Jeff Berger’s twelve ideas for solving St. Maarten’s problems

POSTED: 06/10/13 1:03 PM

“Legislative window dressing is insulting to timeshare owners”


St. Maarten – Jeff Berger, the editor of St. Maarten Weekly News has been coming to St. Maarten for 35 years. His online newsletter, part of, is widely read by (mostly American) timeshare-owners – the bread and butter of the tourism industry. This week, Berger served his readers with twelve solutions for problems that have a negative impact on that industry. This is his story.

“Meager increases in tourism notwithstanding, SXM have troubles. The age of regular visitors is rising and the number of timeshare owners who actually spend money on the island is plummeting. Last winter was decent for some businesses (especially after big North American snows) but Sandy kept many Northeasterners home, focused on much higher priorities. And over all, the season was nowhere near what it could or should have been given the improving US economy.

Having visited SXM for 35 years, we’ve seen many, many changes on the Dutch Side. But its overriding problems are clearly of its own making. The island’s economy is a one-trick pony. If tourism succeeds, the island succeeds, but if tourism fails, people lose jobs and crime will soar.

Here are 13 ideas / solutions for solving problems plaguing St. Maarten. We cannot speak to funding here; but funding these solutions will advance the island economy and that will solve a lot of problems.

1) Advertising: Would you buy something you never heard of? Neither would most people. The reason St. Maarten is nowhere near as busy as Aruba is that Aruba advertises heavily and St. Maarten doesn’t. It fact, SXM is virtually invisible worldwide. If you want visitors, advertise. Are you trying to keep the island secret? Is sure seems that way. You can’t harvest a worthwhile crop if you don’t plant and cultivate seeds.

2) Airfares: SXM has a long-standing policy of not giving incentives to airlines. Consequently, fares to SXM from key gateways are among the highest in the Caribbean, making flying here very pricey. Do you want rich people to come to SXM? It’s not going to happen (except at La Samanna [French Side] — Dutch SXM offers them virtually nothing). You cannot and will not compete with St. Barths or even Anguilla. Right now you don’t compete with anybody because you aren’t visible anywhere. (See #1.)

3) Zoning: SXM has long rubber-stamped any development project it sees, which is lunacy. The result is properties with grossly inadequate parking and that causes gridlock; witness the unholy government-created traffic mess in Simpson Bay. Even after the causeway is open, Simpson Bay will remain a mess at night because there are too many cars and too few places to put them. Think 10 kilos of potatoes trying to fit in a five-kilo bag and after a while, it all stinks. It’s bad public policy and it needs fixing now, retroactive to buildings already erected.

4) Infrastructure and 5) Roads: Roads deteriorate in storms and are never fixed until December, which is unfair to locals and unreasonable. Roads need to be fixed through the year. Public transportation, which we don’t formally list here, is amateurish. Small private buses operating on a haphazard schedule are no solution at all and in fact they exacerbate traffic snarls. (And the drivers need lessons in how to drive without worsening road congestion.)

6) Electricity and 7) Water: GEBE, the perpetually inept Dutch side water and electricity company, needs to be compelled to fix street lights within 24 hours (or executives go to jail), and water leaks affecting roads need to be fixed the same day. Zero tolerance for not doing what needs to be done. GEBE today figuratively gets away with murder and that needs to end cataclysmically.

8) Beaches: The island’s largest single attraction is its beaches. Unfathomably, the Dutch side does absolutely nothing to facilitate and ensure ongoing easy access to all beaches — very much unlike the French Side, where access and parking is easy and free almost everywhere. The Dutch side sells beach real estate to the highest bidders and beachgoers find it difficult at best to visit most beaches because parking is limited or costly and so is access. Remember “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” and “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” How long before all the beaches are sold and blocked? Think Cupecoy and even Mullet Bay after redevelopment. Think Dawn Beach right now where the Westin is. If people can’t get to Dutch Side beaches, why should they bother with the Dutch Side at all? Beach Preservation is also essential; thanks to the island enabling Shore Pointe Condominiums to build right on Cupecoy Beach (instead of preserving Cupecoy as a National Park, as SXM should have) the western end of the beach has largely eroded into rocks. Why not put thousands of tons of dredged harbor sand there and help solve that government-created problem?

9) ATMs: ATMs on SXM are plentiful but it seems to us they are often skimmed by offshore gangs. Is there a police task force, overt or covert, working on this? There ought to be because word of compromised credit and debit cards spreads faster than the flu in midwinter thanks to the web. Get this problem solved; it has gone on for years.

10) Currency: Just dollarize and be done with it. Most Dutch Side businesses already use dollars so it would be relatively simple. And it would make it awfully difficult for Dutch Side gas stations (where the pumps specify guilders) to bilk tourists. I used to go to Dutch Side stations. I saw how often they would specify converted charges in dollars which fleeced consumers and I always gave them the neat little surprise of paying in guilders. Finally I gave up and use €1=$1 stations on the French Side, which are invariably cheaper. Enough already.

11) Timesharing: There is not, never has been, and no doubt never will be any genuine timeshare owner consumer protection on SXM. Several Dutch side timeshare resorts have profiteered on the backs of timeshare owners for years and the government has done nothing to help them — nothing at all. Current legislative window dressing is totally worthless and insulting to timeshare owners. Consequently timesharing in SXM has fallen apart, as we’ve reported repeatedly and in great detail in SXM Weekly News. Timeshare owners by the tens of thousands have sold their units for pennies on the dollar, if that, selling to people who can barely afford airfare, who eat in their rooms, who bring food from home, and who buy nothing. The island is getting exactly what it deserves for doing nothing to protect the biggest single block of support it has ever had. It could solve / salve this problem by real action, but we think that’s unlikely. Are all the folks in parliament blind to the damage they alone have inflicted or have allowed to be inflicted by virtually unregulated timeshare resorts?

12) Offshoring: The SXM economy as we said earlier is a one-trick pony, and tourism is the trick. It isn’t enough. The US is taking call centers “home” from West Elbonia and it could easily transfer some of that to SXM where people are smart, techno-savvy, and teachable. The government should offer its work force in a concerted effort at bringing foreign businesses to SXM to diversify its economy. It needs to do that now no matter what.

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