Opinion: Saba’s economic development after Irma is a major challenge

Open letter to the Executive Council of Saba

Date: 14 September 2017

Re: Economic developments after Irma

Dear Council,

A week ago the monstrous disaster of hurricane Irma affected the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. In particular our mother island St. Maarten.  The island we all depend on if it comes to travelling, health care, communication, groceries, hardware, tourism, a weekend away and just to get things that we do not have on Saba.

We have come to the conclusion that the above is not there anymore for a long time. St. Maarten is dealing with their problems and how to get back on track again. We cannot depend right now on the services rendered by the island of Sint Maarten. It is therefore that we have to look further in order to maintain a certain standard of living.

Here on Saba we have woken up from the destructive hurricane and realized that most of us have still a roof over our heads, electricity up and running and internet brought back in no time. All these efforts needs to be applauded to and recognized as a fantastic service to the community.

We also have families who lost their roof and everything. I understand that the local government is taking care of those and that the marines are assisting in this. Correct so because they should be first priority.

All the above is based on the direct consequences of hurricane Irma.

The indirect consequences are far more stretching for the economy and the people of Saba and the future development of the island.

Due to the fact that Sint Maarten will be out for a while, various businesses will suffer from this financially.

For example:

  • Winair operations; no flights coming in, no income, 5 people on the pay role.
  • Scouts Place; no guests coming in, restaurant open limited hours, 12 people on pay role
  • El Momo; partly destroyed, no guest coming in
  • Juliana’s: no guests coming in, 10 people on pay role
  • Queens Garden, no guests coming in, a number of people on pay role
  • Selera Dunia, no guests coming in, one person on pay role
  • Cottage Club, no guests coming in, number of people on pay role
  • Souvenir shops, no tourists coming
  • Restaurants: no guests coming
  • Taxies: no guests coming
  • Dive shops: no divers coming
  • Saba Conservation Foundation: no fees and guests

Furthermore the government will lose out on departure tax, ABB, hotel tax.

The above are financial sufferings but what about the goodwill Saba created over the years?

Tourists will now seek for other destinations like Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba. The idea of bringing guests in via St. Kitts is not based on reality. The majority of tourists coming to Saba combine their visit with their main stay on St. Maarten. St. Kitts does not offer what St. Maarten had to offer, think of beaches, casino;s night life and restaurants and bars. The ABC islands have more to offer in this.

Therefore it is completely unrealistic to think that we could attract tourists to Saba via St. Kitts. We might be lucky to get a hand full each month but that is about it. Think for yourself. If you live in Idaho and want a Caribbean holiday, you want sand sun and beaches and possibly some nature adventure too. The last thing you think of is to go to Saba via St. Kitts.

And even if this was possible, it would take at least one month to get it organized and legalized. So how realistic are we thinking?

I will give you my opinion.

We are at the beginning of a long run where we have to take many obstacles.

  • We will not see our tourism coming back in 2017, with all the consequences mentioned above.
  • If there is no financial support from third party, people have to be fired and be without a job
  • Hotels have to close eventually based on the fact that there is no income
  • Tourist related businesses have to consider how to continue since no income is generated.
  • Dive shops have to reduce personnel and consider certain days for operation.
  • Restaurants have to close for certain days in the week in order to stay profitable and reduce personnel.

The main factor above is the closure of businesses and the firing of people. A consequence that will cost the government more money in the long run.

The island will lose its identity as a perfect location for diving and hiking and tourists will switch to other destinations.

It all might seem to sound very negative, but to be honest, it is not negativism but realism based on facts and that scares me the most. We are at a verge of dropping down completely or maintaining the established name developed over the years.

In order to do the last option, which is obviously, we need to ask the Dutch and European Governments for serious financial support in order to keep the Saban economy going.

Without this, we choose to drop down fast, very fast.

Hemmie van Xanten

Dutch TV campaign raises €13.3m for Leeward Islands relief fund
Kingdom Council of Ministers meets about hurricane Irma

6 comments

  1. In 2 weeks time the quarterly ABB payments are due for all businesses.
    It would be a great gesture from the tax department, and a little relief to all businesses on the island, if this tax collection could be waved off for all.

  2. Then for that reason, let us all stop (including myself) with sending around bad photo’s of ruined trees and houses, let us all stop complaining in public about the situation (asking for more help directly to Dutch government is OK of course) and let us show the world what Saba has to offer.
    Give all support to positive actions such as in October Sea&Learn, promote the island even more than you did before and when there are problems to solve: deal only directly to whom it concerns and who can improve the situation or even solve the problem.

  3. Could Winair fly in from Puerto Rico? That is a viable combination, as PR is an easy and major destination for both American and European travellers.

  4. Very well written letter! Many good points made! The powers that be need to figure out what to do or you could devastate the economies of Saba and Statia. Being an American whose family lived on Saba, I am well aware of how dependent Saba and Statia are on St. Maarten. Family friends are concerned for how Holland will deal with this crisis! Please, please, please!

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