Last fall’s triple whammy hurricane season—Harvey in Texas, and Irma and Maria in the Caribbean and Florida—has redefined the tourism landscape for millions of Canadians booking vacations in North America’s warm countries for the coming winter.
Though government travel warnings may no longer be in effect, the reparations of hotels and resorts in many Caribbean countries may not live up to the promise of their pre-storm brochures, and some extra diligence will be required to make sound choices when committing prepayments and/or deposits. Travel insurers would be strongly advised to thoroughly explain the value and limitations of “change of mind” options in their trip interruption and cancellation policies to prospective purchasers of coverage, as the post-storm reality may not live up to the promise of business as usual. Travelers need to understand that finding a resort “merely functional” rather than four-star caliber, is not grounds for cancellation. Neither is the fact that the resort’s golf course is shut down, or the swimming pool has been contaminated by sea water and is off-limits.
Though many hotels in the Caribbean are “Open for Business,” given the extent of damage to resort properties and their adjoining communities, reparations may still be ongoing.
Thanks to updates from the Caribbean Tourism Association and various local media sources we can make the following general observations about the progress of reconstruction in the various locations affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Though Irma affected virtually all of Florida, it was the middle and upper Keys that suffered the most damage. Given the economic strength and experience Florida has had with hurricanes, reconstruction has been rapid and there will be few lasting effects of the storm in most parts of the state—except for the middle to upper Keys, between Key Largo and Marathon. Except for a lot fewer trees and less foliage, it is business as usual throughout the Keys this winter season.
The effects of Harvey were felt mostly along the Gulf coast from Corpus Christi to Louisiana, but for the most part tourist locations in the South Padre Island area to snowbird country in the Rio Grande Valley were all back to normal by the beginning of the winter season.
The Caribbean Basin
The northern tier of Caribbean islands was most affected by Irma and then Maria, including virtually all islands west of Antigua and Barbuda—right through to the north coast of Cuba. This tier includes, US and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (particularly hard hit) some of the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos and the southernmost reaches of the Bahamas. Many hotels and resorts in the islands sustained temporary shut downs immediately following the hurricanes. Anguilla (sister island to Barbuda) was also hard hit but did not sustain as much damage as Barbuda and hotel owners insisted they would be ready for the winter high season. Nonetheless, check out all properties in this area well before committing.
In Cuba -- no strangers to hurricanes -- tourism officials reported no major damage to the tourist infrastructure as a whole. However, tourism to the region declined 10 percent on the year in December, and was down 7-8 percent in January according to the president of Cuban state travel agency conglomerate Viajes Cuba as reported by Reuters. Visits from Canadians have dipped 4-5 percent on the year.
At the Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism Forum in St. Kitts in December, tourism representatives from various islands reported on reparation progress. A representative from the BVI advised that the islands are open for business but “it has to be a trickle for the moment” as the fleet of yachts that make up the majority of beds for the island were decimated by the hurricanes. Anguilla anticipates that its major tourism players will come back into play gradually in 2018, while a number of its smaller properties never closed in the wake of the storms.
Dominica set a 60-day timeline to restore most of its sites and concessions after Maria. So far they are meeting their targets, however only 27% of room stock is available. Barbuda sustained significant damage, however the beaches and wildlife have returned to the island and the tourism board is now promoting day trips from Antigua. St. Maarten experienced its highest occupancy rate ever for November and December—the caveat being only 35% of the islands rooms are available post-hurricanes.
Other islands that sustained damage and some property closures but reopened in time for the winter season were Antigua, most of the Bahamas (not really in the Caribbean—but generally classed that way in tourism channels), St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos (where there were some resort closures).
Islands that claimed no effect by either of the hurricanes were Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Aruba, Curacao, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, St. Vincent & Grenadines, St. Eustatius, Saba. None of the properties on Mexico’s Caribbean coast (Cancun, Cozumel) were affected.
We caution that the information provided comes largely from tourism boards and hotel properties themselves so there might be some further investigation required by travel buyers, and the updates provided have been compiled through to end of December.