What Travelers Should Know About Traveling to the Caribbean After Hurricane Maria
Industry professionals are still hopeful for the popular tourist region.
UPDATED 5:19 p.m. EDT:
Hurricane Maria made landfall on Turks and Caicos Friday as a Category 3 Storm. The hurricane is expected to raise water levels by as much as 12 feet and send 20 inches of rain through Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Damage to the island is not yet known.
People have been quick to respond in the wake of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Travelers from across the globe have fond memories of the Caribbean, and are busy searching for information about the region, as well as the best ways to help victims.
Puerto Rico, Dominica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were some of the hardest hit in the most recent hurricane, with officials saying that Puerto Rico could be without power for 4 to 6 months after the entire grid was destroyed during Hurricane Maria.
"Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed," Abner Gómez, director of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency, told reporters Wednesday.
Despite the storm's brute force, many of the islands — including the Bahamas and Barbados — have survived the hurricanes with only minimal damage, and even the most battered are moving quickly to rebuild.
"God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane," Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said. "Together we will rise again."
Which islands were hit hardest
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Bart’s, Puerto Rico, St. John, and Dominica have suffered some of the worst damage following the landfall of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Other islands, such as Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, have fared much better and have already begun to welcome tourists back to the islands.
The timeline for rebuilding varies greatly island to island and can stretch anywhere from a few weeks to up to a year.
How tourism is affected
A top concern for tourism professionals was not that the islands would not soon be ready to welcome visitors, but rather that travelers might group the entire region into one entity, assuming all islands had been flattened. The Caribbean relies heavily on revenue from tourists, where it stimulates everything from the hotel industry to agricultural sectors.
“One thing that I think is really critical is [that] the Caribbean is a big place,” said Jennifer Hawkins, CEO of Hawkins International Public Relations — a company with dozens of clients across the Caribbean. “For people who want to travel to the Caribbean, there are going to be a lot of options," she said.
Many visitors are planning to return for Christmas travel, and some travelers are headed to the Caribbean as soon as next month, according to Michael Holtz, founder and CEO of travel agency SmartFlyer and an expert in the region.
“People are going to have all sorts of preconceived misconceptions,” he told Travel + Leisure, adding, “It’s obvious that Puerto Rico’s going to come back. It’s going to take some time.”
Bigger hotel brands with the most resources are likely to rebound the quickest, while also investing money into their local communities to rebuild homes and schools, according to Holtz. Smaller hotels and restaurants might choose to shutter, however, depending on their insurance plans.
Looking to the future
This hurricane season has already broken records with both the storms' strength as well as the destruction caused. If donations continue to flow to islands in need, these destinations will rebuild — and sooner than many are expecting.
“I’m very optimistic about the Caribbean and its ability to bounce back,” added Hawkins.