The wait for a return of St. Maarten’s by far biggest group of visitors is finally over (see related story). After two postponements, further delay in reopening to Americans was simply not an option for the dominant hospitality industry clearly reaching the end of its rope, despite the US being a high-coronavirus-risk country and the French side closing its border in response.
The “heavily reduced schedule” as Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Minister Ludmila de Weever called it includes five weekly flights from Miami, three from Atlanta and one each from Charlotte and New York, for a total of 10. That may not be near last year August’s level, but it is certainly a welcome start.
Besides, those numbers can rise quickly as seen in Aruba, which is set to receive 14,000 international guests for July when it had only expected 7,000. Timeshare resorts had a room occupancy of 33 per cent this month and predict 37 per cent in August, while for hotels the latter is forecast at 18 per cent.
The island also has 14 imported active COVID-19 cases, but all are isolated and there is no indication of local transmission. Nevertheless, government is considering making the wearing of facemasks mandatory and sanctionable by law in specific situations, something Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA Minister Richard Panneflek said is being worked on locally as well.
The two Dutch Caribbean countries have their main tourism source market in common and can benefit from each other’s experiences. For example, it is reported in today’s paper that the state of Massachusetts now also requires a PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure from returning passengers, so the island needs to have such capability and capacity.
All in all, Saturday and the days to follow will mark St. Maarten’s first real recovery since the pandemic practically brought its economy to a standstill. It remains important to strictly follow the social-distancing guidelines and other coronavirus precautions to contain the current local outbreak and keep any imported cases under control.
The resumption of “everybody’s business” offers the destination a new beginning that is not to be messed up.