Last year’s hurricanes had a devastating effect on the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. Early images of the island in the aftermath of the storms showed homes, hotels and businesses flattened by the powerful winds and flooded by an incredible storm surge.
It looked impossible to pick up the pieces but just over a year later, the island is making a resurgence and the Maho Group, owners of the Sonesta St. Maarten Resorts, has played a major role in aiding recovery efforts.
The Maho Group is the largest employer on the island and the resort company was committed to sustaining the hospitality industry after the storm. It invested in its staff and other hotel employees across the island by spearheading Hospitality First, the Sint Maarten Training Foundation (SMTF) that was established in December 2017.
The hospitality industry accounted for almost half of the Sint Maarten’s GDP and, after the storms many people were at risk of losing their jobs and their only sources of income. The Maho Group along with Sunwing Group, Price Waterhouse Cooper and Lexwell Attorneys, established SMTF to prevent mass layoffs and sharpen hospitality skills while the tourism industry recovered.
“During the process of rebuilding Sonesta St. Maarten Resorts, a great deal of time and effort went into developing The St. Maarten Training Foundation. Investing in our employees has always been a priority at The Maho Group, and after the incredible physical and emotional toll left by Irma’s destruction, this was an undeniable humanitarian effort, not only to aid our cherished staff, but all those left unemployed or underemployed within St. Maarten’s hospitality sector,” said Saro Spadaro, Maho Group president and CEO. “We have expanded the knowledge and confidence of our team members and others across the island and we are so proud of each and every one of them. They are thrilled to return to work and to harness their improved and new found skills.”
The founders of SMTF initially contributed to startup costs, operating costs and students’ attendance allowance. The program was later subsidized by Sint Maarten’s Ministry of Labor (VSA) and, since the program began, 860 students of which 60 percent are women are being trained three times per week.
In addition to funding from the VSA, SMTF received a grant of approximately $4.5 million from the Governments of Holland and St. Maarten with additional funding from the trust fund administered by the World Bank for $531 million set up by the Government of the Netherlands to assist with the reconstruction and recovery of the island.
Hospitality First’s courses aim to enhance career opportunities within Sint Maarten’s hospitality workforce. The program also meant that enrolled employers did not have to lay off staff. Employees referred to the program received training, certification and a stipend while attending courses, keeping their jobs and their benefits with their original employers.
Hospitality First also offered training courses to individuals who lost their jobs after the hurricanes and are currently unemployed.
St. Maarten continues to make a speedy recovery and has a restored infrastructure, added airlift, and numerous hotels have reopened.
The adults-only all-inclusive Sonesta Ocean Point and the all-inclusive family-friendly Sonesta Maho Beach Resort Casino & Spa, both completing renovations and reopening December 15, 2018, and Feb 1, 2019, respectively.
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