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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  Mai 17, 2002 - Issue # 19
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  The season ends in fanfare
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   Once every 2 years, the ag2r transatlantic race infects the island with sailing fever, and islanders scan the horizon, waiting for the first boats to announce the conclusion of the race that has linked two distant ports - Lorient in Brittany and Gustavia in St. Barth - for the past 14 years.
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  Seeing the race fleet in the harbor, all 24 of the boats floating quietly side by side, it would be difficult to imagine the weekend brouhaha. Weather and sailing conditions were so good that, unlike 2 years ago, boats actually arrived a little sooner than first expected, Friday May 11 for the leader. The skippers were feted, as was their due, but the people here were all waiting for the real boats to come in, which is to say, the St. Barth entries. The faster of the two, St. Barth Assurances, sailed by Richard Ledee and Markku Harmala, arrived on Saturday around breakfast time. The second St. Barth entry, Avis, sailed by Luc Poupon and Jeff Ledee, arrived Saturday in the late afternoon, just in time for cocktails. This may seem insignificant, but when you're a race fan, though you may get up in the middle of the night and head down to the harbor, chances are you'd rather stay home in bed and probably will. The fact that the locals sailed in at such family-friendly hours made for an exuberant crowd that filled the quay throughout the weekend.
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  The festivities ended on Sunday evening with a night dedicated to Brittany. Crepes and cider, washed down with the music of a rock group flown in from Brittany for the occasion, were festival fare, as were the cheering, and laughing, and back-slapping and hand-shaking and eating and dancing and drinking that have now faded.
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  Locally, May signals the beginning of low season. As its name implies, low season is that dry trek across the economic desert that all tourist-based local businesses must learn to survive. As vacancies increase, accommodation rates are lowered, sometimes by half, as villa renters and hoteliers use price incentives to lure customers to them.
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  May is also the time for taking stock of business performance during the high season, determining whether the year will be remembered as a good vintage or as a dud. No official figures are actually ever published by hotels and restaurants, but it would be safe to say that, overall, this season was better than most people feared. If November and January were write-offs, the remaining months were well frequented. The average drop-off in figures was contained at around 20% for this season. Though this island fared better than surrounding ones after September 11, the island's tourism professionals are wasting no time in thinking about the kinds of initiatives that can be taken to improve St. Barth's market position in the Caribbean-bound travel market. A seminar on just that topic, organized in tandem with the tourism office of Guadeloupe, will gather travel professionals and other thinkers to kick the idea around.
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  Simultaneously, political focus will be drawn to Guadeloupe as this department, like the rest of France, approaches the legislative elections. Saint Barth, St. Martin and some parts of Basse Terre, in Guadeloupe, comprise the department's 4th voting district. Unless there's a major surprise, St. Barth's will be represented in the national assembly by one of the two candidates from Guadeloupe. The outgoing representative, Philippe Chaulet, who hails from Chirac-led republican territory, will be facing Victorin Lurel, an outspoken Socialist who has been actively cultivating a relationship with St. Barth. The candidature of Louis-Constant Fleming, from St. Martin, is the newsworthy item in the legislatives. His chances for actually being elected are negligeable, but the fact that he is even running is a pretty strong political statement: the northern leeward islands, worlds away from continental Guadeloupe, have a voice of their own, and they intend to make it heard.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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