What does new construction in the wake of last year's hurricanes tell us about the future sustainability of Caribbean tourism?
Answers to that question may unfolding in the rebuild of one St. Maarten property, now slated to reopen on Feb. 1, 2019.
The Maho Group, owners and operators of the two Sonesta St. Maarten Resorts in the Caribbean, began reconstruction this month on the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort Casino & Spa, following devastation from Hurricane Irma last September.
The company is taking every measure to implement the latest engineering innovations and storm-resistant materials to ensure the future security and well-being of its property and guests.
"While we always had a plan to rebuild, it was imperative to rebuild by incorporating the best materials and latest storm-resistant technology," said Saro Spadero, president of the Maho Group.
"We not only have the welfare of our staff and future guests to consider, but we also have a massive responsibility to St. Maarten to rebuild in a manner that pioneers hurricane-safe infrastructure," he said.
Maho is using the technology of TCK and LVKE, a China-based, green technology consortium that is creating storm and fire-resistant building materials.
The resort's Sky Tower building, which sustained the most damage from the storm, requires a complete overhaul and will be stripped to its structural frame.
Pre-fabricated TCK and LVKE composite panels with an interior honeycomb reinforcement structure are being used throughout the tower, including the building's exterior and all interior partitions, such as the walls in the guest rooms, public spaces and corridors to increase the building's resistance to fire.
Maho enlisted the expertise of the Building Future Lab, a laboratory in Reggio Calabria, Italy that tests building performance by simulating earthquakes and hurricanes in a controlled setting. Fire resistance tests were carried out at a lab in Milan, where the material passed all rigorous testing.
The tests at Building Future Lab were carried out in an exact replica of the Sky Tower's exterior facade. A jet engine-like wind simulator created extreme hurricane conditions to test the material's resistance to high winds and water penetration.
Lab results showed that the exterior of a building constructed with TCK and LVKE panels could withstand winds of up to 200 mph (Hurricane Irma had sustained winds of 165 mph.)
The 10-acre, all-inclusive, family-friendly resort plans to reopen on Feb. 1, 2019 with 416 rooms and facilities that include a Kids Club, Teen Zone, an oversized pool area with swim-up bar and separate kids' pool with mini aqua park, five restaurants, a pizzeria, five bars, sports courts, a wedding gazebo, the Serenity Spa and the Casino Royale.
Besides being more storm-resistant, the hotel will be more environmentally-friendly, with windows and sliding doors with argon gas-filled air gaps to increase thermal insulation, reducing the energy needed to cool the building and reduces the structure's overall carbon footprint.
The new look of the Sonesta will be modern, and guest rooms will have an enhanced layout with better use of space, including larger bathrooms allowing in natural light. New furniture includes European mattresses and bedding and a wood-based bed frame made from sustainably harvested forests, under the Forest Certification Encouragement Program.
The adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point, which sustained less damage, will reopen on Nov. 15.