Wrecked by Hurricane Irma, this Caribbean island wants to make you smile again

Feb 01, 2018
  • By Jacqueline Charles
  • Miami Herald

Always wanted to live like a Donald Trump? 

On St. Martin, you can. Trump’s Chateau des Palmiers, which suffered minor damage during Hurricane Irma, is among several vacation rentals coming back on line in the French territory of St. Martin, where tourism is making a comeback.  

“Losing most of our infrastructures was a heavy blow,” said Valerie Damaseau, president of the Saint-Martin Office de Tourisme, on the French side of the island shared with the Dutch. “But we sprang into actions right away … . Most of our hotels are currently in their reconstruction phase. They have decided to rebuild and are actively involved in renovation and modernization projects.”  

Following September’s hurricane strike, the island’s 75,000 residents faced severe food and water shortages. Homes were blown off their foundations; beachfront hotels crumbled into piles of debris. Both the French and Dutch governments were slammed for their slow response to the crisis but have since allocated funds for clearing roads and beaches.  

Damaseau was in Miami recently pitching the island’s tourism comeback. Rebuilding is ongoing, she says, and there is a new logo — SXM Smile Again. Grand Case Airport is slated for expansion by 2020; downtown redevelopment and new cruise ship docks are also planned.  

The rebound is critical for the island economy. Tourism accounts for 85 percent of the island’s Gross Domestic Product, according to Damaseau; the U.S. is a primary source market.  

“Despite the passing of the Hurricane Irma,” Damaseau said, “what is so good besides the resilience of our people, is to know that the very investors that were interested in this beautiful destination still are holding their engagements.”  

But that doesn’t mean tourists have to wait to visit. Trump’s chateau, which charged a holiday rate of $140,000 a week, is among a handful of guest houses, hotels and villas able to receive guests. Bars and restaurants are also reopening.  

“The beaches are still there. The sun and fun are still there. And the friendliness of the people (is) untouched,” Damaseau said.  

Kate Richardson, the director general of the St. Martin tourism office, said while many prospective visitors may have seen the terrible images of the destruction on television, “life has been back to normal for quite awhile,” despite the ongoing challenges.  

“The roads have been cleared, the beaches have been cleaned,” she said. “Businesses are slowly reopening … the vendors are back.”