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Johnson visit Maho, says large and small hotels reopening is critical to more airlifts, visitor return

More hotel rooms, a completely remodelled pool, with a giant waterslide, are some of the improvements guests will enjoy when Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino’s Sky Tower hotel reopens in February 2019 adding 12 new rooms for a total 418 rooms.

Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication TEATT, Stuart Johnson, received a progress report on the reconstruction of the 4-star Sky Tower hotel and Sonesta St. Maarten’s signature 5-star resort the Ocean Point when he met Maho Group President & CEO Saro Spadaro Friday last week.

When construction of the Sky Tower hotel is completed, Spadaro says it will be a practically new building. Spadaro said one of the significant changes for the Ocean Point was replacing the 40-year trademark green sloped roof which restricted the ocean view from some rooms. He said the Ocean point will also have an additional Tapas Bar above its famous Point Restaurant, and the five-star resort has also gained an extra room with the new design.

In a press release issued Sunday, Minister Johnson said, “The reopening of hotels both large and small, a major objective in the 2018-2022 governing program for the Sint Maarten United Christian Democratic Coalition. It is critical to revitalization of our economy and will result in spinoffs such as the increase of airlifts and the much-needed reduction of the cost of airline tickets to and from our destination.” He said, “This is why I am emphasizing the importance of rebuilding our local product and getting hotels and our Airport back on track. Once we get our product back to St. Maarten’s standard, our market share comes back. Johnson said he recognized that the cost of flights increased by up to 50% in some cases and his ministry was committed to seeing this cost lowered in the interest of revitalizing the economy. He said, “But we must have a product worth promoting, which means stepping-up our cleaning efforts and a significant increase in the speed of reconstruction.”

According to the release Johnson held a “frank discussion with Spadaro” during which he commended the hotelier for his “commitment to rebuilding following the destruction of the resorts by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017." Johnson said, “It is not said often enough, but I believe it deserves mentioning.” He also commended Spadaro for his personal efforts and the work he did to realize the establishment of the Hospitality First Training & Education Program.”

The Hospitality First Training & Education Program is the brainchild of Spadaro and the Maho Group of Companies which was presented to government in 2017. It is being held at the National Institute for Professional Advancement NIPA training Centre in Cay Hill. Spadaro’s Sonesta team was the first to participate in the program which began late in 2017 in advance of funding from the Trust Fund administered by the World Bank.

According to the release, Spadaro said he was “touched by the minister’s comment.” Spadaro also said, “There was no way I could simply put over 500 workers on the streets.” He said, “I am not just thinking about our problem now, but I am also thinking of what will happen if St. Maarten is not ready for business within a few months." He said he also understood what it will mean for St. Maarten's ability to compete in the tourism industry "if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity to improve our product, including training our human resources.” 

He told Johnson that his urgency to rebuild came from watching the increase of visitors to Jamaica, Aruba, St. Kitts and the Dominican Republic as a direct result of the fact that St. Maarten is recovering from the hurricanes of 2017.

Spadaro said marketing St. Maarten was still essential to ensure that the improvement of the tourism product including hotels reopening was consistent with increased airlifts and visitor arrivals to the destination.

Minister Johnson said his Tourism Department will continue to keep St. Maarten present in the minds of travellers.

The minister toured Casino Royal which will reopen shortly with the area that housed the former Tantra Night Club turned into two fine-dining restaurants and a 360-degree view lounge. Spadaro said the new design of Sky Tower Hotel and the Ocean Point maximizes the use of open spaces to create an improved “Caribbean experience.” 

Giving full disclosure, Spadaro explained that the use of Chinese nationals did not save cost but guaranteed 40% faster construction speed with improved technology, and availability of high-quality material. Before construction began the Chinese contractors built two model hotel rooms in China which were critiqued by Sonesta before a final decision was made for the hotels’ new look.

Minister Johnson asked about the strength of the Sky Tower’s steel structure and was informed that 120,00 tons of steel will be added to improve the structure’s resistance to earthquakes. This was the recommendation of engineers following tests of the building’s ability to withstand high winds and earthquakes. Part of the first stage of work has already started with the application of a high-quality fireproofing material to cover the steel structure after which will follow the installation of entirely new electrical, water and brand-new air-conditioning systems.