Today’s news of Flamingo and Royal Palm Resorts both welcoming guests again from January 1 is most welcome. Once could see renovations on the two timeshare properties damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 were nearing completion, but to have them back so soon with a combined 381 units is a real plus, not in the least because 75 permanent jobs are involved.
It means the destination goes into the busiest part of the high season closer to full capacity, with The Westin Dawn Beach Resort and Spa and a few other visitor accommodations still missing. That obviously does not guarantee all these rooms will be filled, as evident from an average November occupancy of about 25 per cent for hotels (see related story) mentioned by St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), although timeshare was said to be doing better.
The Dutch side’s biggest employers’ representative acknowledged that the year might finish around 40 per cent. However, it also said stayover tourism is currently only some 35 per cent of 2019 and 20 per cent of 2016 levels.
In any case, this is the end of December and arrivals have been increasing, with 5,500 during the week of Christmas alone, up 24 per cent compared to the prior week. Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) expects to finish at 240,000 passengers for 2020, which is just a third of last year’s total and includes 82,000 during the five months since borders gradually began reopening in July.
So, while it is obviously going to take a while before the local economy fully recovers, and the resumption of cruise tourism remains unsure, a promising restart has finally been made. The situation should gradually improve further as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available and the global crisis caused by the pandemic slowly diminishes, although efforts must certainly continue to attract guests during the normally slow period too; for example, from Latin America on Copa Airlines via Panama City.
For now, it is crucial that everybody keeps taking precautions limiting the spread of the coronavirus, to protect themselves, loved ones and others as well as the industry that provides the livelihood of practically the entire population.