As a follow up to the very erudite letter to the Editor from Cdr. Bud Slabbaert of November 15th, regarding the need for an island “beautician”, I would like to offer some comments of support.
As a tropical island paradise destination, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is blessed to have many qualities that are sought after by discerning tourists from all over the globe. However, as Cdr. Slabbaert said, there is much improvement needed if we want to effectively compete with other Caribbean destinations and distinguish our island as the more obvious choice.
Tourists seek many things, but the list includes, in no particular order, sun; fun; quality beaches; sports and entertainment; quality gastronomic choices; ease of access by air and sea; diversity of lodging choices; safety; a diverse and friendly community; and a beautiful place to relax and unwind from the pressures of home and work.
Much of the above list is something under the control of the people of both sides of our island, through individual effort, government assistance and non-government organizations (NGOs), or not-for-profit organizations as they are called in the US.
Beautification can take on many forms. It can be as simple as keeping the environment clean, by reducing littering and forming community care groups that periodically do trash pickups in their designated area. Educating our youth in schools about the fragility of the environment and having them participate in trash cleaning projects from an early age should instill a sense of pride and responsibility that hopefully will carry through adulthood. A simple enhancement would be the installation of trash receptacles along the roadways in front of businesses and at each bus stop. The trash collectors drive past these spots every day, so periodic collection should be possible.
Beautification includes the continuing project by the government to remove the many abandoned vehicles littering our streets and parking lots. There is too much traffic on the island and allowing vehicles that are no longer functional to clog our roadways only detracts from function as well as beauty. Vehicle owners need to take responsibility for disposal and not rely on the government to do it for them.
Beautification includes the planting of tropical island compatible palm trees and flowering plants in public spaces as well as encouraging private businesses to enhance their curb appeal. The simple act of picking up the trash in front of your business location daily will go a long way to enhancing the tourist’s visual experience.
Airport Road, the main thoroughfare from the airport and first impression many tourists get of the island (after seeing the airport itself, which is another matter five years post-Hurricane Irma), needs palm trees and landscaping that welcomes the weary traveler and stimulates their visual senses where they get the “wow” factor immediately.
We have several roundabouts and other common spaces that are lacking in color and beauty and these aforementioned volunteer community groups could take on the responsibility to care for some common areas within their communities, while developing community pride and positive social interaction among volunteers.
Beautification includes clean wide beaches for the use of tourists and locals alike. One of the main draws for tourists is the expectation of lounging on a beach while having a drink of their choice and a good meal close by. Our beaches are disappearing through natural erosion, whether you believe it is exacerbated by climate change or otherwise cyclical. Beach replenishment needs to be studied and considered in the short and long term, not only for beautification, but for the survival and protection of the island as a whole, if rising seas are in fact a reality we face in the future.
Beautification should address safety issues by the consideration of adding landscaped pedestrian walking areas along the narrow and often dangerous roads where people convene for shopping, dining, moving from the port to the shopping areas on Front and Back Streets, partying and taking in the various entertainment options offered along Airport and Welfare Roads, as well as other tourist areas.
I suggest that the various NGOs on the island, which have as a part of their mission statement the purpose of enhancing the environment, to include sea and land, that they coalesce to form an Island Beautification Committee (IBC) that can lead the way to making our island stand out among our competitors, visually. There already exist several government agencies that are concerned with tourism, hospitality and the environment which could guide and support the IBC, assuring its success.
On a more broad level, this or another committee could do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as it relates to the many things tourists seek, with the goal in mind to make Saint Martin/Sint Maarten stand out from its competitors as the obvious best choice destination. It will take cooperation with the French side of the island to be fully successful.
The fact that recently in The Daily Herald Anguilla coined the term “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” should make our competitive juices boil to the point we protect that designation and make our island, not only the island with the best food choices and the Friendly Island, but the most beautiful one too.
R. Paul Speece
Jacksonville Beach, Florida/Simpson Bay