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Printed in The Daily Herald, Wed 09-Mar-2003

European airlift

News that Air Sint Maarten is ready to start executing weekly flights from Holland is more significant than many may realize. Until now the possibility to promote the Windward Islands in Holland as a preferred tourist destination, as Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao have succeeded in doing, was hampered by the fact that there is only one KLM flight per week to St. Maarten, which also has to return via Curacao.

That there is some scepticism concerning these flights of an unknown airline is understandable, but when ALM (now Dutch Caribbean Airlines) announced its flights between Curacao and Holland the initial reaction was much the same. Now those flights have proven to be very successful and appear to have even helped turn the ailing airline around. There was also fear in the ABC islands that KLM would reduce its flights if faced with competition. That has not happened. The Dutch airline has continued to increase its capacity on the mid-Atlantic route side-by-side with its new competitor, indicating that the demand on the market was indeed big enough for both.

The effects of 9-11 and the war in Iraq on business from St. Maarten's traditional markets in the U.S. and Canada have again demonstrated the desirability of diversifying the tourism industry. Europe, because of the high euro as well as a reluctance at the moment to travel to areas closer to the war zone, offers great potential in this regard. More airlift in addition to the daily Air France service from Paris, especially direct service from Holland, could prove an crucial factor in this regard.

During recent talks at KLM's head office in Holland a St. Maarten delegation was told the airline would be willing to help market the island to create the kind of demand that would justify more flights. Some may now fear that by stimulating the Air St. Maarten flights, these efforts could somehow be undermined.

But that need not be the case. First of all, KLM already has its plans set for the hub in Bonaire and BonairExel flights from there to St. Maarten, which would replace the weekly flight from Holland. Second, KLM is a well-established private company which should appreciate the value of healthy competition and in any case it has to respect rules and regulations protecting the principles of free enterprise. Air St. Maarten is more than welcome.

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