06 June 2011

Anguilla and Sint Maarten to Deepen Cooperation


Anguilla-Sint Maarten Discussed Partnership Matters Including Ease Of Travel

The Anguillian

Improving access to Anguilla through St. Maarten, with Juliana International Airport as the hub, with a section to facilitate Anguilla-bound travellers and other immigration issues, was among some of the matters discussed here between Government and tourism officials from both territories.

A ten-member St. Maarten delegation visited Anguilla (in May) . The delegates included Deputy Prime Minister, Theodore Heyliger; Minister of Justice, Roland Duncan; incoming Director of Juliana Airportand former Director of Tourism, Regina La Bega; Tourism Policy Adviser, Angelique Romou; and Marketing Director, Edward Dest. They held discussions at a Functional Cooperation Meeting at Blue Ridge Resort & Conference Centre with Chief Minister and Minister of Tourism, Herbert Hughes; Adviser Jerome Roberts; Minister of Home Affairs, Walcott Richardson; Minister of Communications, Evan Gumbs; Adviser Sam Webster; Permanent Secretaries, Dr. Aidan Harrigan and Foster Rogers; Chairman of the Anguilla Tourist Board, Eustace Guishard; President of the Anguilla Hotel and Tourism Association, Sherille Hughes; Chairman of the Port Authority, Kenn Banks and others.

“This is the most important meeting that I have been able to attend and partially host since I got involved in Anguilla’s political life," Chief Minister Hughes stated, referring to the conference between the two territories. “I think if we can work together…in this part of the Caribbean, we will be very strong and compliment each other,” he said in his welcome remarks.

St. Maarten’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Heyliger, looked forward to increased joint cooperation and cited tourism, the amount of trade between the territories and the unity of the people as important factors. The Minister told the Anguilla Government officials about a new master plan for Juliana which took into account some of the challenges facing tourists and other travellers to and from Anguilla.

“We want to simplify the process of making sure that guests coming to Anguilla have a more seamless effort in getting there through St. Maarten,” he said. “That is one of the matters we would like to discuss [in terms] of what you would like to see happen at Juliana as one of our main partners using it as a hub airport. We want to know about some of the things and bottlenecks you encounter, and areas where we can foster a better relationship at the airport with the Government and people of Anguilla. It is our intention, in our plans, for the consultant and the management of Juliana to sit with you in terms of the design of Juliana and how we will change that design to make sure that it accommodates the Government and people of Anguilla.”

Replying, Chief Minister Hughes said it was “mutually benefiting for Juliana Airport to be the hub for both islands and that we should forget Puerto Rico.” He continued: “St. Maarten is really qualified to serve this special region in the Southeastern Caribbean: St. Barths, Saba, Statia, French and Dutch St. Martin/St. Maarten and Anguillla. It is beneficial for Juliana in the sense that the airport would be better utilised by combining all the visitors in this sub-region transiting through Juliana.

“It is therefore a win-win for us that we both continue to promote Anguilla’s tourism product which is destined to be extremely large even though it is at the upper end of the market. Viceroy is now on stream and Flag Luxury is going to be a much bigger entity when it re-starts and finishes. We want to make sure that when we promote our tourism product, we would be promoting Juliana in the process… Airlines would know that there is lucrative business seeing that they would not only have a number of rooms in St. Maarten but also in Anguilla and the neighbouring islands.”

The Chief Minister pointed out that there were people in Anguilla from various Caribbean countries with resident and belonger stamps in their passports as well as having work permits. He said intra-regional travel would facilitate business in St. Maarten and requested that in the new visa requirements such persons should be permitted to travel to and from that Dutch territory. “In the meantime, we would like easy travel for our tourists because that is where we are getting the bulk of our problems…When people pay big money in Anguilla for accommodation they don’t want to be restricted in getting to their destination,”Mr. Hughes added.

Anguilla’s Tourist Board Chairman, Mr. Guishard, said in part:

“One of our primary concerns is facilitating our guests coming into Anguilla through St. Maarten and also exiting St. Maarten. Presently, we have a situation where our guests arrive in St. Maarten and clear immigration, and if they are going to Marigot to the ferry it is simple and straightforward. But if they are travelling from the Dutch side to Anguilla, they have to go all the way over to Simpson Bay. This is a real challenge and we are getting many complaints.”

He reported that an owner of a 10million-dollar villa in Anguilla recently told him: “I will not bring my family back to Anguilla again. If I can sell this villa I would do so because I spent five hours with eight of my family members trying to get from St. Maarten to Anguilla. It is quicker to get from New York to Anguilla than from St. Maarten to Anguilla. I am not prepared to go through that anymore.”

Mr. Guishard noted that prior to this the St. Maarten Minister of Justice, Ronald Duncan, had assured members of an Anguillian delegation that if they could find a dedicated area in St. Maarten to process travellers to Anguilla, he would arrange to have immigration personnel there to facilitate them. “I think we are nearing an agreement on that area which would really help us simplify that matter for our visitors and residents travelling forward and backward,” he went on.

“Another thing which would help us would be to have the ferryboats running late at night, like 10 and 11 o’clock, to coordinate their service with the last flight into St. Maarten. I can also assure you that there would be a lot more traffic with many visitors and residents in Anguilla travelling to St. Maarten for late shopping and early dinners, thus taking advantage of that opportunity.

“We also need to find a way of facilitating in-transit passengers by air. At the moment, our two operators – Trans-Anguilla and Air Anguilla Services – seem to be having some problems. It would be good if you could look at this aspect and see how you could make it easier for our travellers by air coming into St. Maarten and transferring to one of these airlines. This would also assist us tremendously.

“Yet another thing is that we would really like to have an Anguilla Information Desk where passengers come out to the public area from immigration. There are so many travellers coming to Anguilla who enter that area without knowing where to go on their way to our island. We would also be grateful if we could have a special immigration line for arriving passengers for Anguilla as this would be very helpful.”

Mr. Guishard spoke about how the Anguilla Tourist Board had spent large sums of money with airlines, and on road shows, to attract visitors to the island. He emphasised that after all of that the island was still facing an access problem, and that the St. Maarten gateway was the answer.

Dr. Harrigan observed that while a lot of tourists from the North American market used to transit to Anguilla from Puerto Rico, the situation was rapidly changing with St. Maarten now emerging as the primary gateway to Anguilla. He stressed that Anguilla and St. Maarten had been “one economic space for generations” and whatever could be done to facilitate that, would be a fitting opportunity in that general context.

St. Maarten’s Minister for Justice, Mr. Duncan, said he had discussed the island’s difficulties with the Council of Ministers there and had “found good support in Government.” He noted, however, that there was “a little side track as a certain union feels that we may take bread out of their people’s month, but that was not really relevant…”

Mr. Duncan continued: “On the matter of the pre-clearance or the immigration at the airport, we support that. As a matter of fact, I mentioned to the previous delegation that we had a treaty with France that calls for joint controls at the airport. Following that treaty, we could easily do the same thing where an Anguillian Immigration Officer could have a booth on the airport and clear people from St. Maarten to Anguilla. We would have to technically establish a protocol or a treaty for the legal ramifications…

“We have an immigration office at the entrance of the bridge, and we are prepared to put Immigration Officers at the other locations that Anguilla has chosen and so this is something we are working on. I don’t think the night ferry operation is a problem because it is just a matter of scheduling the workers to be there. The airport is open until 10 o’clock at night so if we go to 12, I can’t see any qualm where that is concerned. That also needs the details but that will be no problem whatsoever.

“On the visas: about three weeks ago I sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs a written proposal on the matter to clarify. We recognise that Anguilla has encountered a problem on that. We do have a problem with overcrowding [from two particular countries]. However, in our proposal to Anguilla, what we are saying is if a person is a legal resident of Anguilla, we will treat him as if he has a visa etc. so he can visit and pass through. What we need from the Government of Anguilla is certification of the validity of his documents because in St. Maarten there is quite an industry in falsifying documents.

“As a matter of fact, we have also been publishing something that is not very much known. People with a US Multiple Visa can pass through and have no problem,” Mr. Duncan reported. He also disclosed that there was a 48-hour transit immigration window where persons could be allowed to stay in St. Maartenduring that period, but there were no hotel accommodation facilities at the airport, a matter that was still being worked out.

He further disclosed that since the visa requirements hehad been issuing visa waivers to persons for emergency and other related cases.

The Functional Cooperation Meeting between the Governments of Anguilla and St. Maarten also covered cooperative marketing efforts; and airlines services in the region and further afield being provided by Jet Blue to Puerto Rico, Copa and Col Airlines and West Jet to South America and Canada respectively.

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