Collective step back

Collective step back

A Delta repatriation flight to Atlanta left Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) on Thursday with some of the last United States guests who stayed through the COVID-19 border closure and lockdown. When the destination will again be receiving visitors from North America, its biggest market, remains to be seen, but they are likely to be even fewer than usual during the traditional low season.

A day earlier several boats also departed Simpson Bay Lagoon, with the pandemic’s future impact on the yachting and cruising sectors still unclear. The tourism economy cannot realistically be expected to recover in a significant manner before at least the end of the year.

Until then the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) is to keep the country going and prevent business closures, mass layoffs and a sharp increase in poverty with all social consequences. Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops confirmed the approval of NAf. 20 million in liquidity support. This is to be used for the rest of May to help fund – among the things – the payroll subsidy and a stipend for newly unemployed, with the Kingdom Council of Ministers to start its decision-making for June today, May 15, and for the period up to September on July 2.

But Knops also made it clear that St. Maarten has been asked to create financial space of its own to fund other parts of the SSRP. That is a tall order with government already facing steep declines in its revenues especially from wage, income and particularly turnover tax, along with a pre-set maximum budget deficit.

Steps to limit personnel cost within the public administration appear inescapable. The relevant labour unions are understandably not happy about this, although the latest proposal (see related story) to lower the salaries above 8,000 Netherlands Antillean guilders per month by 10 per cent, cut in half the vacation allowance for those making more than NAf. 4,000, defer all bonuses to 2021 and reduce the uniforms budget under these dire circumstances do not seem so dramatic.

The latter is certainly the case when compared to a 25 per cent across-the-board pay reduction and other austerity measures at Winair. In most of the private sector too, far-reaching cuts have become unavoidable.

Nobody likes to hear that, but the current crisis is unprecedented, as is its foreseen effect on doing business and especially leisure travel. Any way you look at it the island will have to take a collective step back to eventually emerge stronger.