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Printed in The Daily Herald, Wed 1-Dec-2004

Editorial: High-end visitors to St. Maarten

News that airline bookings to St. Maarten for the upcoming season are "fantastic" is most welcome. There had been some concern following warnings from within the dominant timeshare sector that the island might be losing its popularity, but that does not, at least not yet, appear to be the case. The high euro appears to be having a positive effect on the European market, with both Air France and KLM increasing their number of flights, while the US airlines already servicing St. Maarten are doing the same and United Airlines will start weekly flights from Chicago on December 18. The same thing goes for the Canadian market, with Air Canada starting service from Toronto, while charter companies Sky Services and Air Transat add to their flights.

Not only that, but the number of private and "timeshare" planes coming to the island continues to increase, to the point where there is a danger of losing business because of the cramped facilities at Princess Juliana International Airport. The construction of a new airport terminal therefore comes none too soon, despite doubts expressed by some.

With the big international yacht event next week, the marine trade sector, already showing formidable growth, is expected to get a major boost. Particularly the megayachts of "the rich and famous" have found their way to the island in increasing numbers since the widening of the entrance to Simpson Bay Lagoon.

But while the island is obviously doing a lot right, more is needed to benefit in an optimal manner from these positive developments in particularly the "high-end" market. One already mentioned is the airport, not just in terms of facilities, but also attitude when it comes to dealing with VIPs. Not that authorities should refrain from applying the usual checks and controls on this group just because of their wealth, but they should realise that these people are used to top quality service and willing to pay for it, so every effort should be made to process them as smoothly as possible. What the island also dearly needs to keep more of these high-end visitors here, rather than see them travel on to St. Barths or Anguilla, is a five-star resort. One way to stimulate such investment would be to make Mullet Bay, with the island's most beautiful beach and its only golf course, available for development again.

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