There has been some discussion in the travel industry over whether a dangerous plane spotting practice in St. Maarten should come to a halt following the recent death of a New Zealand tourist on Maho Beach.
On July 13, several media outlets reported that a 57-year-old, unidentified woman from New Zealand was killed when she was knocked over by the thrust from one the engines of a plane landing at the notoriously dangerous Princess Juliana Airport.
According to Yahoo, she is understood to have died in the hospital where she was being treated for head injuries. The Caribbean airport is famous as one of the world’s most dangerous spots to go plane watching.
Despite signage urging vacationers not to get too close to the planes, scores of tourists ignore the warnings regularly to feel the force of the thrust, some even clinging to the fences to see if they can hang on.
Travel Agent doesn’t think St. Maarten should put an end to plane spotting on Maho Beach by re-routing the planes that land near there, but thinks certain safety measures need to be enforced.
First off, the warning signs that have become popular Instagram pics on their own have never seemed to serve a purpose other than simply being a cool sign that people like to take photos of.
People ignore those signs daily and continue to hold onto the fences as the planes land. There needs to be a fine attached to the warnings and there needs to be security on the beach to enforce such fines.
And agents like Kristen DeAngelo of Dream Excapes agree.
“There are many warning signs of the dangers surrounding this area that many tourists don't obey by,” says DeAngelo. “Instead of ruining this bucket list item for many travelers and also re-routing road traffic for locals, tourists who do hang on the fences or stand right on the beach in that danger zone should be issued a heavy fine.”
Instead of re-routing the planes, Travel Agent thinks it would be in the best interest of St. Maarten tourism to instead re-route the people watching them too closely on the beach. Perhaps a certain area of the beach can be blocked off? Perhaps there could be traffic cones or a roped off area?
Now, keeping tourists safe is the number one priority of any destination, but plane watching shouldn’t be a dangerous excursion. It shouldn’t be done so close to the planes. Instead, tourists should watch planes from a beach bar like Sunset Bar & Grill, a business that agents know would be put in jeopardy without the scores of patrons who plane watch while sipping drinks and munching on food all day.
“For people like the Sunset Bar & Grill, it would be a shame for them to lose their business due to a shut down of Runway 23,” says Alex Scipione of Alex's Adventures. “The Grill is a perfect place to enjoy the views and stay a safer distance away from the incoming planes. People do have to take some responsibility for themselves as in any situation. There are numerous large signs posted so it is apparent there is risk in entering the space that they have chosen to go.”
For agents like Marisa Costa, founder of Amiko and advisor at Protravel International, the recent tragedy was something most visitors and residents of St. Maarten have been predicting for years.
“I remember going to St. Maarten as a kid and hearing my mother call Maho Beach ‘an accident waiting to happen,’” she tells Travel Agent. “While tourists should always use their best judgement and pay attention to the risks of their activities, there also seem to be a need for stricter monitoring of safety regulations.”