NEWPORT, R.I.—St. Martin, ravaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, is in full-on recovery mode a year later. This is important news for anyone skeptical of the island’s readiness to assume its celebrated place in the Caribbean’s vacation hierarchy. The underlying features that made this destination special before the storm remain established and vital. After a recent island inspection trip by three of its villa specialists, WIMCO reports that St. Martin is back in business as the 2018-19 travel season unfolds.
The reality is that St. Martin suffered a damaging blow and rubble remains. In addition, the restaurants, places to stay and businesses underwent a startling setback. However, the people who inhabit the island and those who know it well remain committed to making it even better than it was. Including all of the spirit and pride of place that have made it unique for decades.
For visitors traveling to the Caribbean, it is a compelling destination fueled with infectious French, Dutch and Caribbean culture. A culture unconstrained by the incursion of natural events. Ironically, the beaches are better by way of Irma’s inundation of new sand. Moreover, vegetation and growth have returned, green and luscious again.
WIMCO has maintained a close eye on St. Martin throughout the island’s steady climb back. This includes putting agents on the ground with a professional stake in its recovery and a seasoned eye on progress under way. Three WIMCO representatives with decades of combined knowledge here—Michael Chisholm, Suzanne Goulart and Steve Baker—examined conditions on the island in late June. They returned with pervasive optimism amid the recognition that rebuilding does not happen overnight.
Villas, hotels, and restaurants are being repaired and are re-opening. Plus, services have been restored and improvements in all of the essential sectors are either in place or imminently pending.
Michael Chisholm noted that in June approximately 45 percent of WIMCO’s villa inventory is now open and available. By November, he expects that more than 70 percent will be available for occupancy.
In November, the main floor of the international terminal at Princess Juliana airport is scheduled to reopen. This will dramatically improve the experience of arriving in or transiting through St Martin. A July 4th edition of the island newsletter “Caribbean 360” reported that as of June, two-thirds of all airline carriers that provided flights to and from Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA/SXM) before Irma, had resumed their regular schedules.
American Airlines has increased seat capacity for its daily service from Miami with the introduction of larger aircraft. Also, beginning on December 19th, the airline will expand that service with a second daily nonstop flight from Miami. Additionally, beginning on November 4th American will add daily nonstop service from Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, S.C. According to September’s edition of the “SXM Airport Horizon” newsletter, JetBlue announced on August 13th that it is relaunching its popular routes from Boston to St. Martin. Therefore, seasonal nonstop service from Boston’s Logan International Airport to St. Martin’s Princess Juliana, will operate twice weekly. This will begin on February 16th, 2019. Service from New York’s JFK International Airport is expected as well. Other carriers providing service from the States will include United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Spirit Airlines and Seaborne Airlines. Lastly, West Jet will introduce service from Toronto.
The point is this: Airline confidence in St. Martin’s recovery is robust. For travelers, this strongly indicates that assurances of a destination worthy of their treasured vacation agendas and dollars are resonating.
The villa, hotel and resort representatives report that progress is brisk. For example, agents are taking calls for reservations this winter. Those who know St. Martin are keen to return. Chisholm remarked, “The overall feel of the island and its infrastructure is one of spirit and optimism. The support structure is sound. The island will end up better than it was. It only needs tourism and tourist dollars to get there.” This is particularly good news for anyone headed there this winter. In other words, the welcome mat is out.
In a nutshell, why go to St. Martin? Suzanne Goulart offered a glimpse. “We went to a new sushi restaurant in Simpson Bay called Alina’s,” she said. “There is a lot of activity in this seaport corner of the island. Life continues. People are out having fun. Many remarked that we should have seen what this place looked like four months ago! It’s all about progress.”
A shot across Simpson Bay with the spars of sunken sailing vessels protruding from the surface is striking. Perhaps this grim reminder, though temporal, is now arguably buried in the past. Steve Baker takes the long view, "St. Martin is back" he said. “Many of the villas and hotels have reopened. The airport in its new configuration is about to reopen. Many restaurants are open and the number grows weekly. All activities are operating. Three nationalities—French, Dutch and Caribbean—are allied in their common purpose and continue to give the island its unique cultural depth. There is a long road ahead but it’s happening. Come on down and reap the recovery!"
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