St. Barths Online

News

Feb 18, 2002

Manna, ABC

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In the minds of locals, especially those with hotels and restaurants to fill, cars to rent, merchandise to sell, and services to render, the 15-minute editorial piece about St. Barthelemy that ran on the ABC network's popular morning show, "Good Morning America", came like manna from heaven. Manna sometimes falls out of the blue in sports events: the 11th hour homerun, the end-of-the game goal, the unknown contender whose performance soars past the favorites to win the gold. We vicariously experience these golden moments in films contrived to elicit the knee-jerk emotional responses of their audiences, however predictable and expected they may be. Rare indeed are the times when events and necessity connive in a timely and randomly coordinated fashion to give rise to the old-ace-up-the-cosmic sleeve feeling that rekindles hope and leaves everyone feeling spared, grateful and awfully lucky.
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"It (...the show) came as an incredible surprise," said Catherine Charneau, general manager for the Village St. Jean Hotel and vice-president of the St. Barth hotel association, who told Radio St. Barth listeners during a recent radio interview that this season, hotel occupancy rates were down between 10 and 25 per cent. Though Myron Clement, of the Clement and Petrocik public relations firm, who handles overseas publicity for the island, made the comment that St. Barth tourism was not as badly affected as surrounding islands, here, a free fall still feels like a free fall, and the show came as the security net when it was most needed.
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So, why did "Good Morning, America" single out St. Barth among all of the other Caribbean islands that could have been, might have been, but were not chosen? According to a survey that ABC ran among television viewers, St. Barth was voted as the most romantic place to spend Valentine's Day. A former member of Bill Clinton's inner circle, George Stefanopolis, hosted the tv segment, highlighting for viewers the various elements that make the St. Barth reputation, its setting, its beaches, its charm, its Frenchness and its hot spots, like Maya's restaurant, Le Toiny and Eden Rock hotel. The presentation was enticing enough to stir the reaction and wanderlust of its American viewers, who, predictably, got on their computers to look for information about St. Barth. One of the places they looked was St. Barth Online (the travel site that you are currently visiting), whose internet traffic hit some peaks in the days immediately following the show.
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When French TV networks do a piece on St. Barth, attention is invariably focused on the fact that this is a French island that is not paying taxes like everyone else. The format is pretty much the same: some standard beauty shots : the island's beaches, Gustavia harbor, followed by interviews with a few brutish French metropolitan transplants who brag about how much money they're making and how great it is not to have to pay taxes on their earnings. Then comes the part about the island officials, like the mayor, asked by the tv reporter to explain to French tv viewers why his community is not paying taxes like everyone else. By way of explanation, he or some other island representative will refer to the international treaty that was signed in 1877 between Sweden and France that guaranteed the island's status as a duty-free island. At the end of the report, the conclusion is usually made that this is a living day paradise reserved to a pocketful of the lucky few, an El Dorado shimmering in the horizon.
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What's interesting is the way Americans present this island and what they choose to focus on. Of course, there are the traditional travel shots, but when American reporters underscore the island's uniqueness, it is without the disdain, envy or aggressiveness that is so often found in the documentaries and travel pieces of their French counterparts.
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Many people on this island do not know what ABC is. Some may receive American network coverage, but it would be safe to say that the majority of island households did not, and will probably never see the "Good Morning, America" show on St. Barth that may result in greater occupancy, more tourists, and a better season.
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Residents here were too busy thinking about Carnaval, also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Of all the parade floats, this year's favorite, judging by the applause, was the Moulin Rouge. It was an oddball entry that combined history and pop culture, Caribbean, American and French. In the end, maybe it is what St. Barth has made of its present and past, its regional, cultural and geographical specificities, along with the numerous twists of fate it has been doled, that make it so easy for some, so hard for others, to love the island.

Yves Bourel

Yves Bourel


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