Tiny Saba makes big moves

WINDWARDSIDE, Saba -- This tiny island is experiencing something of a tourism renaissance, thanks to a new airport terminal, more hotel rooms, enhanced air and ferry services and a renamed and revitalized Web site.

According to Glenn Holm, director of tourism at the Saba Tourist Office here, rebuilding the terminal at Flat Point Airport is part of a three-pronged renovation plan to be completed by late 2002.

"It's not going to be a huge terminal, but it will definitely be an improvement and make life easier for passengers and residents," Holm said.

The facility will provide air-conditioned arrival and departure areas, several boutiques and a tourist information office.

The terminal building, destroyed by Hurricane Lenny in 1999, was replaced with a temporary structure.

The renovation project started late last year, with the resurfacing of Saba's 1,200-foot runway, widely considered one of the shortest anywhere.

Holm said some of the cliffs surrounding the airport will be judiciously pruned back, a move likely to reduce the apprehension of pilots and arriving passengers.

Also planned is the opening of 20 rooms at two properties along with the potential reopening of a third inn.

Although secluded and very small, Saba is right up there with the big guys in terms of its Web site and the visitor information contained within, including hotel links and bulletin board.These additions will push Saba's room count to approximately 105 units.

According to Holm, the 10-room Ecolodge Rendez Vous, slated to open in the first quarter of 2002, will be the first property on Saba to actively court ecologically minded visitors.

Accommodations in cabins will feature solar-heated showers and composting toilets, a restaurant serving organic vegetables and fruits grown on site and a sun deck with a solar-powered hot tub.

The property's courting of ecotourists "is the way we want to go because we're focusing on that type of tourism," Holm said.

Captain's Quarters, which was damaged by Hurricane Georges in 1998, is for sale and likely will reopen next year, adding another 10 rooms to the island's inventory.

Gate House, a relatively new property that shut down abruptly last year, also is for sale. A reopening would add another six units to the roster.

Holm said access to Saba by air and sea is a little easier, due to new charter air and additional ferry services.

Windward Express Airways -- one of a handful of carriers authorized to land at Flat Point Airport -- offers chartered flights for up to nine passengers from Princess Juliana Airport on St. Maarten.

The Edge ferry service recently doubled its capacity by adding a second boat, which serves Saba five days a week from St. Maarten, Holm said.

Saba's Web site in March was relaunched as www.sabatourism.com.

Saba is on the move with plans for 20 more hotel rooms and a new airport terminal. Ferry services from St. Martin have expanded, as well.Updated information, more links to local hotels and businesses and a planned bulletin board are among the changes.

Holm acknowledged that the site "had stagnated awhile, and we needed to add new information to keep up."

The bulletin board feature will offer news on events of interest to tourists and interisland travelers, he said.

Early indicators show that the relaunched site is receiving more visitors than before.

Holm said he is pleased with the developments on this tiny island of 1,648 residents.

While he acknowledged that beachless Saba "is not for everybody, tourism drives the economy."

"People come to dive because Saba is among the best dive sites in the region, if not the world. They come for hiking, nature and our architecture," Holm said.

"We don't want hordes of tourists. We want just enough to keep the economy going."

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