Sint Maarten and Anguilla have agreed to what Chief Minister Hubert Hughes calls a "functional cooperation" between Anguilla and Sint Maarten similar to the kind of cooperation that exists between the Scandinavian countries.
At a meeting held in Anguilla on Friday, May 13th between a high-powered Sint Maarten delegation led by the Honourable Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger, which included the Hon. Minister of Justice, Roland Duncan, Chief Minister Hubert Hughes stressed the long-standing relationship between the two islands and the strong family ties that bind them together.
"These are indeed reasons for us to have a stronger and more structural relationship," concurred Vice Prime Minister Heyliger. "There are many areas in which we can make our cooperation more functional and meaningful," he added, pointing to the Princess Juliana International Airport as a sub-regional hub, the possibility of joint marketing activities and the Tourism Statistical Information System (TSIS) among others.
The Sint Maarten delegation, which also comprised Angelique Roumou who represented Minister of Tourism Franklin Meyers, Director of Tourism, Regina LaBega and officials of the Sint Maarten Tourist Bureau as well as Peter Mazereeuw, gave a presentation on the TSIS to the Anguillan authorities who were reportedly "very excited" about it.
"The TSIS offers the opportunity to obtain psychographic information about the visitors, which means not just their profiles but also their behavior patterns," explained Director of Tourism Regina LaBega.
"There is an opportunity to build on the system and add Anguilla’s inventory to it, thus being able to provide valuable information about visitors going to Anguilla from Sint Maarten, information that would be important in attracting visitors by air as well as strengthening the hub facilities," Labega added.
Providing residents and visitors of Anguilla "smoother entry" into Sint Maarten was another major point of discussion at the talks. It was agreed that the process for visitors to Anguilla via Sint Maarten needs to be simplified, and service needs to be improved.
Sint Maarten needs to facilitate the immigration processing of in-transit visitors to Anguilla, which, according to the authorities of that island, sometimes takes visitors up to five hours waiting time. It was suggested that an in-transit line and an information desk could hasten this process.
Justice Minister Roland Duncan mentioned the strategy of the Immigration office at the Simpson Bay bridge staying open late to accommodate visitors heading for Anguilla via Sint Maarten.
Duncan also revealed that the immigration process is already being worked on to allow for example, Guyanese legal residents of Anguilla to travel to Sint Maarten to shop, given the fact that Sint Maarten is viewed as a shopping mall for Anguilla residents.
Another area of cooperation that was discussed was cooperative marketing, in particular a US$90,000 joint venture with Sint Maarten and COPA airlines to attract visitors from South America.
Furthermore, Anguilla demonstrated initial interest in cooperating with WestJet and Jet Blue from Puerto Rico in view of the loss of the American Eagle flight from said market. However, it was noted that the increase of flights by Jet Blue should take the transfer in and out of Anguilla into consideration.
Also, the Anguilla government and private sector indicated their commitment to attending the 10th anniversary of the Sint Maarten Annual Regional Trade Show, SMART. This would be an opportunity for Anguilla to learn first-hand about the TSIS system and how it can enhance their individual products, Anguilla and the sub-region in general.
"I am very happy at the outcome of the meeting," stated Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger. "Although we met on Friday the 13th there was nothing scary nor superstitious about the talks," he mused, adding that these were overdue and would be structured into a periodic consultation between the governments of these islands.
Heyliger had led a Sint Maarten delegation to St. Barths on a similar mission a week earlier and explained that these meetings formed part of government policy to establish a closer working relationship with our immediate neighbours which would be beneficial to all parties.
The Anguillan authorities applauded the initiative taken by Sint Maarten and expressed confidence that it would yield concrete positive results for both parties.