St. Barths wants to reopen for international tourism

St. Barths in the distance - Photo by Will Johnson

PHILIPSBURG – Unlike St. Maarten, the island of St. Barth’s has all its ducks in a row for reopening to tourism. But regulations put in place by the French government frustrate these efforts. Collectivité of Saint Barths President Bruno Magras addressed the issue in a scathing letter to the French Minister of Overseas Territories, Annick Girardin. Former parliamentarian Claude ‘Chacho’ Peterson labels Magras’ action as an example of how St. Maarten ought to change its attitude towards its kingdom bosses.

Magras notes in his letter that St. Barths has not had a single new case of COVID-19 during the past two months. Nevertheless, the island has local PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing capacities in place that are “ten times the national capacities based on the number of inhabitants.”

Even better: St. Barths paid for these capacities from its own resources. “These capacities will be further increased with the objective of reopening the island to international tourism without delay,” Magras wrote. He points out that St. Barths has suitable places to isolate travelers who test positive for the virus and that it has developed an electronic health declaration form. “No French territory can claim such a situation.”

Bruno Magras in his SBC officeMagras furthermore notes that St. Barths is not part of the Schengen area and that travel to the United States or other third party territories can be re-established without the need for a European agreement. Against this background, Magras (see photo) notes that traffic restrictions will be lifted soon in France and in the entire Schengen-area, while “the French Antilles are offered no clear timetable, no economic horizon.”

There is even a decree that limits travel between French islands to those who have a compelling reason for it.

Like in St. Maarten, St. Barth’s economy relies heavily on tourism but as Magras points out, the number of French mainland and European tourists is marginal. “We have only three short months left to save what can be saved before an uncertain 2020-2021 season.”

Contrary to St. Maarten, Magras is not asking for any state aid for St. Barths. “I am simply asking for firm and clear commitments to a rapid timetable for the reopening of our borders to international tourism from June 2020.” That reopening should not be hampered by a health protocol: “Reopening the borders by requiring a fortnight of quarantine would be a fool’s game.”

Magras wrote that his island has implemented health protocols that include testing of visitors on arrival and during their stay.

The territorial council adopted a motion on May 29 requesting reopening of the borders without quarantine requirements. “You have the green light from St. Barths to experiment boldly,” Magras wrote to Minister Girardin.

Magras is requesting reopening the borders per June 15 and for testing a health protocol that includes two PCR tests but not a quarantine requirement.

“St. Barths is ready. We have assumed our responsibilities and we provide strong guarantees,” Magras wrote. “We have proposed a clear strategy for several weeks. Now we want to know the state’s ambition for our island: economic asphyxiation, with all its consequences, or an immediate restart.”

In case the minister dismissed these requests and opts to keep the borders closed, Magras warns that France will have to fund financial losses and that the island will exempt itself from the DGC for the next five years – a decision that would cost France €15 million ($16.95 at the current rate of exchange).

Former MP Peterson is deeply impressed by Magras’ letter: “That is what assuming autonomy from France looks like; defending your rights from a position of financial and administrative strength, unlike St. Maarten’s elected and appointed officials grandstanding against the Dutch from a position of technical and financial dependence from the very same people they identify as colonizers. When will St. Maarten be able to send such a letter to State Secretary Knops?”

Peterson does not mince his words either in an exchange about the topic on Messenger: “Instead of bashing the Dutch, humble your damn self, deal with the mess you created on your own island, take the money and use it wisely to make sure you can stand on your own two feet in a few years. Then we can show the Dutch that we can take care of ourselves.”


Photo caption: Top photo shows St. Barths in distance over the hills of Pointe Blanche. Photo by Will Johnson is taken from Facebook.

StBarths Airport FlightSim Graphic

Related links:
Letter President Bruno Magras to French Overseas Minister
Four ways to get to St. Barths by air