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An aerial view shows Marigot, one of several areas to have already reopened in St. Martin.
An aerial view shows Marigot, one of several areas to have already reopened in St. Martin.

When representatives from the French St. Martin Tourist Office traveled to Miami last week to update members of the media on the island’s post-hurricane recovery efforts, their overall message was heard loud and clear: St. Martin is open for business and eager to welcome visitors.

Donning shirts that read, “Smile Again”—the slogan of a campaign encouraging travelers to return to ‘The Friendly Island’—members of St. Martin’s tourism industry spoke about the efforts being made to rebuild and redevelop, while also attracting new and returning visitors.

“Right now we get more repeat visitors because it’s their way of helping St. Martin,” said Maia Pilzer, cofounder of 100% Villas, a company that manages about 60 luxury villas on the island. “They know it won’t be the same as before, but they had such a great time in the past that they want to come back and help the people who helped them have such a wonderful stay.”

While the island may offer a different experience to visitors as it continues to recover from last year’s hurricane season, president of the St. Martin Tourist Office Valerie Damaseau and her colleagues insist that the nation is more than ready. “Of course, we are in rebuilding mode. We can’t hide from that,” she said during the media luncheon. “But the beaches are still there. The fun and sun are still there. The friendliness of the people was untouched.”

Here are some of the updates Damaseau and her colleagues shared during the luncheon:

Accommodations
While most hotels are still in the reconstruction phase, several guesthouses, villas and small hotels have already reopened for business. These properties include Mon Reve Guesthouse in Friar’s Bay; Bleu Emeraude and Hevea Hotel in Grand Case; Over the Hill Guesthouse in La Savane; Centr’Hotel, Fantastic Hotel, and Golfe Hotel in Marigot; Couleur Cafe sxm in Mont Vernon; Mercure Hotel Marina & Spa in Nettle Bay; Shamrock Residence in Orient Bay; and Balcons d’ Oyster Pond and Sol Hotel in Oyster Pond. Pilzer also reported that of the 60 luxury properties that 100% Villas currently manages, 15 have already reopened and are accepting guests. The company’s current goal is to reopen at least one villa per month.

In addition, several larger hotels and resorts have reopening dates scheduled for this year. In Orient Bay, La Plantation is set to open in March 2018, with Palm Court following suit in July, while Alamanda Resort is expected to reopen this fall and Esmeralda Resort has a reopening date set for November 2018. Mont Vernon’s Sol E Luna will reopen April 1, 2018, and LowLands’ Belmond La Samanna will welcome guests starting in October. Grand Case Beach Club and Le Temps de Cerises—both in Grand Case—will reopen in November and December 2018, respectively.

Before Hurricane Irma hit St. Martin, there were approximately 1,600 rooms available, not including Airbnb accommodations. Looking ahead, the St. Martin Tourist Office hopes to not only restore these rooms, but to also increase that number to 2,000 rooms by 2022.

Giselle Villa is one of the 15 luxury properties currently available through 100% Villas. (Photo courtesy of 100% Villas)
Giselle Villa is one of the 15 luxury properties currently available through 100% Villas. (Photo courtesy of 100% Villas)

Things To Do
Once booking accommodations is out of the way, travelers to St. Martin can look forward to many of the same activities that the island offered before the hurricane. Watersports are available on several parts of the island, including excursions to nearby Pinel and Tintammare islands and snorkeling at Creole Rock. Adventure lovers can try hiking at Sentier des Froussards or ziplining at Loterie Farm, while fans of the beach will find that some of St. Martin’s most popular stretches of sand and sea are welcoming visitors, including Happy Bay. With less visitors in town some say now is the time to visit St. Martin for a calmer, more secluded experience.

“It’s like returning to the Caribbean of 30, 40 years ago with long stretches of empty beaches,” said Pilzer. “It’s a different kind of beautiful, and the guests we’ve had since the hurricane have all said they’ve had a great time.”

For those drawn to St. Martin for its distinguished culinary reputation, over 60 restaurants on the island have reopened and the list of dining options continues to grow daily. For those looking to shop, gamble in the casinos or dance the night away at a nightclub, there are options for that as well. St. Martin’s annual events are also still on schedule for 2018 with Carnival kicking off on Feb.10.

“Whenever visitors come, they have a place to stay; they have a place to eat. The beaches are beautiful,” said Kate Richardson, general director of the St. Martin Tourist Office. “There are less people. If you like quiet places, you’re going to love it.”

Getting There
Commercial flights out of both Grand Case International Airport and Princess Juliana International Airport on Dutch side St. Maarten, resumed within a month of the hurricane’s passing. The airports are now fully functional with approximately 60 flights across 12 different airlines operating weekly. Princess Juliana International Airport offers daily nonstop service from Miami International Airport on American Airlines and from John F. Kennedy International Airport on JetBlueDelta Air Lines also offers daily flights to St. Martin/St. Maarten from Atlanta with the exception of Mondays and Thursdays. Other airlines offering flights to St. Martin from various Caribbean and European cities include SeaborneAir CaraibesKLMAir FranceLiatWinairPAWA, and Insel Air.

St. Martin/St. Maarten has also been able to welcome over 50,000 cruise passengers since the hurricane passed with Crystal Cruises homeporting from the Port of Galisbay in Marigot since November 2017 and several other cruise lines calling on ports on the Dutch side of the island.

A Message of Hope
In closing the event, Damaseau left the attendees with a positive message reflecting the hope and promise that she says the people of St. Martin have had throughout the recovery process.

“Hurricanes can damage everything else,” she said. “But the resilience of our people, the love that our people showcase, and the backing that we have behind ‘The Friendly Island,’ you won’t find that anywhere else.”

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