St. Barths Online

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Sep 26, 2002

Sweet September

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Tropical heat, cloudless skies, and not a ripple in the sea. Beaches are practically deserted, and most of St. Barth's hotels, restaurants and boutiques are boarded up. With the exceptional of school hours, there is no traffic to speak of. Natural catastrophe? Hardly. It's September in St. Barth, a delicious time to be on the island, reminding those of us who are around what the island used to be like fifteen years ago, when the tourism lows were lower and longer-from April to November- and the highs were shorter, and less vertiginous.
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To make this September even sweeter, all of the menacing storms have headed north, south or west of the island, leaving St. Barth hurricane-free, at least for the present. Who's going to complain about the below-average rainfall figures, the thirsty gardens and empty cisterns when there's no major weather bully to face? It's like being granted meteorological amnesty, relieving the residual angst caused by previous high-yield hurricane seasons, a succession of storm days and three particularly devastating hurricanes (Luis in '95,Jose and Lenny in '01) to haunt our memories.
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The month of September is not just about being on permanent hurricane alert, however nice the weather. Because of the scarcity of tourists, city hall members use this economically weak month to start, or continue work on pending public projects. Suspended for several months, work on the "La Tourmente" construction site near the airport has once again gotten underway. First, some major modifications had to be made. Public engineers from the region had originally foreseen the construction of a "rond point", the French traffic contraption that replaces an intersection's traffic lights with a central traffic island around which cars must circulate until they reach their desired exit. Local officials contested the soundness of the departmental engineers' plan and have now nixed it for good. Another change is the level of the new airport road, which was originally set to be 1.8 meters lower than the currently existing one. The level change required extensive blasting in the area. Since that time, island officials and city planners have discovered that the lower road level would, in the end, merely present problems for both land and air traffic. As a result, the gaping hole that was created at considerable expense to the community will now simply be refilled. As for the portion of the new road leading from the intersection to the airport, it will be shifted 35 meters over from where the current road is situated. Then, the old road will be destroyed, and the new roadside area will be replanted. Just don't ask about the project's delivery date, no one is even venturing a guess anymore.
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There are two new surprises awaiting tourists who plan to visit St. Barth in the upcoming months. The first is the re-opening of the Gustavia road that was closed after hurricane Lenny caused a 200-meter portion of the road to collapse. The other novelty will be L'Espace Gambier, located at the entry of Gustavia Harbor across the street from the Gustavia pharmacy. The for-years undeveloped lot will soon be converted into a new public infrastructure featuring a 25-car parking lot, a fish market, and a welcome center for cruise ship passengers.
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While island officials are minding the storefront, hotel managers and owners have hit the road to promote the island abroad. Many went to Deauville to attend Top Resa, one of the most important European travel trade shows of the year that concluded last week. Hotel association members are also joining heads to put the finishing touches on the promotional week they will be hosting in New York from Oct 15-17. The Manhattan marketing coup is their concerted effort to generate enthusiasm among American tour operators and travel agencies for an island that has held up well in a post-9/11 travel economy but must actively search out new markets for summer's leaner months.

Yves Bourel

Yves Bourel


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