Printed in The Daily Herald, Wed 11-Jun-2003
The announcement that Air Holland will be flying from Amsterdam to St. Maarten starting next month is good news. Many may remember the recent, failed attempt to set up an "Air St. Maarten" service. With a Dutch airline now executing the flights, there is nothing to stop it from finally happening.
Mind you, it is only one flight per week, which returns via Curacao, comparable to the weekly KLM flight on Thursday. But at least it's something and the rates look promising. The idea that St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba cannot become an important market for Dutch tourism, as have Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, is an erroneous one.
Granted, while all the islands are part of the Dutch Kingdom, the main language here is English and the Windward Islands are obviously under much stronger American than Dutch influence. At the same time, there is also a strong Latin American influence in the ABC islands, while the language on the street there is mostly Papiamentu, not Dutch. St. Maarten also has extra advantages, such as the French side, providing a "vacation within a vacation" to Dutch visitors, many of whom travel to France regularly. In addition, the island has combination of green hills and white, sandy beaches that cannot be matched by the others.
KLM has said that if St. Maarten does the marketing to create the necessary demand, it will consider increasing the number of flights. The initiative of Air Holland does not have to change that. The airline is targeting a different, younger group, by offering a low rate without service. In fact, the Dutch Caribbean Airline flights from Curacao to Holland have proven that competition can actually help create more demand, as it has not led to a reduction of KLM flights; to the contrary.
The timing could not be better. The high euro makes the islands a very attractive option for travellers from that part of the world. Recent promotional efforts in Europe are already beginning to bear fruit and another flight, along with the weekly KLM and daily Air France services, should provide an important boost. Hopefully the island's tourism partners will know how to make full use of this opportunity and help bring about the much needed diversification of its markets.
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