Impressed journalists already creating a buzz

The international aviation and travel writers brought to St. Maarten by Princess Juliana International Airport SXM for a media tour this week have started to create a buzz in media coverage, even before leaving. The whirlwind trip has left them with plenty of material to write about what they have experienced personally as unique traits of travel in St. Maarten and hub partners Saba and St. Barths.

Aviation journalist Adam Twidell takes a selfie as the international journalists brought in by Princess Juliana International Airport SXM approach Saba.
Aviation journalist Adam Twidell takes a selfie as the international journalists brought in by Princess Juliana International Airport SXM approach Saba.

The 11 hand-picked journalists will be submitting their stories to more than 30 international media outlets and while some story ideas were pre-planned, others will be based on where the wind took them.

One highlight, an impromptu and unscripted one-minute video of Domino’s Pizza being delivered to Saba on Winair, already has gone viral. Posted to YouTube on Thursday by travel journalist Leslie Yip, the clip had been viewed nearly 1,200 times by early Friday evening and its longer version had been viewed more than 300 times. It also was picked up by Mashable and Daily Mail.

Yip thought it was a fun idea, as the delivery service caught her attention and she had been scheduled to visit Saba with Winair. The clip features her delivering the pizza in “less than 30 minutes” to Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, a “seacliff- runway-cliff-sea scenario,” and handing it over to Saba’s Director of Tourism Glenn Holm.

Chris Kjelgaard also published an online article on Aviation International News (AIN) on Thursday, focusing on development, branding, growth and plans at the airport and on its hub function. AIN caters to a more technical audience and boasts a readership of about 40,000 aviation professionals.

An article aimed at an audience of aviation enthusiasts and thrill-seekers was uploaded to MRO on Friday. It opened by touting, “One of the most famous thrills anywhere in the world for commercial aircraft enthusiasts is to stand at the perimeter fence adjacent to Maho Beach on St. Maarten – or else stand on the beach itself, or paddle in the sea a few yards away – and await the arrival of one of the two near-daily wide-body flights arriving at Princess Juliana International Airport.”

The group enjoyed a last day of touring, plane-spotting and fitting in as many more interviews as possible on Friday before rounding off the working trip. Interviewees have included not just the airport’s Managing Director Regina LaBega, but Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, Winair management, staff and pilots, an architect, aircraft maintenance personnel and local music artistes and craftsmen. The journalists were welcomed with dinner on Monday, which also functioned as a meet-and-greet with Gumbs, Tourism Minister Claret Connor, half of Parliament, local media members, and airport and tourism stakeholders.

Coordinator Bud Slabbaert and host Fabian Badejo also showed the group around later and connected them to a host of people. Impressions
An interview by The Daily Herald with most of the journalists near the end of their trip on Friday, in addition to informal discussions at Monday’s dinner, showed their positive impression of the airport, the destination, the region, and LaBega’s leadership.

Kathryn Creedy in particular, who writes for FlyCorporate and Business Airport International amongst other publications, wants to profile LaBega in a follow-up trip.

The journalists joked that they were “like a bunch of kids.” The fresh perspectives offered positive traits that would scarcely cross the mind of anyone growing up in St. Maarten, such as the public’s awareness of the airport’s importance, its interaction with the community, its appeal as part of the destination product and even its cross-border cooperation as a positive example of peaceful international relations.

The traits become much more apparent when juxtaposed to examples with which they were familiar. Adam Twidell gave examples of both Cyprus and Jordan, where disputes were getting in the way of cooperation. Some countries still need to put disputes aside and build the economy, he said, as others nodded in agreement.

Although there has been some concern locally over airport encroachment by expansion, the same topic has caused stirs elsewhere and airports typically can be limited to being seen as a bad thing, they said.

Based on examples the journalists gave about different places, people do not know or care what happens behind airport fences, necessary decisions to expand are pushed off by politicians because of negative perceptions, airports are not seen in the least as adding to attractiveness of a destination, strongly associated with excessive noise, and the attractiveness of being a pilot or air traffic controller has taken a negative turn.

On the contrary, the journalists found the area, including St. Barths and Saba, as an “epicentre of aviation,” a paradise for “aviation geeks,” a “mecca” of interesting landings and a place where people recognise the airports’ importance. They saw great potential for more tourism based on the love of aviation.

They also found it telling that both PM Gumbs and President of St. Barths Collectivité Bruno Magras had aviation “in their blood.”

As announced by the airport, the group is expected to bring it, the entire island and hub partners “unprecedented exposure.”

Source: The Daily Herald.

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