Hospitality First, a St. Maarten Training Foundation (SMTF) academic initiative, has announced that it has received a grant of approximately $4.5 million from the Governments of Holland and St. Maarten. It is anticipated that additional funding will come from trust fund administered by the World Bank for €470 million which was set up by the Government of The Netherlands to assist with the reconstruction and recovery of the island. The trust fund was signed in Washington, DC on April 16, 2016 between The Netherlands and the World Bank.
Recognizing the urgent need to provide a social safety net to employees of the hospitality industry who risked losing their jobs due to the closure of the resorts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, as there are no unemployment benefits in Dutch St. Maarten, SMTF was established in December 2017 by a group of concerned business executives, including representatives of the Maho Group, Sunwing Group, Price Waterhouse Cooper and Lexwell Attorneys, with the immediate task to activate the island’s first hospitality training program for professionals. The founders initially contributed to its startup fund to cover operating costs and students’ attendance allowance.
The Governments’ grant was critical to the success and survival of the initiative, and three of St. Maarten’s successive Ministers of Finance, Mr. Richard Gibson and Mr. Michael Ferrier, as well Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Mr. Emil Lee, were instrumental in amending the Government’s budget and securing the necessary liquidity for the grant to be funded. St. Maarten has had two different governments since Hurricane Irma.
With a strong mission to aid in the development of, and further advancements of professional skill sets through integral, structural and educational programs, Hospitality First’s courses aim to enhance career opportunities within Sint Maarten’s hospitality workforce. Enrolling with Hospitality First, employers whose resorts have closed since Hurricane Irma, will not have to lay off their staff; they can refer their employees to Hospitality First for training and certification while they rebuild the resorts. Employees receive a stipend while attending the courses, keep their jobs and benefits with their original employers, including medical insurance, while improving their knowledge and skills. Hospitality First will also offer its courses to many individuals who lost their job and are currently unemployed.
SMTF has recently expanded its board of directors to include a representative of the Ministry of Tourism and Economic Affairs, a representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, and a representative of the St. Maarten Marine Trade Association. The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) was already represented on the board since SHTA appointed the president of SMTF.
Hospitality First currently expects to run its programs for two years, but may expand and extend its mission depending on circumstances. Plans to extend its mission beyond the hospitality sector is also projected.