More than 90 percent of Caribbean destinations will welcome tourists in the coming weeks.
After a series of devastating hurricanes tore across the Caribbean in September and October, tourism seemed to screech to a halt. One travel network, according to TravelPulse, reported a 26 percent drop in requests for travel to affected areas.
In a recent media conference call, Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), told journalists that “there’s a degree of public perception that the entire Caribbean has been affected by [the] storms.”
But Paige, joined by Carnival CEO Arnold Palmer and Royal Caribbean president and COO Adam Goldstein, said that this notion is far from true.
“The vast majority of the Caribbean was completely unaffected,” Paige said, adding that the region “has been, and continues to be very much open for business.”
Four destinations, however, were “severely” impacted by the storms, Goldstein explained. Those islands — Puerto Rico, St. Martin, St. Croix, and St. Thomas — are still recovering from the destruction.
Despite the intensity of the storms and the harrowing degree of damage, the panel described a rapid recovery. “That’s thanks to widespread support efforts [and] the resilience and strength of locals.”
Paige, Goldstein, and Palmer said the four hardest-hit destinations are all optimistically planning to reopen for visitors, to some degree, before the end of November.
It’s true that even Puerto Rico’s Port of San Juan has already opened. Royal Caribbean intends to call upon San Juan by December 1, Cruise Critic reported. And according to a number of sources, hotels across the island are reopening and accepting reservations.
"With the San Juan Harbor and Luis Muñiz Marín International Airport fully operational, we are confident that the progress we have shown, in just a few weeks, is a sign of the resiliency and strength of our people," José Izquierdo, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) told Travel + Leisure. His sentiment echoed that of that of the cruise panel.
"Currently, 69 percent of the hotels endorsed by PRTC are operational," Izquierdo added.
Of course, travelers need to keep in mind that while these islands may be welcoming back tourists, not everything is as it was before the storm. As CNN Travel pointed out, many hotels are being powered with back-up generators (meaning electricity can be spotty). And while San Juan may be ready for tourists, attractions like El Yunque National Park are still healing.
To inform tourists about travel options across the Caribbean — and to help stimulate the islands’ economies — a number of companies in the travel and tourism space are launching campaigns and events to support the region.
The FCCA launched CaribbeanIsOpen.com to generate awareness. And according to Skift, AAA Travel is also launching a “Caribbean Is Open for Business” campaign, highlighting destinations like Antigua, Jamaica, Curaçao, and the Cayman Islands.
Map of Caribbean Islands Affected by the Hurricanes
A detailed map produced by Travel Weekly shows the paths of the trio of hurricanes that spiraled across the Caribbean this fall.
Moderate damage is depicted in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, and Guadeloupe.
Massive damage was done to the islands of Dominica, Barbuda, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Bart’s, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas), Puerto Rico, and the British Virgin Islands (including Tortola).
Why Travelers Should Plan a Trip to the Caribbean
While it may seem counterintuitive to visit islands that sustained damage in the season’s storms, many of these destinations have economies that rely heavily on tourism. The FCCA has reported that the cruise industry injected $2.4 billion into the economies of the Caribbean between 2014 and 2015.
And while most of the Caribbean’s one million square miles were spared by the storms, travelers shouldn’t feel guilty about visiting areas that were not left unscathed, either.
After all, there’s no surer way to contribute directly to the health of an economy than by spending your money where it’s needed most.
"Continuing to visit us," Izquierdo said, "supporting our local businesses, and giving back through community rebuilding efforts [are] the best ways for travelers to support us on the tourism front."
Other Ways to Help
If planning a vacation to the Caribbean isn’t in the cards for you, there are other ways to help victims of the hurricanes, too. You can donate to organizations like UNICEF, Oxfam, and Americares; send supplies to the Salvation Army or a local food bank; or volunteer you vacation days by joining the American Red Cross or National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.