Category Archives: Editorials

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.

Is Peace In Paradise At Risk In The Caribbean?

The Caribbean is in every sense of the word the neighbor of the United States. All islands in the Caribbean and specifically those heavily dependent on tourism (like St. Maarten) know the saying: “If the US sneezes, the Caribbean gets a cold.” This is often used in relation to the economy. In today’s reality, the governments and peoples of the Caribbean have to be aware and prepared to deal with possible threats to US citizens in this part of the world.

Though the Caribbean is and, hopefully, continue to be peaceful, level-headed and not prone to any form of fundamentalist ideas, it is necessary to have contingency plans to identify, combat and quell any threat. A threat to US citizens in any part of the Caribbean is a threat to all the people of the Caribbean.

Any threat or suggestion of a threat means the life blood of our chain of islands in this azure sea is at risk. It means the livelihood of us as a people is threatened. It means our ability to take care of our children, ability to buy medicine, to look after our elderly, simply to grow from peaceful, developing countries to peaceful developed countries are challenged by forces, who do not belong or realize that the Caribbean is not a place to fight battles or to alienate.

The Caribbean has longer been a place that brought people together geographically and after many struggles have keep us together in one spirit with different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. Our unique differences bind us. Our determination to build countries surpasses any divider.

It is unnerving to read the warning issued “out of an abundance of caution” on Sunday, February 9, 2014, by the US Embassy in Guyana that called on all US citizens booked to travel on Caribbean Airlines CAL flight to make alternative travel arrangements. No details – quite possibly for security purposes – were given about the “unconfirmed threats” which led the embassy to issue such a specific travel warning.

Despite for which country the threat is issued for, the one motivating fact in this un-Caribbean situation is Caribbean Airlines is as vital to these islands in the sun as milk is to a new-born. It does not matter to which country this regional airline belongs. What matters is those white iron birds so poignantly embolden with a hummingbird is a Caribbean symbol, through and through.

Any warning, therefore, is a resounding warning to the Caribbean as a region. It is a warning for every country and its people to become aware that we must be ready for the new realities of the world we live in. Being ready does not mean paranoid; it means we as a region need to become even more vigilant to protect our life source – tourism.

The Caribbean must remain a place where our neighbors to the north can visit us freely and not have to watch over their shoulders. But for that secure feeling to remain, all countries need to be prepared to deal with the fallout of travel warnings whether it is related to a mosquito disease threat or threats of a man-made and sinister kind.

Tourism officials, locally and regionally, must come up with contingency plans to deal with any travel warning. They must be ready to counter any misgivings, ready to accommodate displaced passengers – ready and always prepared to take care of their countries and by extension the wider Caribbean. The waters of the Caribbean Sea separates one island from the other. The innovations in air travel keep us forever linked together through airlines such as Caribbean Airlines, LIAT, Inselair, Winair and AirStMaarten.

No one in the Caribbean, not now in the reality of today’s world, can turn away and say: “No, it can’t happen to us.” Yes, when the US sneezes, the Caribbean catches a cold. Same holds true that when a symbol, a vital link for our islands, is cast in a shadow, the Caribbean can’t see its famous sun. Peace in paradise would definitely be at risked if that was to be the case in the Caribbean.

St. Maarten should be on the road to Economic Transformation

At this point in our development as country St. Maarten, we need to look at areas of possible economic transformation. Such a vision would incorporate and be part and parcel of continuing to improve the quality of life of people and that of the country.

The areas identified for sustainable development would not increase our foot print as a society on our fragile environment, but would only enhance our country’s wealth which in turn can be re-invested for future generations.

As part of the vision, why can’t we develop the “St. Maarten Shipping Registry” and achieve recognition from the global market as a top jurisdiction for vessel registration and a popular flag of choice. Yes we can, we have achieved as a destination where our Port of St. Maarten is one of the top cruise ports in the Caribbean. Yes, we can, and yes we have achieved in cruise tourism, so we can also become one of the top Shipping Registry destinations of the world. And besides a shipping registry, let us not stop there but also develop our own “St. Maarten Aircraft Registry.”

The Cayman Islands (a British dependency) has developed this sector and they see the enormous opportunity for growth and development of the shipping industry, which has been considered so significant as a third pillar of the Cayman economy in the long-run. The registry has 1,900 vessels carrying the Cayman Islands flag and over 800 are mega/super-yachts which we see every season docked in Great Bay, Simpson Bay or in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Besides the Cayman’s being a top jurisdiction for vessel registration, the additional benefits in this area still to be explored and developed by the Cayman Islands are environmental studies, maritime law, naval architecture and servicing commercial and leisure traffic.

As part of the vision, why not develop the “St. Maarten Stock Exchange” (SSX). The SSX can be a supporting element of a shipping registry, and is considered as a cost-effective alternative to listing on larger exchanges in North America or Europe, and would provide benefits to ship owners and managers.

Why not envision the development of the “St. Maarten International Business & Financial Center” that encompasses asset protection, wealthy management, insurance and banking services. This area has successfully been developed in other parts of the Caribbean and has contributed to the wealth of those countries.

The Cayman Islands for example in this sector employs 12,600 people or 36 per cent of total employment, out of a total population of 57,000. In December 2010, Barbados had 45 offshore banks, 242 captive insurance companies, 3.065 international business companies and 408 international societies with restricted liability.

In Bermuda (British dependency), the international business & financial sector contributes 24.2 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so one quarter of their economy is based on this sector, and provides 3,867 direct jobs. The British Virgin Islands (British dependency) gets 45 per cent of its GDP from this sector and has 750,000 offshore companies registered.

These sectors are all high paying jobs. All these new areas of opportunities for country Sint Maarten will have a spill-over affect into other areas of our national economy if we as a country were to facilitate economic transformation. It will besides creating opportunities for our educated people and those studying abroad first and foremost, it will also result in a better quality of life for all.

The trickle down affect will be felt throughout society; better services (education, health, senior citizens, youth care and development); better infrastructure; more public housing; and helping to create and build wealth for every member of society.

Again, do not let it become an excuse that because other islands already have these sectors that I mentioned, that we as a people cannot venture out and facilitate their development, because 25+ other islands in the region today are in the cruise and stay-over tourism business as well, and that never stopped us from developing both. We have succeeded in doing it the St. Maarten way; by being visionary, innovative, and pro-active; the hospitality and friendliness of our people both North and South; and the natural beauty of our country, are some of the feats and assets that have kept us ahead and up-front.

Key to economic transformation and development is a stable political, social and economic environment. The country has experienced some turbulent times within its first three years and two-months of country status.

The dynamics of country St. Maarten should not dare us to dream. We have done it before, but we need to continue. The region and the world are not static. What is an advantage today is a disadvantage tomorrow.

2014 and beyond will require 21st century thinking.

By Roddy Heyliger

Another area of economic transformation: St. Maarten E-Business Enterprise Center (SEBEC). Read more>>>

Is St. Maarten innovative enough?

Is St. Maarten innovative enough?

As St. Maarten tiptoes on some levels to prove its worth as a country, “innovation” still proves to be the illusive boon. This situation is not unique to St. Maarten. A recent World Bank report says Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs “lack innovation curbs” in creating quality jobs.

Are we so contented with the way things are, that we fail to risk the unknown, for fear of not making the grade? Too often, we see companies and people shuttered in their old ways of doing things.

The World Bank says “a deep cultural shame of failure” is hindering innovation in the region by dissuading entrepreneurs from taking risks. When will St. Maarten see more, new and innovative ideas?

We have heard talk over the years about plunging into offshore banking, expanding St. Maarten influence in the field of regional telecommunications, becoming the region’s shipping hub, restructuring or modernizing the way we embrace the adult entertainment industry and commercial sex workers to name a few. But, we are yet to see tangible steps forward.

What is innovation? The Conference Board of Canada defines innovation as “the process through which economic and social value is extracted from knowledge through the generation, development, and implementation of ideas to produce new or improved strategies, capabilities, products, services, or processes.”

Simply put, innovation can be described as the introduction of something new. The something new can be a new idea, a new device, or a new method of doing something. Something new does not necessarily have to be something entirely new; it can be an improvement of something that already exists.

Are we really too comfortable to risk it all on dreams of being the frontrunners. Why do we sit around and wait for the others to “come in” and do it.

To be fair, we are a young nation, though in the making for some years. Our visionaries need to be nourished with the food of all the possibilities. Visionaries also need to be empowered to return to the island.

The World Bank say entrepreneurs are “key actors” in turning low productivity around to create quality jobs and lasting economic benefit for the region.

Consequently, the report recommends establishing an economic environment, which enables entrepreneurs to innovate and compete, thereby reducing the grip of monopolies, increasing productivity and diversifying the business environment.

In launching the new Washington-based financial institution’s flagship report, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean, Augusto de la Torre, said “a massive” 60 per cent regional employees work for businesses with five or fewer employees. “This is evident as much in individual reticence at a business level as in the low levels of investment in research and development, especially from the private sector,” it said

President of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, Dr Emsley Tromp, at the National Economic Forum, organized by Fundashon Pro Inovashon Nashonal, Curaçao, in October 2013, said it is very important to make sure the necessary conditions exist or can be created to increase innovations. He was speaking on the backdrop of a recent visit by Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

He said, “In the central bank, innovation plays a role from things as basic as the central bank’s office operations to new ways of fulfilling our main tasks laid down in the Central Bank Charter. In our general office operations, we are constantly seeking ways to reduce costs. Some recent examples are internet phone services, the replacement of fluorescent light bulbs by LED light bulbs, and the placement of solar panels.”

Tromp went as far as calling for “innovation” in the way Kingdom partners co-exist. “Three years of new constitutional relations have been overshadowed by frequent tensions between the new Kingdom partners and the Netherlands. These tensions included the intended limitations on settlement in the Netherlands for citizens from the Caribbean Kingdom partners and instructions by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to balance the government budget and improve public governance.”

Another suggestion from The World Bank is modernizing ports, transport, and customs. This “can add a competitive edge to products from the region”. Currently, it said poor public services, communication links and transport infrastructure are “adding to the obstacles to boosting production capacity in the region.

St. Maarten is miles ahead in the areas of cruise tourism and (trans-)shipping, as a regional airport hub and is looked to by others in the region as an example of (positive and negative) infrastructural development. But more innovations are needed. St. Maarten has the languages, the geographical position and the drive of its people to become more of a forerunner for the next big thing in the Caribbean, be it clean energy production, e-zone hub or just an outstanding holiday spot that exceeds expectations.

St. Maarten Should Romance Regional Caribbean Shoppers

St. Maarten Should Romance Regional Caribbean Shoppers

by Rajesh Chintaman

St. Maarten should be doing more to attract regional Caribbean shoppers.

Large groups of people crowding the corridors of St. Maarten supermarkets and meticulously packing boxes and barrels on the outside are becoming a normal and welcomed spectacle. They chat in melodious Caribbean dialects as they bustle obviously to beat a travel clock. These big spenders and year-round visitors are a major group of shoppers St. Maarten too often overlook.

These shoppers are worth romancing. They are from “sister islands” as far as Dominica, Montserrat and Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis. Just a glimpse at their boxes and barrels tell the stories of their final destination scrawled in permanent marker: St. John’s Parish, the Gut, Roseau, …

There is no doubt this homogenous group of visitors are here to enjoy St. Maarten’s duty free shopping, an escape from their islands’ high Value Added Tax (VAT) on many items. They come to shop, but they also squeeze in a mini vacation by staying in small hotels, dine in our restaurants, and shop on Back Street and Front Street and, in some cases, visits with family and friends. They are a steady flow of economy boosting visitors who purchase everything from food items, electronics, household items, clothing and even brand name luxury goods such as watches and jewellery.

Observing all of this, the following question comes to mind…

Is St. Maarten doing enough to fuel this money making sector?

St. Maarten Small Properties Association (SSPA) President, Nzinga Lake says, “St. Maarten is not doing enough for our Caribbean brothers and sisters. They spend, from my estimation, more than most traditional stay-over visitors and, definitely more, than cruise passengers. We see them here three to four times a year.”

These regional shoppers stay about three to four days and can easily spend at least US $300 to US $400 a day just shopping and about US $350 alone on hotel stay. They shell out still more cash on car rentals, meals and incidentals.

Lake says it is time St. Maarten bands together. Stakeholders should make it a priority to better facilitate the Caribbean visitor. “We need to make our Caribbean brothers and sisters feel more welcomed in our Friendly Island.”

Lake says St. Maarten is not alone in vying for the attention of these regional shoppers. Several other Caribbean islands (with lower VAT than small Caribbean islands) have woken up to the spending trend and are trying to lure these big, frequent shoppers from around the Caribbean.

Several major United States stores have already spotted the spending trends of these often overlooked Caribbean relatives. Big chain stores are now targeting these shoppers with online shopping, shipping and even delivery schedules.

Focussing on regional shoppers is not sexy enough for our tourism decision-makers.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AirStMaarten, Terrance Rey says, “Definitely, more can be done. I posted the idea a couple of years ago that we should offer free flights to St. Maarten. You know how much money this island can make? Caribbean visitors come here and load up boxes and barrels and send them home by boat. However, this is not sexy enough for the attention of our tourism decision-makers and overlooked by many in the business community.”

Airline prices are “a huge hurdle” to many shoppers. Small hotel representative, Nzinga Lake says airline tickets should somehow be subsidized by at least US $150.

We would then see much more Caribbean big spenders, says Nzinga Lake.

These Caribbean visitors are some of our biggest shoppers and spenders. Boutique hotels such as Paradise Inn, Llama Guesthouse, Bute Hotel and Seaview Hotel and others have capitalized on this development.

Paradise Inn, for example, has the advantage of close proximity to several major supermarkets and superstores and is usually solidly booked out by regional shoppers and tourists, who spend a day, a weekend or often at the most an entire week.

Llama Guesthouse is a hub for visitors from St. Kitts and Nevis who arrive by ferry to St. Maarten regularly. One downside for these visitors is that they lose valuable shopping time waiting on Immigration Officials at the dock. The boat often arrives around 5:00am and passengers have to wait some two to three hours for go through the official screening which in itself takes time.

For many of these regional visitors, it is a race against the clock to get everything on their shopping list. Some smart local businesses have learnt this and try to facilitate their needs with delivery to the ferry service at the dock when possible.

We need to make our Caribbean brothers and sisters feel more welcomed in our Friendly Island. – Nzinga Lake

St. Maarten needs to fully embrace its position as a hub for the North-Eastern Caribbean. With this embrace, there needs to be the respect for our Caribbean visitors, who share so many commonalities with the people of St. Maarten.

As they shop, there is some grumble of dissatisfaction about the way they are sometimes treated. Though technically tourists, they don’t fit the perception of the “typical tourist” to some in St. Maarten’s tourism and hospitality sector and can, at times, be treated as a bother than the big spenders that they are.

They are still faced with that unfriendly official, the unscrupulous taxi or gypsy driver who tries to overcharge them and, of course, the “fancy” Front Street store that snubbed them often just based on looks alone.

It is time to show more love to this very essential economy moving group of shoppers, so St. Maarten can add another feather in its cap, the Friendly Island that welcomes regional Caribbean shoppers with open arms and a welcoming heart.


Rajesh Chintaman is an editor at St. Maarten’s main daily newspaper. He is also a freelance writer and an avid volunteer for HIV/AIDS awareness and eradication of poverty. Rajesh Chintaman is a regular contributor to the Blog, and the new newspaper subscription site,

How Unfavorable Conditions Led To A Favorable Hurricane-free Season for St. Maarten in 2013

St. Maarten enjoys holiday breeze as annual hurricane season ends

Apart from some sweltering days of summer, the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season proved to be an easy, sometimes a little breezy one. The annual season officially ended with the fewest number of storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean since 1982.

St. Maarten/St. Martin counts itself lucky and appreciative that it was spared the rigors of being touched by one of the 13 named storms formed between June and November 2013. There is even more thankfulness that the island was spared the wrath of storms Ingrid and Humberto, which developed into hurricanes, though not major ones.

As the island enjoy much welcomed wintery after hurricane season breezes, it serves us well to reflect of the suffering of our fellow human beings in the Pacific side who have had to endure the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan (called Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines). This exceptionally powerful Category 5-equivalent super typhoon devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November 2013.

Hurricane Luis - Sept. 4th, 1995

Hurricane Luis – Sept. 4th, 1995

Scenes from the typhoon devastation, conjures up memories of devastating Hurricane Luis of 1995. That super storm flattened the island and changed life in St. Maarten/St. Martin forever. The economy came to standstill, food and water were scarce, and housing was limited. The scenes flicking on television screens from the affected areas in Southeast Asia strike a chord here in the peaceful tropics of the Caribbean.

The United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attributed the fewer hurricanes in large part to “persistent, unfavourable atmospheric conditions over the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and tropical Atlantic Ocean.

This year is expected to rank as the sixth-least-active Atlantic hurricane season since 1950, in terms of the collective strength and duration of named storms and hurricanes. Although the number of named storms was above the average of 12, the numbers of hurricanes and major hurricanes were “well below” their averages of six and three, respectively. Major hurricanes are categories three and above.

This unexpectedly low activity is linked to an unpredictable atmospheric pattern that prevented the growth of storms by producing exceptionally dry, sinking air and strong vertical wind shear in much of the main hurricane formation region, which spans the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

NOAA said it will issue its 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in late May, prior to the start of the season on June 1.

Weather has no master and its domain is the world. As we move on to cooler times and the new year of 2014, let’s remember to be always prepared.

For more information about St. Maarten weather and hurricanes, visit


Is it Dollars or Nothing for St. Maarten?

As it seems, many are sitting on the fence as it relates to dollarizing the St. Maarten economy. The Social Economic Council (SER) has taken a strong position calling for “immediate steps” to be taken for an orderly transition to the circulation of the United States Dollar (USD) as the official currency in St. Maarten. The Dutch Caribbean Country St. Maarten currently uses the Netherlands Antilles Guilder (ANG) as its official currency.

The reluctance in some sectors in the community to take an active stance baffles outsiders, who ask why the business community isn’t demanding this change. Even after SER released their follow-up advice on dollarization there is still deafening silence from in the country.

That advice from SER comes as reports surface of the mounting current account deficit of the joint monetary union of Curaçao and St. Maarten reported by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS). This deficit is primarily caused by Curaçao.

The SER advice, published on November 22nd, 2013, in the National Gazette, also urges government to take measures to avoid any negative price effects on consumer goods from the elimination of the Netherlands Antilles guilder.

From the point of view of risk aversion, SER emphasized that a well-prepared and organized move to dollarization “will probably take at least a full year.”

Government also has to “accept compliance” with fiscal rules and benchmarks. Those include rules and benchmarks implemented by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT and measures to compensate for the loss of seigniorage and licence fee revenues. Government must find ways for the maintenance of sufficient reserves in the event of external shocks as this is among the central concerns in the new dollarized situation.

In the CBCS report, “Is Dollarization the Right Approach?” the banks makes the case for dollarization. The report concludes, “Dollarization is a viable alternative monetary system for Curaçao and St. Maarten, as it eliminates the balance of payments risk. Hence in our case, dollarization is not a prescription for inflation but a measure to protectus from perils and promote sound and sustainable economic growth.”

Conventional wisdom is that countries dollarize to restore monetary stability and to impose fiscal discipline. However, the lessons learnt from the 2008 great recession have served to drive home the fact that St. Maarten and Curaçao are susceptible to other kinds of risks including balance of payments risk and supervisory risks, according to Central Bank President, Emsley Tromp.

Now the onus is on St. Maarten authorities to get the ball rolling, but some support from the wider community will definitely help fuel the dollarization movement.

Is St. Maarten’s engine set for overdrive?

KLM Jumbo Jet Landing over Maho BeachIs St. Maarten’s Engine Set For Overdrive?

Talking to businesspersons in St. Maarten you initially get the complaint mode that most of everything is bad. But delve a little deeper and you will uncover a complex explanation that leaves any newcomers wondering what makes St. Maarten the place “to be”.

The majority of the country’s well oiled businesses are making money and this can be attributed to the fact that there is a sense of global recovery. This year’s “slow season” is being described as better than last year’s…a good sign for the layman trying to gauge if St. Maarten is in recovery mode.

This “good sign” brings high hopes for the people of St. Maarten even as speculations swirl and a congregation of businesspersons debate the impact the American government shutdown and the debacle over the raising of the US debt ceiling.

As the Friendly Island’s economic engine picks up pace and speeds into our “high season” optimism is high; mainly due to the fact that most of our visitors have already booked their vacations.

Government has finally passed a workable budget adding another layer of good spenders to strengthen economic growth. This development is making savvy political observers breathe a lot easier with the knowledge that by averting possible austerity measures, which was more than likely if the Dutch were forced to balance St. Maarten’s budget, the country is continuing to climb the “growth hill”. And of course now this means that money should be available.

So as we meander into the coming New Year our next big challenge is passing that long overdue 2014 budget.

Which Should Come First: Passengers Or Aircrafts?

Terrance Rey“Which Should Come First: Passengers Or Aircrafts?”

by Terrance Rey

In the July 2013 issue of AirStMaarten newsletter, I expressed the need for a Caribbean-wide charter operator and explained my dream of how to achieve this…. By creating a network of travel agencies throughout the Caribbean that can serve as feeders for this charter operator.

Coincidentally, as I am busy writing this article, I get a phone call from a client. They have a group of 16 passengers stuck in Antigua due to a LIAT cancellation. We don’t have immediate access to a 19-seater aircraft in the region that we can use, so that means we have to use two 9-seater aircrafts to execute this charter.

In last month’s issue, I also wrote that presently, here in the Caribbean availability of commercial and charter airline capacity to airlift twenty (20) or more passengers at a time is very limited. Using two 9-seater aircrafts instead of one aircraft that can carry these 16 passengers is cost-prohibitive. If the client does not have a choice, they will pay the price. But it is not the ideal solution.

So again we get confirmation that there is a need for a charter operator with aircrafts in this category. However, I would not like to take the risk of creating such a charter operation with these type of aircrafts without being certain we can get business on a consistent basis to make it financially viable. Therefore, the strategy to consolidate a network of travel agencies that has the volume to fill these aircrafts is the prefered route I choose to take.

In July 2013, Dutch Antilles Express (DAE), a Curacao-based airline operator that also flies to St. Maarten, was declared bankrupt. From its inception, this airline company has been plaqued with financial problems. It has forever been caught in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Which should come first? The aircrafts or the passengers? In other words, should you create the demand or create the supply first?

Columnist, entrepreneur and philantropist, Jacob Gelt Dekker, owner of Hotel Kura Hulanda in Curacao wrote a column as a result of the demise of DAE and pose this question of demand and supply in his column “Fields of Dreams“, which I have published here on this website as well.

However, in my logbook the answer to this question of which should come first, passengers or aircraft, is very simple: passengers should always comes first. It is the guaranteed route to profitabililty for any airline or charter operator.


Terrance Rey is owner and operator of AirStMaarten, Caribbean’s first virtual airline based in St. Maarten; organizing and coordinating commercial flights, shared charters and private charters to and from St. Maarten, St. Barths, Anguilla, Antigua, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao and throughout the rest of the Caribbean.



Editorial taken from The Daily Herald, published July 6th, 2009


News that the Executive Council has approved the Emergency Marketing Fund totalling more than four million guilders (US $2.3 million) diverted from the Social Economic Initiative (SEI) comes none too soon. After all, the initiative to make extra means available for tourism marketing and promotion as a result of the global financial crisis and its impact on holiday travel is almost six months old.


That it took so long despite the term “emergency” has a lot to do with part of the money (2.2 million guilders) coming from Dutch development funds that needed to be redirected, but in the end it’s a case of “better late than never.” At least the funds are now in place, so that the plans can be executed.

Some have questioned whether investing the money in marketing and promotion makes much sense at all, considering the decline in travel especially in the island’s main market, North America. However, with its one-pillar tourism economy St. Maarten has little choice but to try to attract more visitors and keep the local business community that depends on them going as much as possible.

Besides, experience in the last few months has shown that with attractive airfares, discounts and favourable room rates people will still come and spend money while here anyway, although perhaps somewhat less. The higher loyalty factor when it comes to the dominant timeshare sector as compared to regular hotel guests no doubt also plays a positive role.

At this late date the focus of the emergency marketing obviously will have to be on the upcoming high (winter) season. The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) had already stated that to do so the process to obtain the funds would have to be finalised by the end of July, which now appears to be the case.

As far as other measures to alleviate the crisis are concerned, the Economic Stimulus Plan that came out of the Economic Summit is being looked at by the new National Alliance/Heyliger Executive Council. This, despite the fact that the SHTA says the document provides no concrete relief for local businesses and residents.

It is fair to say, however, that coming up with measures that don’t financially burden the already cash-strapped governments or local consumer is far from easy. The SHTA in its most recent bi-monthly publication came up with a few proposals of its own, which on closer scrutiny might not be that practical or easy to execute either. For example, giving tax breaks to businesses that offer discounts of 20 per cent or more to consumers sounds good, but would be difficult, if not impossible, to control. At the same time, tax breaks lie largely in the hands of the Antillean Government in Willemstad rather than the Island Government in Philipsburg, which will, however, receive less income if it involves profit, income or even turnover tax.

Lower commercial electricity and water prices is a controversial matter, as businesses often already have relatively lower rates than the average household and the question is whether “regular” consumers would ultimately end up footing the bill. There reportedly are even some cases already where accommodations that should not have lower rates because of their nature are still receiving them.

Reducing the cost of housing through zoning, lower construction cost and tax incentives for local housing developments appears a noble undertaking, but obviously would take some time when it comes to zoning, while it’s not clear how construction cost can be reduced and any tax incentive again goes at the expense of government’s income.

The need for a better educational and vocational training system that is more geared towards the reality of the local labour market obviously is something with which most will agree, but falls under the category “what else is new?”

All in all, there really appears to be no “ quick-fix ” for the local consequences of the global downturn and attracting more visitors the island remains the only truly viable short-term option “The Friendly Island” has.

Source: The Daily Herald