Opinion: For the love of St. MaartenPOSTED: 08/6/12 12:13 PM
Today we publish two letters from timeshare owners on our opinion page. They reflect a sentiment that bears bad news for our island’s economy. Timeshare owners are leaving the island in droves because they are no longer willing or able to put up with the strangling maintenance fees and special assessments some resorts impose on them.
In this context it does not even matter whether these fees are justified. What matters is the result, and that is simply negative for a lot of players: the timeshare industry itself but also the service industry of restaurants, car rentals, supermarkets, and so on.
The attorney for the Simpson Bay Resort, mr. Jairo Bloem said in a court hearing on June 27 that his principal generates $50 million in revenue for the local economy. But in the past one and a half year, mr. Bloem added, the number of timeshare owners at the resort has dropped from around 12,000 to just 8,900.
That means that this resort alone has lost more than 3,000 timeshare owners that won’t be coming to the island anymore. They won’t rent cars, they won’t go and eat out, they won’t fill the cash registers at local supermarkets, and they won’t pay airport fees anymore either. The numbers are dazzling and frightening.
The government has been on the sidelines for most of the time while this dark cloud was forming over the economy’s lifeblood. Oh sure, there will have been talks behind the scenes, concerns will have been expressed, and outrage will have been vented, but the practical result of all these political maneuvers is zip – zero, nada.
The Common Court of Justice might stick in another knife when it rules on August 31 in the lawsuit of the Simpson Bay Resort against the Wifol-union. The resort wants the court to overturn an April 2 ruling that obliges it to pay the Wifol-union $50,000 in damages, to rehire all former employees of the (also former) Pelican Resort and to pay these workers based on the collective labor agreement they had.
That court case in particular has a lot of timeshare owners worried, because the resort has said on several occasions that it would have to close down if it has to abide by the April 2 ruling. So while a decision is still up in the air, the exodus has already begun.
As we all know, bad news travels fast in these internet-dominated times. Sites like travel Talk Online and Jeff Berger’s SXM Weekly News are just two of the platforms were timeshare owners bitterly complain, and announce their departure.
The sad thing is: all these people love St. Maarten. Many timeshare owners have been coming to our island for decades. But enough is enough, a growing number of these mainly American vacationers are saying.
There have been times when these guests would not think twice about paying their maintenance fees and special assessments – that’s how much they loved it here. But the economic downturn has taken its toll, and with the financial pressure mounting vacationers have started to look for alternatives. Sure, some of them might still find that alternative in St. Maarten, but others who have had their fill with the timeshare industry may decide to find something closer to home or elsewhere in the Caribbean. It’s not like St. Maarten is literally living on an economic island and that there is no competition.
So what to do? That’s a very interesting question. The way we see it, successive governments have given the timeshare industry free reign without paying much attention to the concerns of the people that really matter – the timeshare owners that bring in the money.
So far we are not aware of a single political initiative to wow the timeshare owners, not one attempt to convince them to bite the bullet and to hang on, not one attempt to offer them some sort of incentive that will at least give them the impression that the government cares about them.
Mr. Bloem said in June in court that the law suits brought on by the Wifol-union, and the way it has conducted itself, have led to the spreading of unjustified conspiracy theories. Bad-mouthing was another term the attorney used.
Usually, the saying goes, when two parties are fighting, two parties are guilty. Maybe that is a thought that could push the dog fight at the Simpson Bay Resort in a different and more solution oriented direction. That could also give the timeshare owners that are still hanging in there the feeling that things are going to get better in the future. That could make all the difference, because nobody likes to walk away from an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. For the love of St. Maarten, let’s at least give it a shot.