Category Archives: Editorials

Airlift vital to recovery process St. Maarten

SXM Airport — Just as airlift is vital to St. Maarten’s tourism economy, so it is for the recovery process to normalize the situation on the island, to fly in aid and relief goods, food and water, to evacuate tourists and other temporary visitors, workers and their families and to offer an escape for those in urgent need of medical care, for those with young children and elderly family members and for those who have lost everything on the island during the passing of Hurricane Irma.

Although the SXM Airport was badly damaged, the clean up of the runway was quickly organized and military aircrafts, such as CC-130 Hercules aircrafts, and humanitarian flights were soon landing on the airport. The Dutch Marines moved quickly to put the airport under military command. The Minister of Justice approved a list of airlines that would be allowed to land at the airport to fly out passengers.

Luckily,Air Traffic Controller Tower SXM Airport with Coast Guard the air traffic control (ATC) tower did not incur any major damage. With the assistance of the ATC in San Juan, Puerto Rico, flights were quickly organized into SXM Airport. Military aircrafts could be seen landing daily into St. Maarten and many evacuation flights were executed. Even pets and other animals managed to be evacuated by caring travelers departing the island.

Many news and camera crews arrived on the island on military aircrafts. Initially, mainly from Curacao and Holland on Dutch Marine and Coast Guard aircrafts as his royal highness, the King of the Kingdom of The Netherlands arrived on St. Maarten on Monday night with the press in his entourage. Quickly, other press agencies, including CNN arrived on the island.

On Thursday, September 14th, a news crew from ABC News flew in from Puerto Rico on a private charter operated by Tradewind Aviation with the assistance of AirStMaarten and Halley Aviation Services. If St. Maarten was not already on the map, it is definitely now at the center of world with millions of viewers getting daily reports on the devastation caused by one of the most powerful hurricanes seen in the past 30 years with record-breaking storm statistics. The damage is already estimated to be well over 2,5 billion US dollars.

An image that will remained ingrained in the minds of many people is that of hundreds of people queuing up to be evacuated off the island. This situation has left many with mixed feelings ranging from anger to despair to sighs of relief. Long lines formed for days after the hurricane at the SXM Airport. The military exercised strict control over the situation and at no time did things get our of hand at the airport. So far all people stranded on the island have managed to be evacuated. Either via Curacao to The Netherlands or via San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the USA.

Local airline company Winair, despite having undergone complete devastation of its head offices at the SXM Airport leaving only the mangled remains of the structure behind, executed evacuation flights to Antigua for passengers connecting to the UK and also to St. Kitts and later to Saba and St. Eustatius.

Noteworthy, is the actions of the Dominican airline company, PAWA, that flew non-stop after the hurricane to fly in aid and relief goods and to evacuate and repatriate Dominicanos living on St. Maarten with their MD80 aircraft.

Other airlines operating evacuation flights were American Airlines, Jetblue and Delta Airlines. Also many private jet aircrafts were seen landing and taking off from the SXM Airport as well.

It is clear that the SXM Airport, despite the crippled infrastructure caused by the damages to the main terminal building’s arrival and departure halls, is playing a vital role in getting people out of the country and the necessary aid, help and relief into Hurricane Irma Damages SXM Airportthe island.

With the demand for more airlift in the form of military, humanitarian, commercial and private flights, the military and the local authorities will have to make all efforts to get the SXM Airport fully operational again and this port will be critical to the recovery and rebuilding process St. Maarten will have to undergo to allow the flow of cargo, tourists and US dollars back into the country and into the island’s local economy.

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LIFT VISA RESTRICTION FOR GUYANA

Travel Entrepreneur Terrance Rey Calls For Lifting Visa Requirement For Guyana Citizens

You have obviously heard the news already that Guyana has found huge oil deposits off of its coast in a second oil well, confirming mega amounts of oil and gas located offshore.

For years, I have been a proponent of getting airlift off the ground in the form of direct flights between St. Maarten and Guyana, a land with an abundance of natural resources that our island lacks.

A direct flight between St. Maarten and Guyana would just be a mere two-hour flight. Opposed to the countless hours travellers have to endure and the many stops they have to make presently before they reach Guyana. And vice versa.

Currently, Caribbean Airlines (via Barbados and Trinidad), LIAT (via Antigua and Barbados) and Inselair (via Curacao and Aruba) offer flights between St. Maarten and Guyana.

For years, Guyana has said that there is no bilateral agreement for direct flights between Guyana and St. Maarten. An open skies treaty between Guyana and Country St. Maarten would have to be negotiated accordingly by the competent authorities.

Another restriction in place is the visa requirement for Guyanese citizens to fly to St. Maarten.

Guyana citizens can request a US visa and use that to stay maximum 30 days on St. Maarten for business or leisure travel. This visa costs $200 US Dollars and applicants have to make a request for an appointment at the US Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. Also special photos are needed for this visa application. The visa is valid for 10 years.

As a local travel agent and airline charter provider, I would like to call on the relevant competent authorities to waive the visa restrictions for Guyanese citizens to travel to St. Maarten.

The Kingdom of The Netherlands has recently lifted the visa requirement for Colombians to travel to Curacao and to St. Maarten. Venezuelans can also freely travel to the Dutch Caribbean islands as well.

So I personally believe the same freedom should be afforded to Guyanese travellers wishing to vacation on St. Maarten or visit the island on business.

With the expected boom in business in Guyana due to the recent oil and gas finds, St. Maarten would do well to lobby for a lifting of the visa restriction and to negotiate bi-lateral agreements with Guyana.

Holland is already a number of steps ahead of us in the area of business development with Guyana and recently concluded a successful trade mission to Georgetown, Guyana, whereby agreements were made for the Dutch Government and Dutch engineering firms to assist the Guyanese Government with water works and city water management projects in Guyana.

Guyana has lots to offer St. Maarten in terms of cooperation in the areas of agriculture, food exports, eco-tourism and financial investments.

Already, we are seeing a surge of influx of investment capital from Guyanese investors investing in businesses in St. Maarten and buying properties on the island. The St. Maarten Government should further stimulate this trend by opening up discussions with the Guyanese Government to further cooperation and joint projects between both countries. St. Maarten as a nett importing country relying exclusive on the imports of all kinds of goods and foods and even basic necessities, such as rice, produce, fruits, vegetables and fish, can have Guyana as a trading partner that can offer St. Maarten security in these areas through mutual cooperation agreements.

The Guyanese Government is seeking to commission an impact study on the aviation sector now that the nation is set to grow its oil and gas producing capabilities and to get its international airport up to Category 1 status. It would behoove St. Maarten to offer strategic input into this effort as well. The agricultural developments alone in Guyana is more than enough reason for both Government and the business sector in St. Maarten to initiate trade missions to Guyana. The possibilities and resources for airlift between both countries in the form of direct flights are there. It is just a matter of developing the market and trade relationship between both countries. Let’s start by lifting the visa restriction for Guyanese to travel to St. Maarten.

“We don’t need more tourists”

Economist Arjen Alberts in a recent webinar:

“We don’t need more tourists”

By Hilbert Haar

GREAT BAY – “We don’t need more tourists. We need better tourists,” economist Arjen Alberts said yesterday during a webinar hosted by Runy Calmera, the chairman of the Dutch Caribbean Economists Association.

The webinar was followed by viewers in the Netherlands, Haiti, Curacao and Sint Maarten, where the complete economy class of St. Dominic High School followed the event on a large screen.

The webinar was dedicated to Albert’s study that focuses on the question why tourism does not lead to higher labor productivity. Today published an article about this study on January 5. Alberts is a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Amsterdam. The peer-reviewed British journal International Development Planning Review (IDPR) published his extensive article about this topic. Yesterday, Alberts elaborated on the issue in terms that are easy to understand.

The study looked at developments in Aruba and St. Maarten. “These are small island tourism economies and they both are always in the top-five in terms of the intensity of the tourism development,” Alberts said from behind a laptop stationed at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library.

The labor productivity question ought to matter to decision makers, Alberts said. “You see the tourism economy growing, but at the same time you see immigration at a high pace. Therefore, that growth has to be shared. If GDP grows by 5 percent but the population grows at the same pace you are actually at a standstill; we are not getting wealthier per capita. You grow in volume, but you don’t produce more per worker.”

The main conclusion of Alberts study is “worrisome” he said during the webinar. “Labor productivity did not increase since the establishment of the tourism economy in St. Maarten. Some people got wealthier, but on average, people did not.”

The tourism-economy model was successful in one respect, but not successful enough, Alberts added. “There was success in terms of the creation of employment for the wider Caribbean and in terms of marketing. On the other hand: the islands have limited space and they are not using it intensively enough. Instead we have done the opposite in St. Maarten: more hotels, using more space, creating crowdedness, instead of using the available space in a more money-yielding way.”

On the business level it is necessary to look at the supply chain, Alberts said. “Most of the hotel-needs are imported, but you want to offer more entertainment and more activities for tourists. You don’t want more tourists, you want a higher yield per tourist.at the moment, those numbers are actually dropping.”

From every dollar earned, the economist pointed out, 80 percent leaves the island for the import of goods and services. “That percentage must be brought down.”

What the industry ought to focus on is experiences instead of more of the same. “You want to create a memorable experience. Back in the day Mullet Bay offered this; Mullet Bay was St. Maarten, but those days are gone. To create a coherent memorable experience parties – public and private – have to work together. Aruba is slightly better at this than St. Maarten though Aruba is also coasting along.”

Alberts said that there is a lot to be gained in the field of services. “St. Maarten could be a regional hub for services, instead of an importer of those services. Why don’t we offer electrical vehicles for rent to tourists? Why don’t we reduce the import of expensive fuel?”

When Calmera asked for an example of an island that does get a batter yield per tourist, the answer was about a place right next door to St. Maarten: Anguilla. “They have built a few very expensive hotels and they generate a lot of income from it. They employ locals, sprinkles with a few immigrants. The labor productivity has increased there.” Another example is Dominica, an island that thrives on eco-tourism.

“There are no examples of islands who converted from mass-tourism back to exclusive,” Alberts said. “But something can be done: St. Maarten should not go further down the road it is currently on. They will slowly have to expand the experience.”

Right now, St. Maarten is heading in the wrong direction. “The island is not different from other tourism-economies,” Alberts says. “Unfortunately, the focus is mostly on marketing for marketing’s sake and the objective is to get as many tourists to the island as possible. It is a short-term approach. You want to go to strategy, an overall view of where the island wants to go is lacking.”

The way the tourism-economy has developed so far, is based on the laissez-faire attitude of the government, the economist observes. “The businesses have shaped the industry and the government just let it happen. We don’t manage the type of investments we need. We don’t need more investments in more of what we already have, we need investments in the quality of what we have. We have to ask ourselves, where do we want to be in ten years? And then we have to start working towards that goal. The focus has to be on investments that add to the positive experience. That way you add economic value.”

Getting back to the import of services, Alberts said that local entrepreneurs have to start producing what the hotels need. The government has to back up the development towards higher quality tourism with human resources.

“Everything depends on it,” Alberts says. “Improve vocational education, we need skills, an approach of lifelong learning. You cannot do the added value thing if your people are not qualified.”

He presents a vivid example of how St. Maarten ought to change its ways: “We have focused too much on producing five roses and selling them for a dollar each, while we should focus on producing one rose and sell it for five dollars.”

The emphasis on quality is driven by something the island does not have in endless supply: space. There is therefore an end to the possible growth in absolute numbers. “We have been running very fast while we actually have been standing still,” Alberts observes. If there is an investment option that would attract more tourists, I would say: don’t do it. We don’t need more tourists, we need better tourists and we need to make more money from the tourists we already have.”

While there is a need for better tourists, St. Maarten is currently going in the opposite direction, Alberts notes. He refers to price dumping in the cruise industry, something Today reported about on Wednesday.

“They are caught in the straightjacket of short-term thinking. But somebody has to take the long-term view,” Alberts said. “We are at the end of what we are able to achieve and we cannot go further down that road. We have to become unique, because if you are unique, you don’t have to compete that much. If you all offer the same thing, you have to compete on price – that is the only thing that matters today.”

A Daytrip To St. Barths Is Worth The Travel

While you are visiting our lovely island of St. Maarten and enjoying the tastes of France that only the St. Tropez of the Caribbean can bring you, you owe it to yourself to take a daytrip to our lovely island neighbor St. Barths. It is only 22 miles away and an air charter can get you into the capital of the island, Gustavia, in the shortest time so you can have the most time to enjoy all the sights, sounds, and differences of a Caribbean island that was originally a Swedish colony.

St. Barths has long been a winter haven for the rich and famous but that does not mean just ordinary folk cannot enjoy the natural beauty, the quiet island life, the pristine beaches, and the distinctly authentic shopping experience in St. Barths. Being already just 30 minutes away from one of the most spectacularly unique and sophisticated of the “French” Islands in the Caribbean means a daytrip to St. Barths is a must do for the Caribbean trip of a life time that you can brag about forever.

St. Barths is easily accessible and affordable if you come to St. Maarten by plane, cruise ship, or on your own yacht.

St. Barths is basically a reef. If diving and exploring for sea life is one of the items on your “bucket list”, St. Barths offers an infinite variety of fish, coral, and sea creatures that are unique to all the Caribbean. The fishing is superb as well. The island has a thriving surfing community and a yearly calendar of boat races that feature the fastest of sail boats and the tall ships of days long past.

The beaches on St. Barths still retain a pristine quality that is hard to find. Miles of beaches topped by rocky volcanic crags and a spectacular ocean view provide the perfect hideaway for a kindling of romance. The natural beauty of some of the most exotic and rarest flowers in the world makes the island a true Eden.

The 80 restaurants on St. Barths provide one of the largest varieties of cuisine in the Caribbean. The best of French food, local Creole delicacies, Asian, Italian and almost every type of cuisine in the world can be found on St. Barths. The wine list on the island is second to none.

Shopping is a change of pace on St. Barths. Hand-woven bags and hats made by local people are a treasure to everyone that visits the island. Naturally, all the best designers from all over Europe have a shop on St. Barths to cater to the rich and famous.

A daytrip to St. Barths from St. Maarten will astonish and delight you. The natural beauty, the red roofed houses, and the wonderful beaches, the variety of food, and the best shopping in the world make a daytrip to St. Barths one of the best things you will remember most from a visit to the Caribbean.

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Terrance Rey is CEO of AirStMaarten, Caribbean’s only virtual airline specializing in shared charters to St. Barths.
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St. Maarten Needs A Responsive Tourism Marketing Strategy

Much like when you are using a smartphone or tablet and you turn the screen upside down and the display automatically flips so that it is rightsided up again, the same way St. Maarten’s tourism marketing strategies needs to be responsive. The minute something happens that poses a threat or an opportunity for the island as a tourism destination, the St. Maarten tourism authority needs to be able to flip the strategy so that the policies are rightsided up again and is able to respond decisively to that threat or opportunity.

Last month, after the attacks in Tunisia whereby a gunman killed dozens of tourists, countries such as Spain and the Canary Islands immediately responded with marketing campaigns to offer sun-seeking Europeans an alternative vacation destination for their holidays this year. What did St. Maarten do? Nothing, of course. Granted, long-haul destinations are unlikely to pick up tourists originally destined for Tunisia, according to travel analyst Angelo Rossini from market research firm Euromonitor. “Destinations like the Maldives, the Caribbean and Mexico are typically more pricey and target a different customer segment.” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.com.

However, the reason St. Maarten tourism authorities were unable to respond proactively in a case like this is because the island’s tourism marketing is completely non-existent. There is absolutely no strategy or policies in place to react to or counteract any positive or negative development, whether internationally, regionally or even in the source markets for the island tourist traffic.

Now in the aftermath of the shootout in Philipsburg with Officer Gamali Benjamin fatally wounded and the island has literally been flipped on its head with this new level of crime violence, there has been a huge outpouring from St. Maarten sympathizers and long time island visitors on the internet, on forums, blogs and social media. One post alone on a forum has to date almost 7000 unique views. With this exposure in mind that can negatively impact the island’s tourism product, the tourism authorities on St. Maarten needs to be proactive and let the world see that the St. Maarten government, in particularly the Justice Minister, the Police Force, the business community and the island’s population is united in condemning these acts of violence and that swift action is taking to bring the perpetrators to justice. The image of a decisive and effective justice apparatus needs to be communicated and depicted immediately and profiled consistently so tourists and prospective visitors to the island can feel that the authorities have the situation well under control.

That level of responsiveness is unfortunately missing in the island’s tourism marketing and promotion abilities. Therefore, the call is hereby issued to the tourism authorities on St. Maarten, starting with the Ministry of Tourism, to tackle this matter immediately without any further delay as our tourism product is definitely under threat. There is an opportunity right now to do something about that with the present level of support in all sectors of the island. St. Maarten needs a responsive tourism marketing strategy, now more than ever.

Americans Will Take A Wait And See Approach

Terrance Rey - Photo by Hilbert Haar/TODAY Newspaper

Terrance Rey – Photo by Hilbert Haar/TODAY Newspaper

TERRANCE REY ABOUT CUBA AND THE INTERNAL THREATS TO ST. MAARTEN TOURISM

AMERICANS WILL TAKE A WAIT AND SEE APPROACH

GREAT BAY – How big a threat is Cuba really to St. Maarten’s economy and when will the effects hit us? Terrance Rey, managing director of several travel businesses like Let’s Travel and Travel Anywhere, Inc. says it will take at least ten years, but that the country should not wait that long before taking action. Marketing is of course the key word and exactly in that field, the island comes up short.

“You have to look first at our strong points,” Rey says in his Let’s Travel office. “What do people find attractive about St. Maarten? We have all the facilities that tourists have at home and they are comparable with what they have back home. I had a client who wanted to go to St. Barth just to see what the attraction of that island is. After a couple of days, he fled back to St. Maarten because he found St. Barth boring, even though it is a perfect island for a particular category of travelers. You go there for quietude, to see and to be seen.”

How does St. Maarten hold up against such a neighbor? Rey: “We are a small island; people are at the airport within an hour. We have beaches, bars and restaurants and we’re not far away from the US. Tourists are back home within a couple of hours.”

“People do not come to St. Maarten for the environment,” Rey adds. “If that were so attractive then islands like Dominica and St. Lucia would be top destinations, but they are not. People come to St. Maarten and they do not mind what some people call our concrete jungle.”

The dangers that are real threats to St. Maarten’s tourism industry are not external, but internal, Rey says. “The situation with the timeshare industry is a big problem. And there is the pollution caused by the landfill. You only need one tourist who claims that he caught something from it and decides to sue. That will have an effect, but you could asphalt the whole island and that would not be a problem. As long as the beaches are accessible, tourists will be happy. If that access is endangered, then we have a real problem.”

Another strong attraction point of the island is the casino industry, Rey says. “People come from other islands to gamble here. That is a real business opportunity.”

No matter what complaints people may have about telecom services and the utilities company, infrastructural St. Maarten is up to par for the tourism industry, Rey notes. “Tourist land here, they get their cell phone, their rental car and they have their entertainment in bars, restaurants, casinos and discos.”

To keep tourists coming, airlift is key, Rey says. “It is a chicken and egg issue. As long as airlines keep flying, tourists will keep coming and as long as tourists keep coming, airlines will keep flying. We must not break that circle. We have to promote the island.”

That St. Maarten hardly ever shows up as a favorite destination in reader surveys from travel magazines and websites is “subjective” Rey says and he refers to what happened after the financial crisis in 2008. “Nothing happened. Our tourism industry grew. In spite of the crash, people kept arriving.”

Rey says that the island ought to cherish its timeshare owners, though the reality is that the government does nothing of the kind. “Our system has not been established to protect the small man. That’s why timeshare owners always draw the short straw, even though they are people with money.”

As an aside, Rey says that he does not understand why people but timeshare anyway. “What are you really buying? Hot air, that’s all, the right to be somewhere for a couple of weeks per year.”

What about that external threat called Cuba? Rey thinks that it will take time for Americans to truly embrace the destination. “On the political level Cuba needs to go through quite some development. It is still possible to get arrested there at random. Before Cuba is a free constitutional state we are ten years further down the road. The majority of Americans will take a wait and see approach.”

The travelers who visit Cuba are curious about the country, Rey adds. “They have been going there from Europe and Canada, but they end up in gated holiday resorts. They do not see a lot outside of the resort, so they are getting a very one-dimensional impression of the country. But the curiosity about the authentic Cuba is there.”

Jet Blue is going to open a service to Havana and charters have been servicing the destination from Florida. “But the occupation grade with American tourists was disappointing,” Rey says. “Most of the passengers were Cuban-Americans.”

However, with Jet blue in the mix, a certain market for Cuba-oriented travel will open. In spite of that, most Americans will be reluctant to go there, Rey says. “The image of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary, is still imprinted in people’s minds. So the first group to go there will consist of people who have strong ties with Cuba – the Cuban-americans who have family there, followed by adventurers and starry-eyed idealists.”

There is however yet another group that is eyeballing Cuba: entrepreneurs. “I have already organized three charters to Cuba for real estate developers and timeshare entrepreneurs,” says Rey, but he thinks that doing business in Fidel’s backyard will be cumbersome at best for years to come.

“The Cuban government wants to keep a big finger in the pie. They want 50-50 business deals and they want to remain in control.”

Like anywhere else, the success of doing business in a foreign country depends on whom you know and on the networks you have, says Rey. “Cuban-Americans will have an advantage, because they have those contacts. The political process will take time. Only when the resorts, the casinos, the timeshare projects and the cruise industry have developed their Cuba-projects will St. Maarten be in danger.”

There is an upside to this story, Rey says. “We have time to react to this situation. We have to create awareness, and we have to do our marketing and promotion. But in the field of marketing the government is not doing anything right now.”

Interview by Mr. Hilbert Haar, managing editor of the TODAY newspaper on St. Maarten, published on the front page of the TODAY newspaper on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015.

The Ebb & Flow of the Airline Industry

We have all seen the dramatic drop in the oil price in 2014 and we have noticed that some airlines have continued to maintain the same level in their airfares despite dropping the infamous fuel clause that was used to justify the rise in airfares over the years to keep pace with the ever increasing price of oil and the burdening effect this had on the operational costs in the airline industry.

Many airline press releases tell us that the present airfares are kept at the present level to cover the years of financial deficits that have been incurred while the airlines struggled to maintain their pricing competitiveness and that the airlines will continue to use the profits generated to strengthen their airline companies’ balance sheets. In order words, airlines intend to profit from the present situation for as long as possible.

AF eats KLM

Will Air France gobble KLM up like the way of life in the jungle?

This brings me to look at the ebb and flow in the airline industry. Because despite the opportunity to benefit from lower fuel prices, there are still many airline companies struggling to survive financially or are on the brink of bankruptcy. The burgeoning overhead costs of the legacy carriers, the burdening operational costs that in most cases cannot be deferred or offset on to the passengers and the gnawing competition from the low-cost carriers and from the cash-rich middle-eastern carriers are taking a toll on the state of the airline industry.

Despite the aforementioned detrimental situation, I am intrigued by the fact that there are still many airline companies vying to enter the airline industry. To a certain extent, this can be understood. With record profits being made in the industry presently, entrepreneurs and investors see an opportunity to enter into a market that has enormous potential for huge amounts of revenues and profits. Also, as more aircrafts are being built on the promise of efficiency in both technology and fuel consumption, it is certainly attractive for new airline companies to try to enter the market if they are certain their business model can be operated more profitably and more efficiently than their predecessors.

A dream come through for Arkefly with plans to fly to St. Maarten later this year with their brand new Driemliner, the third Dreamliner in their fleet.

A dream come through for Arkefly with plans to fly to St. Maarten later this year with their brand new Driemliner, the third Dreamliner in their fleet.

So, on the one hand we see the rise and fall of oil prices, air fares, profits and losses and the exit and entry of old and new players in the airline market industry. On the other hand, like the moon having a tremendous effect on the ebb and flow of the ocean on our planet’s surface, it tickles my imagination to know what exactly is causing the similarly ebb and flow in the airline industry? Is it the just the life-cycle that every airline company must go through or is it because of the restless nature of man to be forever on the move, whether up or down, like oil prices, airline fares and company profits?

Terrance Rey is owner and managing director of Let’s Travel, Travel Anywhere and AirStMaarten. Terrance Rey has 15 years experience in the travel business as a travel agent, tour operator, charter broker and as an internet travel entrepreneur. You can email Terrance Rey directly via terrance@letstravelsxm.com with any questions you may have relating to your international travel needs.

What Is The Big Attraction At Maho Beach?

Some years ago when I did an interview for a documentary for The History Channel called the World’s Most Extreme Airports featuring the Top 10 airports in terms of extreme landings, St. Maarten’s airport ranked #5 and St. Barth’s airport ranked #4. The main attraction for the SXM Airport were the spectacular landings over Maho Beach and the extremely fantastic take-offs where people are literally blown away.

Many come to St. Maarten to experience the thrill of having a huge jumbo jet whiz a few meters over their heads as it makes a mad dash for the runway. Or to experience the hot air of engine thrusts as the jets bolt down the runway to rocket off over the Simpson Bay lagoon while the enthousiastic spectators hold on to the fence for dear life or run into the waters of the Maho Bay to escape the stinging bite of the sand blasts around them. We have seen people blown into the air, roll down the beach like tumbleweed and car windows shatter like fake glass in an action packed movie.

The Maho Beach has become a mecca for plane spotters and the Sunset Beach Bar & Griil a temple of sun worshippers, topless babes and jumbo jet watchers. Over the years the demand from cruise tourists visiting for the day has grown to include a tour visit of Orient Bay and a stop at the Maho Beach. One stop to take their tops off and the other stop to get their tops blown off. But who is paying attention to such details when a private jet streaks by so close over their heads, they almost could reach up and touch the fuselage.

Photographers have now also found a new source of inspiration and outlet for their creative talents. The many angles used to depict the aviation activities at the SXM Airport in combination with the beachgoing festivities have resulted in many impressive photographs and winning Toppix photo’s. Professional quality photography that is now even getting the attention of prestigious world reknown magazines such as National Geographic. Click here for a shot by Chris Garner that brings St. Maarten’s biggest attraction in the aviation world clearly into focus and up close and personal. Clearly St. Maarten has a new attraction that is now leading a life of its own all over the world.

As a tourism promoter of St. Maarten and its surrounding islands of St. Barths and Anguilla, I am very happy about that. For whoever does not yet understand the big attraction the spectacular aircraft landings has for all near and far, they should know that the complete replacement crew of Thomas Cook Airlines posed for a shot on the Maho Beach as the Airbus A330 of their airline company came in for the landing of its inaugural flight DK1965 from Stockholm, Sweden, on St. Maarten on the eve of St. Maarten Day, November 10th, bringing with it 395 passengers and a crew of 12.

I am certain many of those passengers have paid a visit to the Maho Beach to see for themselves what the big attraction is and I am sure many more will follow in their path. Just as long as they are careful, is my advice. It’s a big attraction that definitely must remain as such and it should not be a reason for anyone to end up in traction. We want tourists, spotters and photographers to keep on visiting and experiencing the thrill of a sensation few around the world get to enjoy up close and personal. That’s the big attraction!

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Click here to book an island tour to visit Maho Beach while on the island

Why Should Any Airline Fly To St. Maarten?

There has been a lot of debate recently about airlines and the airline industry. Especially the cost of airline tickets for travelers. For us here locally, St. Maarten as a destination has been the center of discussion on what should be done to attract more airlines to our island. But we have to understand a vitally important factor in the airline business. The only real reason any airline would fly to St. Maarten is to make money. Airlines are not in the business of promoting any tourist destination. Airlines exist to make money for their shareholders in the form of profits, plain and simple.

Many airlines have increased or are in the process of increasing flight capacity at the expense of leg room and continue to increase fares despite lower fuel costs because they are in the process of recouping the losses they sustained from the reduction in air travel brought about by the ‘Great Travel Recession‘ of the past decade.

The management of most airlines have become forward-looking and see that the present recovery of economies in the United States and Europe is the perfect opportunity to make as much extra cash as possible. The money people save at the gas station as a result of declining oil prices can be used for air travel.

One of the problems with development of more air travel to St. Maarten is the seasonal flights that only occur during the winter months from North America and Europe. St. Maarten needs to promote itself as a year-round tourist destination that will encourage the seasonal flight operators to make a change to all year-round operations.

Getting the airlines to cooperate with this objective will take incentives. The negotiations may be a bit tricky in maintaining compliance with US and European restrictions on government subsidies of airline companies and St. Maarten’s government’s budgettary restrictions are certainly no help either. But the government of St. Maarten could and should make new deals with major carriers from the US and Europe, especially Scandanavian-based airline companies, such as Finnair, looking to expand their operations internationally.

This means paying the airlines to come to St. Maarten. This could be a financial stretch for a government that is seeing deceasing tax income and less revenues for businesses with the state of the present economy. But this strategy has worked well for Curacao and many more thousands of airports around the world. So why not St. Maarten?

St. Maarten needs to look at new markets that have established airlines such as the Arab Gulf states. China and South Korea have developed a growing airline industry. Certainly, not every person in China can come to St. Maarten, but a growing number of wealthy Chinese would see St. Maarten for its attractiveness that even the vastness of China cannot offer in terms of climate and its natural environment.

Finally, advertising will make people want to come to St. Maarten and the airlines will cater to their client’s desires with more flights to St. Maarten. Again, this could be a bit of a financial burden on businesses that are not making the revenues they once enjoyed but every other Caribbean tourist destination will be doing the same thing. The competition for tourist dollars in the Caribbean and elsewhere will certainly increase tenfold the coming years and St. Maarten needs to be at the forefront of innovative marketing developments to attract new visitors to the island.

The good news is that the ‘great travel recession‘ is essentially over in the USA, Canada and Europe. Higher employment rates and more disposable income in the USA alone will mean more tourists for St. Maarten and our island has all the accommodations, natural beauty, activities and night life that make the island attractive to tourists. The basic idea is that the island will have to spend lots more money to increase inbound air travel and get back to the levels of tourism revenues that the island previously enjoyed in the booming era up to ten years ago.

Finally, it is important that tourism authorities on St. Maarten select the right media to promote the island and attract new visitors and make it worthwhile for airlines to fly to St. Maarten. Here is an example of a good media platform to use: www.mapsxm.com. Because it is really necessary that we put St. Maarten back on the map as the preferred destination for the major airline carriers.

Disappointing registration for St. Maarten voting in EU elections

Disappointing registration for St. Maarten voting in EU elections
Illustration by Peter Schrank

Illustration by Peter Schrank first published in The Economist

Of the more than 19,000 Dutch nationals living in St. Maarten only 178 have the opportunity to play their part in guiding the future of the European Union (EU) by voting in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections. Dutch nationals, living in St. Maarten, had to register before April 10, 2014, to be able to cast a vote.

Policy Advisor attached to the Office of the Dutch Representation in St. Maarten, Bianca van der Lee, said although disappointed by the level of interest in this elections, the process is running smoothly for the persons who are registered. She said there is a constant flow of people dropping in to cast their votes. Registered persons have until May 22, 3:00pm to vote at the office of the Dutch Representation on Front Street # 26.

St. Maarten’s President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell was among the first to cast her vote on Tuesday, “I call on all citizens, who registered up until April 10, to exercise their democratic right to vote between now and May 22. I made use of this right this afternoon and voted for the candidate of my choice. Not too long ago, not everyone could vote, including women. To date there are millions of people around the world who still cannot or are not allowed to freely vote for the party or candidate of their choice.”

Initiatives such as an information session at the University of St. Martin and an appeal by several political leaders were carried out in St. Maarten to improve the level of interest in the 2014 EU elections. But efforts proved futile. There was a very poor turnout at the information session and ultimately only 178 persons registered to vote.

Van der Lee said it is not the responsibility of her office to drum up support for the elections, however because there is an agreement to use their office facilities, there was an extra effort to get a strong support from Dutch nationals living in St. Maarten.

Brussels and the candidates are responsible for motivating voters, however EU candidates provided no broad-base public information about their platform to the St. Maarten public. The Netherlands has 26 seats in the EU parliament. As of 2009, Dutch nationals living in the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba are able to vote in these elections. The fact that St. Maarten seems so far from the EU, has influenced a negative turn-out in this elections as some potential voters feel there is not much influence for policy that affect the daily lives of the people of St. Maarten.

The European elections give voters the chance to influence the future political course of the EU when they elect the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent their interests for the next five years.

There have been 766 Members of the European Parliament since Croatia joined the EU in July 2013 but this number is being scaled down at the 2014 elections to 751 and will stay at that level in future. These MEPs will represent over 500 million citizens in 28 member states. The seats are allocated among the various states, by the EU treaties, on the basis of ‘digressive proportionality’, meaning countries with larger populations have more seats than smaller ones but the latter have more seats than strict proportionality would imply.

The new political majority that emerges from this elections will shape European legislation over the next five years especially in areas from the single market to civil liberties. The Parliament – the only directly elected EU institution – is now a linchpin of the European decision-making system and has an equal say with national governments on nearly all EU laws.

Of interest to St. Maarten is the European Union’s long-term spending budget which has to be approved by national governments and MEPs, then each year the two sides decide together how the annual budget will be spent. Policies such as agriculture, regional development, energy, transport, the environment, development aid and scientific research all receive EU funding. Parliament is also responsible for checking later if the taxpayer’s money has been used as intended and for signing off on the accounts if it is satisfied.