Today’s news that St. Maarten’s room inventory is back at 67 per cent of pre-Hurricane Irma levels might disappoint some. After all, it’s been almost two years since and a percentage of around 70 was still forecast last January for the end of the first quarter of 2019.
However, one needs to realise that various major resorts such as Flamingo, Royal Palm and the hotel part of The Westin Dawn Beach remain closed. What’s more, Ocean Club, Summit Hotel and Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort were all destroyed, while work on a Planet Hollywood to replace the latter is yet to begin.
For the time being, including the next high season, the Dutch side’s hospitality industry will obviously not be at full capacity, but enormous strides were nevertheless made compared to having just 1,784 units (45 per cent) available at the start of this year. The French side is also struggling to return to normalcy in that respect.
Flamingo and Royal Palm intend to reopen in June 2020. By that time the rebuilding of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) should be well underway.
This is very important, because it makes little sense to keep increasing the number of flights, seats and passengers if the island’s main gateway can’t comfortably handle the additional traffic. Considering an 18-month construction period starting at the end of this year, the job would be completed in the second quarter of 2021.
That’s if everything goes according to plan, because there is concern over recent political developments as well as statements made in Parliament about the project’s financing including certain conditions for US $50 million each via a grant from the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank and a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB). This is most definitely not something to play with, because any serious delay could have a very negative impact on the continued recovery of the destination’s dominant stayover tourism sector, with all possible socioeconomic consequences for the population.