by Judy H. Fitzpatrick
COLE BAY–Like many businesses in St. Maarten, the Motorworld Group (MWG) of Companies was heavily hit by the devastating winds of Hurricane Irma, causing millions of dollars in damage to all companies in the group and leaving everyone shocked at the destruction caused to its buildings, some of which were built to sustain category 5 force winds.
But although Irma left a wave of destruction in her path, it was the looting that followed, which aroused the ire of MWG Managing Director Tariq Amjad. More than a dozen vehicles were looted from all of MWG’s locations in Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin.
“To be frank, I am absolutely disgusted and ashamed of the looting that transpired,” Amjad told The Daily Herald in an invited comment on the theft. “These types of crimes cause detrimental effects on our business’ ability to sustain its operations after a major natural disaster. Theft is theft. The temporary pleasure that one may get in taking something that does not belong to them “free” for the short-term, is in fact costing businesses, employees, customers and our entire economy over long-term.”
The Motorworld Group, which comprises Motorworld, Caribbean Auto, Audi and Dollar/Thrifty Car Rental, has managed to recover most of the vehicles and have reported the thefts. MWG is working with the authorities to secure the remaining stolen vehicles and ensure that the thieves are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“I feel that the looting has probably done even more damage than the hurricane, as it permanently crippled many businesses, ceasing their ability to re-open (if ever) to bring back a sense of normalcy to St. Maarten as fast as possible and most importantly the employees who will now be out of a job which has much more far reaching consequences. St. Maarten is completely tourism driven. For many days post Irma, every news station around the world was talking about St. Maarten and sadly the looting and criminal aspects have hurt our image very badly as the Friendly Island.”
Amjad described Irma as one of the worst storms on the planet, but despite the destruction caused by Irma and the looting, he is not deterred. “Hurricane Irma was one of the most devastating natural disasters to have ever hit our island and our planet for that matter. It has caused substantial damage to our homes and businesses at Motorworld Group, and the overall quality of life in St. Maarten/St. Martin. However, we survived, and we are resilient. As we spend time rebuilding in the coming months, it will require a major effort, sound government leadership, financial investments and time to recover from our losses, as various resources are not readily available on the island. Nonetheless, it has also taught some meaningful lessons in how we build and do business. We will now have to streamline our operations and re-evaluate our infrastructure to ensure that various aspects of our businesses are more sustainable to withstand any threats of natural disasters, which are increasingly detrimental as a result of the climate changes that are affecting the entire Caribbean and the world.”
The Managing Director said the businesses under MWG sustained extensive structural damage to the buildings, particularly at Caribbean Auto and Audi which have been “virtually destroyed” in many areas, as well as at its brand-new state of the art showroom at Motorworld. Due to the destruction of Motorworld’s Service Department, it has now been relocated into the Group’s Honda showroom to serve customers.
“The extent of the damages range from entire buildings, broken windows, doors and flooding throughout our office spaces, computer systems, air conditioning and miscellaneous documents, furniture, flooring, walls and office materials, to minor and major impacts on our new and used vehicles,” he said, adding that staffers suffered substantial losses and yet remain devoted to going to work to provide essential services to customers. “As we work and move forward together, we remain compassionate and focused on rebuilding to recover our numerous losses.”
He said the Group is still undergoing various assessments to determine the comprehensive financial impact of the recent hurricanes and storms on its establishments, though he said the damages are estimated to run in the millions of US dollars.
The Motorworld Group is a major employer in St. Maarten, with more than 170 persons on its payroll. Due to the damage of the facilities at Motorworld, Caribbean Auto and Audi, Amjad said the Group is evaluating how best to streamline its operations, while ensuring that their “hard-working and committed” team members all remain employed.
“The Car Rental however is 99 per cent contingent on the tourism industry. Though we remain hopeful that our wonderful tourism destination will be revived, it will clearly take a long time, especially with so many hotels destroyed,” Amjad noted. “Therefore, we are trying to keep most of our staff, there will be some reduced work days and we are working to incorporate some of the staff into the dealerships to keep them employed. Our business focus is to sell as much used cars as possible so we have income to pay our staff and keep the company afloat.”
Even on the heels of the worst hurricane in the Atlantic, Motorworld is still trying to raise the bar and set trends and has been the first car dealership on the island to reopen following the storm.
“As we review the automobile industry throughout the entire island, we stand proud that we were the first and only dealership that opened our doors within a week after Irma,” Amjad said. “Though the situation was not ideal, we are grateful to have staff members, who are more like family that came in to clean up, reorganise and work in spite of the challenging circumstances experienced as a result of the damages.”
All the Departments at Motorworld, Caribbean Auto and Audi are currently open for business. This includes Service, Body Shop, Parts and Sales Departments.
“We welcome our customers with open arms, along with a cold drink and a warm hug,” he said. The staffers from the Service and Body Shop Departments, in particular, are working around the clock to provide customers with insurance estimates and repairs. There has been an overwhelming influx of requests to put it mildly. We ask for everyone’s understanding and patience as we work diligently to respond to everyone’s needs in a timely fashion,” he said.
According to Amjad, the Group aims to have full restoration of its state-of-the-art showroom at Motorworld within four to five months. While Caribbean Auto and Audi are open, the damage was more extensive and the Group is currently reviewing the state of affairs to determine the best way forward.
“We feel we can get it back within four to five months as well,” he said. “The Motorworld Group of Companies is part of the community of St. Maarten/St. Martin. We are resilient and here to stay, as we work together to recover and rebuild our beloved island.”
Amjad said the devastating impact of Irma has taught vital life lessons. “At MWG, we have a renewed vision for our companies, a revitalised zeal to progress as we creatively innovate to recover beyond the unforeseen challenges and a different level of respect for our customers and the entire community who are working to rebuild swiftly and stronger than ever before.”
The Group understands that the hurricane has an effect on a majority of the island and in an effort to extend relief to its clients, it has offered a one-month grace period to its lease customers, but noted that is “very understanding” to everyone’s individual situation. We are not a big financial institution that can give longer grace periods, it’s much harder for us as we don’t have that kind of cash flow and the company would suffer greatly, so we still encourage everyone to please come in and pay if they can.”
MWG is also working with its automobile manufacturers to launch several efforts to provide post-hurricane relief to the community in the coming weeks. More details will be provided on this at a later date.
Asked what he thinks needs to be done for St. Maarten to bounce back fast, Amjad said: “This question might take several pages. As we continue to work together in unity, regardless of race, age or creed, we can grow together with dignity. It’s incredibly important to get our infrastructure back up and stronger, rebuild our hotels, encourage business and financial investment growth and get tourism going at hyper speed again which is our island’s lifeline.”
He said as a one-pillar economy, both private and public sectors will need to work together to explore innovative solutions to revitalize the tourism industry, along with other islands in the Caribbean. “The livelihood of many individuals and all businesses are directly and indirectly impacted by a vibrant and sustainable tourism-based economy.
“Our government needs to focus on doing everything possible to create an attractive business climate in St. Maarten, whether it’s providing incentives for investment, giving soft loans to businesses, etc. We must work diligently, respectfully and intelligently with the Netherlands/France and the European Union (EU) on relief funds to rebuild St. Maarten/St. Martin and stimulate the economy. Though our core business goal is to remain the leading automobile dealership throughout the North Eastern Caribbean, we strive to achieve a sense of collective progress, along with everyone who is willing to invest the necessary time, efforts, finances and hard work to rebuild together and thrive,” he noted.