The SBA Board requested a meeting with the Executive Council to follow up on issues, previously raised by the Board, now that Saba is 1 month into the re-opening of its borders. The meeting took place in the government buildings on June 8th.
The Board asked how implementation of the marketing plan was progressing and was informed that the promotional video for Saba will be finalized soon; press releases of Saba’s re-opening had resulted in more than 15 articles advertising that Saba is open again for business and the safest destination around; and quite a few ads on social media have been purchased. The Executive Council raised the concern that Saba has lost many hotel bedrooms over the past years. Currently the few hotels that are open are fully booked and a big concern is that there will not be enough accommodation on the island in the next couple of months. Hopes are that The Arawak Hotel which is currently under construction will open in time for the upcoming high season. The Ecolodge has been under renovation for some years and it is hoped that this might also re-open in order to accommodate the expected influx of tourists. The Board suggested that rental properties might be marketed more strongly in order to pick up the slack.
The SBA sent a letter to the Executive Council on May 4th suggesting the expansion of discretionary fund which is being offered to hotels, dive shops and taxis. A plan with a financial breakdown must be provided to the government before an approval is given after which the fund is being made available to enable businesses to make cosmetic and structural improvements and help them get up and running for the incoming tourists. The SBA believes that this should be available to all tourist facing businesses as they were all hardest hit during the pandemic. The Executive Council promised to take this argument into consideration and will follow up on this soonest.
At the moment there is only 1 dive shop fully operational on Saba; there used to be 3 successful dive shops operating. As diving is one of the main attractions of Saba, the SBA is somewhat concerned that the scarcity of this important tourism magnet might have an adverse effect on attracting tourism to the island. Questions were asked about extending the cap that seems to be in place for the issuance of licenses. This also has the concern of the government and they will look into this issue.
It is expected that Winair will increase their flights to Saba in the near future to 2 flights daily. Currently Winair has 2 flights, 3 times weekly which does not seem sufficient. Furthermore, an overall evaluation of the Covid-19 travel policy and on-island measure will be occurring in the next few weeks. The pre-travel PCR testing will be part of this discussion.
The government also informed that an offer to tender will be put out for ferry services to the islands of Saba and St. Eustatius to increase the accessibility of the islands.
The SBA suggested to use Carnival to promote the ban on plastics by informing the Saba Festival Foundation to stimulate the promoters as much as possible to not use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, etc.
The government informed the SBA that they actually still have some biodegradable products available that they possibly can distribute to the promoters.
Banking & postal code issues
The SBA Board have prioritized solving the problems faced by businesses as a result of the lack of banking options on Saba, the lack of a unique postcode for Saba and the regular absence of Saba or the BES Islands in ‘dropdown boxes’ during computer transactions. As a result, a letter was recently sent by the government to the Dutch Ministry, summing up the issues that the population of Saba, and businesses in particular, are experiencing. At present an intern from the Ministry of Finance is on the island and a part of his remit is to investigate these banking and postcode issues. A meeting with the SBA has been arranged to report the (financial) consequences to the Ministry in the hopes that the situation can be improved.
The above-mentioned letter also again pointed out the issues that arise from the fact that Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are grouped as one country. The SBA is advocating for a post code per island so that mail from the post office and courier services are not constantly miss sent to Bonaire. Also, the slow distribution of mail was addressed in the same letter.
Other points of interest
The SBA expressed their concern that it seems that the big parking lot in Windwardside seems to get congested quickly, and quite a few spaces are occupied by government vehicles. The government acknowledges the issue and is in negotiation to acquire land to park the government vehicles.
Questions were asked about food vendors that are selling food from their homes without a license. The SBA is of the opinion that this is not a level playfield for restaurants or vendors who have to pay their taxes and licenses. Also, concerns were expressed about the hygiene of the places where the food is prepared. The government will follow up with Public Health to ensure that safety and hygiene meet the required standards of the vendors with licenses. Those who are cooking without licenses will again be instructed to stop their service.
Businesses that have not yet received the hand sanitizers that have been freely distributed by government will receive theirs soon. More sanitizers were ordered and are expected on the island soon.
Saba Business Association.