The Adrian Loveridge Column – We Can Learn from St. Barts
I was fortunate enough to be invited as a guest to the French West Indian island of St. Barts recently as part of the Carabavia Aviation Meetup event that St. Maarten so ably hosted last month. It was my second visit to this tiny (9.7 square miles) Overseas Collectivity of France and no less impressive than the first, more than a decade ago.
What immediately stands out is the pristine condition of its entire surroundings, spotlessly clean and not a single evidence of litter in sight. Clearly the population has pride in its environs. And this, less than two years (September 2017) since the ravages of Hurricane IRMA Yes! A small number of hotels have yet to re-open, but rather than a quick-fix, they have taken the long term opportunity to use the enforced closure period to upgrade and improve their plant.
Like Barbados, St Barts is tourism dependent, but its around 10,000 inhabitants appear not to need any frequent coaxing of the benefits that industry brings. Seemingly, no-one has to remind them of the need to re-cycle or responsibly dispose of rubbish, as they fully comprehend this is an overwhelmingly standard practice in all the major markets where their visitors travel from.
The island’s total room stock comprises of less than 30 hotels, most of them with 15 rooms or less. The largest has 58 rooms and the most expensive just 12. Private villas add another 400 properties to rent, which, when you include the hotels, accommodate around 70,000 long stay visitors per year. Another 130,000 arrive by yacht.
Clearly, they have assessed the value of small boutique hotels, where guests can be pampered and as a result, return year after year. It also seems inconceivable that any new hotel construction on St Barts would NOT be built in a sympathetic architectural style in complete harmony with existing development regardless of the period.
Comparison with larger tourism led destinations is of course difficult, but for those who have opted to construct faceless, visually hideous, tall square concrete blocks which appear more at home on Miami Beach or the shores of Cancun and the Dominican Republic should stop and think exactly why people pick a particular location.
The temptation is of course always there to build as quickly and cheaply as possible, but we also have to bear in mind what differentiates us from other holiday choices within the Caribbean.
With many hotels having a lifetime use of approaching 50 years, surely within that investment some consideration should be given to its aesthetic appearance? Especially, if we wish to retain what is often quoted as the accolade of an ‘iconic’ destination.
I urge all tourism planners and policymakers to consider visiting St Barts, who have not already been. Despite our long history growing tourism, there is always more that we can learn from others, to the undoubted benefit of everyone.