19 May 2011

Anguilla - Sint Maarten begin functional cooperation

~ Governments agree to meet quarterly ~

PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten and Anguilla have agreed to what Anguilla's Chief Minister Hubert Hughes calls a "functional cooperation" between the two territories, similar to the kind of cooperation that exists among the Scandinavian countries.

(OTR Note: A formal functional cooperation mechanism between the elected governments of the neighboring British Virgin Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands, known as the Inter Virgin Islands Council, was established in 1994 as a successor organisation to the Inter Virgin Islands Conference, itself created in 1990.) 

Hughes stressed the long-standing relationship between the two islands and the strong family ties that bind them together during a meeting in Anguilla on May 13, with a high-powered St. Maarten delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Theo Heyliger, which included Justice Minister Roland Duncan.

"These are indeed reasons for us to have a stronger and more structural relationship," Heyliger said. "There are many areas in which we can make our cooperation more functional and meaningful," he added, pointing to Princess Juliana International Airport as a sub-regional hub. Other areas include the possibility of joint marketing activities and the Tourism Statistical Information System (TSIS).

The St. Maarten delegation, which also comprised Angelique Roumou who represented Tourism Minister Franklyn Meyers, Director of Tourism Regina LaBega, and officials of St. Maarten Tourist Bureau as well as Peter Mazereeuw, gave a presentation on TSIS to the Anguillan authorities who were reportedly "very excited" about it.

"TSIS offers the opportunity to obtain psychographic information about visitors, which means not just their profiles, but also their behaviour patterns," explained LaBega. "There is an opportunity to build on the system and add Anguilla's inventory to it, thus being able to provide valuable information about visitors going to Anguilla from St. Maarten, information that would be important in attracting visitors by air as well as strengthening the hub facilities."

Providing residents and visitors of Anguilla "smoother entry" into St. Maarten was another major point of discussion at the talks. It was agreed that the process for visitors to Anguilla via St. Maarten needs to be simplified, and service needs to be improved.

St. Maarten needs to facilitate the immigration processing of in-transit visitors to Anguilla, which, according to the authorities of that island, sometimes takes visitors up to five hours waiting time. It was suggested that an in-transit line and an information desk could hasten the process.

Duncan mentioned the strategy of the immigration office at the Simpson Bay bridge staying open late to accommodate visitors heading to Anguilla via St. Maarten. The Justice Minister also revealed that the immigration process is already being worked on to allow, for example, Guyanese legal residents of Anguilla to travel to St. Maarten to shop, since St. Maarten is viewed as a shopping mall for Anguilla residents.

Another area of cooperation that was discussed was cooperative marketing, in particular, a US$ 90,000 joint venture with St. Maarten and COPA airlines to attract visitors from South America.

Furthermore, Anguilla demonstrated initial interest in cooperating with WestJet and Jet Blue from Puerto Rico in view of the loss of the American Eagle flight from the said market. However, it was noted that the increase of flights by Jet Blue should take the transfer in and out of Anguilla into consideration.

Also, the Anguilla government and private sector indicated their commitment to attending the 10th anniversary of St. Maarten Annual Regional Trade Show, SMART. This would be an opportunity for Anguilla to learn first-hand about the TSIS system and how it can enhance their individual products, Anguilla, and the sub-region, in general.

"I am very happy at the outcome of the meeting," Heyliger said. "Although we met on Friday the 13th, there was nothing scary or superstitious about the talks," he mused, adding that these were overdue and would be structured into a periodic consultation between the governments of these islands.

Heyliger had led a St. Maarten delegation to St. Barths on a similar mission a week earlier and explained that these meetings formed part of the government policy to establish a closer working relationship with our immediate neighbours, which would be beneficial to all parties. The Anguillan authorities applauded the initiative taken by St. Maarten and expressed confidence that it would yield concrete, positive results for both parties.

OTR Note: Anguilla is a Caribbean territory under the administration of nthe United Kingdom whilst Sint Maarten is a an autonomous country in association with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


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