Published on : Friday, October 13, 2017
Tourism is the most important economic driver for the region, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, but in certain places ongoing relief efforts amid power outages and medical crises continue to be the priority.
In September, two of the most powerful Atlantic basin storms ever recorded left places — among them, Dominica, Puerto Rico, Barbuda, St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands — in ruins. Homes and infrastructure were destroyed, leaving people without power, clean water and essential services.
At the same time, a number of destinations, including the Florida Keys and the Turks and Caicos islands, are open again after clean-up and repair efforts. Places like Antigua are even poised to see an uptick in tourism as they welcome visitors who may have been planning to go elsewhere in the Caribbean. Other getaways, like St. Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Sint Eustatius and Martinique, emerged from the storms mostly unscathed and have been welcoming visitors.
The landscape continues to change day by day. Cruise lines have revised itineraries. Royal Caribbean International, for instance, has updates involving St. Maarten, St. Thomas and San Juan on its website. A number of hotels are still closed, with some upscale resorts, in places like Anguilla and St. Barthélemy, not planning to open until next year. Others have re-opened (some only for relief workers), or are planning to open, in the coming weeks and months.
An updated look at how the islands are faring after the storms is given below:
Antigua and Barbuda
This two-island nation, which has been struggling since 2009 amid the recession, depends heavily on tourism. Antigua was spared the worst of Irma. Most hotels (including Carlisle Bay, Cocos Hotel and Keyonna Beach Resort), beach bars and restaurants are largely undamaged. As a result, the country said it has received an unprecedented number of calls due to changed cruise itineraries after the hurricanes. With more ships heading to Antigua, this could be a record-breaking year for cruise tourism there. About a dozen calls to its port will be from ships that have never visited before. The islands are expecting the largest number of cruise passengers ever to visit on Dec. 26, Boxing Day.
Barbuda, Antigua’s little sister, however, is in ruins. Gaston Browne, the prime minister, said that 90 percent of the island’s properties were damaged or destroyed. That includes hotels. But because there were fewer than 100 rooms on the island, the overall effect on tourism is minimal, the Caribbean Tourism Organization said.
Battered by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is a federal disaster zone. A blackout still affects most of the island. Many people are without running water and adequate medical care. The energy grid was essentially destroyed. El Yunque National Forest, a major tourist destination and home to endangered species of birds and frogs, is closed until further notice after being decimated.
The United States territory, which has been in a recession for more than a decade, has looked to tourism as something of a bright spot. In the last year, Puerto Rico has seen record numbers of cruise ship visitors, as well as record hotel occupancy rates.
The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is open, though travellers should contact their airline to confirm flights. “We look forward to getting back on our feet in the hopes of welcoming visitors to the Island in the weeks ahead,” José Izquierdo, the executive director of the government agency Puerto Rico Tourism Company, said in a statement last week.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Tourism, particularly from cruise ships, is an economic mainstay here. The department of tourism said this week that it is working to announce the return of cruise traffic in the coming months. The Henry E. Rohlsen Airporton St. Croix is open, and the Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas recently re-opened to commercial flights.
Even so, the islands are struggling. There are power outages, and homes lack running water. Many hotels are closed, or open only to relief workers, like the Windward Passage Hotel on St. Thomas.
British Virgin Islands
These 60 islands east of Puerto Rico, which include Tortola, are also dependent on tourism and benefit from visitors from the nearby United States Virgin Islands. That’s unlikely to happen with those islands still recovering. And the British Virgin Islands were themselves walloped by the storms. A majority of the hotels are closed and damage assessments are ongoing.
Luxury tourism is essential for this British dependency. After some 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure was damaged, along with the main water supply, the Caribbean Tourism Organization said that the restoration of electricity is underway and that most of the island now has phone and internet service. Roads and beaches have been cleared. The Blowing Point ferry terminal will be demolished; construction on a new terminal is expected to begin soon. A number of hotels are currently housing relief workers. Some plan to open in December. The CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spaexpects to be closed through the summer of 2018.
A European Union territory and hideaway for the rich and famous, St. Barthélemy took a beating, including its first hotel, Eden Rock, where guests have included Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes and Bono. The resort, owned by David and Jane Matthews (Pippa Middleton’s in-laws), was closed for annual maintenance when Irma hit, but the damage was such that its early October opening has been postponed. Hotel Christopher St Barth plans to reopen in March 2018. Le Guanahani is planning to reopen in the summer of 2018.
St. Martin / Sint Maarten
Most visitors arrive through the Princess Juliana International Airport in tourism-dependent Sint Maarten (on the Dutch side), which suffered severe damage. Commercial flights resumed a few days ago, even as people on the island struggle for basic needs. “Of course, we’re not back up 100 percent,” Michel Hyman, acting chief executive of the airport said in a recent statement, “but we recognize that the way the airport goes, so goes the island.”
Turks and Caicos Islands
In addition to tourism, this British overseas territory also relies on offshore financial services and fishing, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Water and power have been restored to Providenciales, North and Middle Caicos and South Caicos. Roads have been cleared, and Providenciales International Airport and Grand Turk JAGS McCartney International Airport are open, as are a number of hotels and restaurants.
The State Department recently issued a travel warning saying that United States Embassy Havana employees had been targeted in attacks that left them with hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping. It came after a previous warning, advising United States citizens to avoid travel to Cuba while hurricane recovery efforts were underway. Irma was yet another setback for the Communist nation, where the burgeoning tourism industry has provided much-needed income. Despite both warnings, cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, are still planning to sail to Cuba in 2018.
The island chain reopened this month after being closed to visitors during infrastructure repairs. The airports, Port of Key West and the Florida Keys Overseas Highway are all open.
The repairs were completed in time for Key West’s annual costume festival, Fantasy Fest, which kicks off on Oct. 20.
Tags: caribbean tourism