by Linda Straker
Tourism officials from two islands within close proximity to Sint Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport have expressed their joy at the decision by that island’s government to reopen the airport.
Dutch Sint Maarten Director of Tourism Rolando Brison, attending the destination briefing sessions which was one of the pre-activities of the 2017 State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) which opens in Grenada on Tuesday, said that the airport is set to reopen on 10October, but only for daytime landing. “More than 50% of power and water was restored within days of the storm. The Princess Juliana Airport reopens 10 October for limited flights on American, Delta, Insel Air and Seaborne. We expect JetBlue to resume flights from New York and Fort Lauderdale in early November.”
Brison said that the airport in Sint Maarten is an important regional hub for smaller islands such as Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla. He explained that 30-40% of visitors who arrive at the airport in Sint Maarten are in transit to neighbouring islands.
“The airport is extremely important to us and we, in recent years have become the hub, so it is critically important that St Marten gets up and running,” said Parliament Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Anguilla, Hon Cardigan Connor who gave assurance that by this Christmas, 300 to 400 rooms will be ready.
‘So, my message to the people who had already booked to travel for Christmas is keep your travel plans,” he said while explaining that 92% of all arrivals to the island comes through Princess Juliana Airport. The airport was badly damaged by the category 5 wind and rain from Hurricane Irma which battered in the island on 6 September.
Charles Lindon, Director of Tourism for St Eustatius also confirmed that the reopening of airport in Sint Maarten will bring a rebirth to that destination’s tourism product. He said that the 11.1 square mile island was pretty much unscathed by both hurricanes Irma and Maria, but because the main hub to the island was severely damaged, the island’s tourism arrivals and stayovers were hit a hard blow.
“That is why we are happy to learn that Sint Maarten will be up and running, because it serves as a very important hub to all of us in the immediate environment. We are smaller islands and we do understand the importance of that hub, so we are thankful for that reopening,” said Lindo.
The conference officially opens on Tuesday evening and concludes on Friday. It is taking place at the Radisson Convention Centre in St George, Grenada. The theme for the 4-day event is ‘Supercharging the Caribbean Brand meeting the needs of the new explorer.’ In the wake of the catastrophic impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on some member countries, a special session will focus on how to recover and rebuild after a major disaster.
The 4-hour session on Thursday, 12 October is designed to explore and examine the issues and key recommendations to be considered as the Caribbean rebuilds after the monstrous category 5 storms, in particular, or other natural disasters it might face in the future. It will focus on the economic cost of the disasters, including potential impact on gross domestic product, employment, the cost to rebuild and recovery time.