MARIGOT--Plaques were presented by elected officials at a ceremony on Friday to proprietors of the first eleven guesthouses that were classified and rated by the Collectivité in 2014.
The awards bring guesthouses into focus with a guarantee of quality while diversifying the hospitality sector's range of accommodation options available to tourists.
The guesthouses have a maximum 10 rooms or less and received ratings from one star to five stars. Each star a guesthouse earns comes with the guarantee that a set of standards has been met and in some cases surpassed.
In the French system guesthouses are not classified, but the Collectivité decided in February 2014 to adopt a classification system for St. Martin using different criteria. In December the classification committee completed the ratings for 11 guesthouses.
The list of awardees includes Over the Hill Guest House (La Savane), Couleur Café SXM (Mont Vernon), Les Alizés (Grand Case), Sol et Luna (Mont Vernon), Le Shambala (Grand Case), Residence Adam and Eve (Orient Bay), Hevea (Grand Case), La Source (Orient Bay), La Plenitude (Friar's Bay), Le Ti Colibri (Orient Bay) and La Palmeraie (Lowlands).
Just two guesthouses received five stars, Sol et Luna and Le Shambala.
St. Martin Tourism Office President Jeanne Rogers-Vanterpool noted in her introduction that the guesthouse tradition dates back to the 1950s when St. Martin families welcomed visitors into their homes with warm hospitality, a warmth that soon led to St. Martin being referred to as "The Friendly Island".
As a result of tourism and development policy a new standard of classification is being implemented in the industry today based on criteria that are also applicable to restaurants and hotels.
"Our goal is to improve our tourism offering by standardising what is offered to our visitors across the board in all establishments offering accommodation," Rogers-Vanterpool explained. "Our new standards combine the best of American and European and the unique traditions of warmth and welcome that is very much part of St. Martin. Our development policy is geared towards creating a high-end product."
She said the guesthouse industry was very "hands-on," with owners and employees in contact constantly with the guests, and catered to visitors who want a more personal experience than they can have in a hotel setting.
"Many of these establishments have customers who have returned time and time again for the past 20 years and brought their children and grandchildren. Many guests we spoke to at various locations said they were made to feel like family. It is truly time to recognise the efforts of guesthouses and encourage them where necessary to improve their product."
Vice-President Wendel Cocks said the classification system was "an important reference for consumers when choosing accommodations."
"I'm very pleased to see the first 11 classified guesthouses," he said. "All of you, from one star to five stars, are equally important to us as you deliver a recognised service. We want to assure you that the Collectivité is at your side. Make us proud of you so we in turn can be proud of St. Martin."
Cocks said financial aid would be available to guesthouses soon, partly from the Collectivité and partly from European funds.
Philippe Thévenet of the French-side hoteliers association AHSM said he was pleased guesthouses were now an integral part of the hospitality sector recognised for "quality and professionalism."