 hotels that will be included in their product line," disclosed Minister Connor. "The added airlift will assist St. Maarten in reaching the leisure travellers which targets a different clientele than those that may travel on KLM."
Arke mainly caters to Dutch holiday travellers, who will be able to book separate tickets or package tours via the TUI travel brands Arke, Kras and Holland International. A 9-day trip to St. Maarten will be available for prices starting at 699 euros and a flight ticket at 649 euros.
Arke's flights are also good news for the several thousand St. Maarteners living in the Netherlands. The high KLM and Air France fares have restricted many of them, especially students, from returning home for vacation.
Chairperson of Unified St. Maarten Connection (USC) in the Netherlands Melissa Gumbs deemed Arke's move positive. "Arke's re-introduction to the St. Maarten market is a positive step for improving our competitive advantage within the BENELUX (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, ED.) and the wider European market. We hope that both parties, Arke and St. Maarten, ensure that their management policies and approaches are in line with one another, so that this route can succeed," she said in an invited comment.
Arke flew to St. Maarten in 2008, but the flights generated insufficient volume and the operation was ceased. At that time, Arke served St. Maarten once a week, which makes it harder to market the destination. The start of the economic crisis in 2008 also contributed to reduced enthusiasm of Dutch travellers. Arke has high expectations this time due to the higher flight frequency, a better economic climate and the use of the new Dreamliner aircraft.
The Arke press release issued on Tuesday stated that each year St. Maarten welcomes 580,000 foreign tourists, including 17,000 visitors from the Netherlands. At the moment, Dutch travellers to St. Maarten can choose from three flights per week via KLM. With the two extra Arke Dreamliner flights, TUI expects to be able to bring an extra 15,000 Dutch tourists to St. Maarten each year, almost doubling the current number.
With a total of nine flights per week this year to the Dutch Caribbean, the islands are by far the most popular destination for travel organisation TUI Nederland. Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire draw a combined total of 200,000 tourists, business travellers and people visiting family on the islands. With 70 local employees, TUI is an important employer on the islands. The company is considering opening a sales office in St. Maarten to sell single tickets.
An appealing aspect for Arke's travellers is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft that the airline uses. In June 2014, Arke became the first Dutch airline to add this aircraft type to its fleet, with the second Dreamliner arriving in December. The third is scheduled for delivery in March 2015. The Dreamliner is lighter, quieter, more fuel-efficient, and therefore more environmentally friendly. Above all, it is more comfortable than the current generation of passenger aircraft.
Princess Juliana International Airport SXM Director Regina LaBega was also delighted with the return of Arke.
"Arke Fly left the market years ago and we maintained contact with TUI, the main tour operator. We were always convinced that the re entry of Arke Fly in the market, would allow for more seats from the Dutch Market, and ultimately a more competitive pricing strategy," she told The Daily Herald in an invited comment. "Lydia Haverman of Interreps, the country's (former) marketing firm in Holland worked hard for Arkefly's return to SXM."
LaBega listed several reasons for attempting to bring back Arke. Aside from pursuing a more competitive pricing strategy on the Holland – Sint Maarten route, she also noted the importance of diversification. Mixing airlines from various markets would make the island less dependent on one source market.
Bringing Arke back is also important for the island's hub function. In addition, Hotel RIU is an important partner for airport, and Arke has ownership in said resort. Sunwing is also a key carrier servicing the Canadian market, a key partner, and Arke Fly has ownership in said company as well, Labega said.
As for representation in the Benelux market, Minister Connor and the St. Maarten Tourism Bureau are going through the process of identifying and subsequently selecting a firm that would once again give St. Maarten an effective presence in this key market. It remains a priority for the Minister and has the urgent attention of the bureau as well, the Press Secretariat press release stated.