Wednesday , February 1 2023

Saba keeps working on better accessibility

The Saba Government keeps looking at ways to increase access to the island by sea and air. Not an easy task with the high airfares, the dependability on hurri­cane-hit St. Maarten and to a certain extent the re­luctance to cater to Saba’s wishes and needs.

Accessibility to Saba is a vital aspect to the further development of the island’s small economy. The dam­age that Hurricane Irma did to St. Maarten, which serves as the main feeder of transport to Saba via air and sea, have also affected Saba.

Saba’s accessibility and the relation to the general eco­nomic development came up in several meetings that the Saba delegation, headed by Commissioner Bruce Zagers, had with the various Dutch ministries in The Hague in the past two weeks.

One of the issues that came up in the meetings was the landing permit for another airline to fly to Saba, which so far has not been granted. “Right now it is difficult to get to Saba. The seating to Saba is lim­ited and expensive. Tourists want to come to Saba, but they either can’t get a seat, especially when travelling in a group or the airfare is too high. That discour­ages people from coming to Saba and that is not good for our economy,” Zagers told The Daily Herald.

Adding to the problem is that ferry services between St. Maarten and Saba have been reduced since Hur­ricane Irma. The Edge is coming to Saba three times a week. The Dawn ferry service ceased due to dam­age to the vessel. Before the hurricane there were six ferry trips per week.

Prior to Hurricane Irma Saba had four Winair flights per day. “Now we are down to three and one of these flights is not even a dedicated, direct flight because it is shared with St. Eustatius,” said the Com­missioner.

Zagers explained that the seats on the two direct flights are dominated by persons travelling to St. Maarten for medical care. The accessibility has been discussed several times with the Dutch Government and with the airline in question.

Then there is the recently started CN-Express which is a direct, twice a week flight between Bonaire, St. Maarten and St. Eustatius executed with an ATR42 of Air Antilles and with an onward connection to Saba.

While the service is good for Saba patients who need to go abroad for medi­cal care and for civil ser­vants who need to travel between the islands, the question is how attractive the CN-Express is for tour­ist travelers who want to spend some time in Saba.

This has to do with the one-way airfare of US $300, excluding taxes and fees. “The CN-Express is good for medical refer­rals and for civil servants because it greatly reduces their travelling time, but a solution also needs to be looked at how to promote tourism,” said Zagers.

“Saba would like afford­able packages to attract more tourists and the route needs to be marketed to fill the empty seats. Any pos­sibility to get extra people to Saba and St. Eustatius should be looked at,” said Zagers.

One of the reasons to start the CN-Express was to provide additional ac­cess to St. Eustatius and Saba with the compromis­ing of the St. Maarten hub following Hurricane Irma. The idea was for the CN-­Express to contribute to the economic development of the two smaller islands, to improve medical refer­rals as well as the connec­tions for islands’ residents.

In another, related mat­ter that also affects Saba’s economic development, Zagers stated that the is­sue of very limited banking services on the island was also discussed during the visit of the Saba delegation to the Netherlands.

There are only two ATM machines on the island and limited banking services. This presents a problem for residents and business­es and it is also not condu­cive to Saba’s general eco­nomic development.

“We need to seek alterna­tives to improve banking services,” said Zagers, who announced that the Dutch Central Bank DNB is con­ducting a baseline study to assess which basic bank services the island needs.

“We need an easier way to get loans and mortgages and to do bank transac­tions. It is vital for Saba’s development to have good banking services. Some­thing needs to happen.”

The accessibility to Saba and a better banking in­frastructure are regularly discussed in talk with the Dutch Government in view of the island’s economic development.

The Daily Herald.

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