Irma and Maria are things of the past after triggering 16 days of havoc in the northeastern Caribbean.
Now the eight or so stricken islands are left wondering if the tourists might move on, too. After all, there are 30-plus Caribbean island destinations offering a plethora of white-sand beaches, amazing resorts, adventure-filled attractions and an abundance of rum, cigars and beach bars.
It’s probable that the islands most damaged will suffer a tourist drop for a year or so until roofs are mended, power is restored, building codes are strengthened, internet can be guaranteed, airports reopen, roads get rebuilt and lush vegetation returns.
The other islands will be only too receptive to taking up the slack.
Although the fallout remains uncertain, there could be a ripple effect of reluctance to travel to the Caribbean region in general right now among hesitant travelers or those who don’t know their geography, but this is where savvy travel agents, suppliers and tour operators play a key role.
The unaffected Caribbean, which comprises approximately 70% of the sprawling region, is open for business with welcome mats out, promotions filling email inboxes and a bounty of stay-for-seven, pay-for-five offers, more than normally pop up in the shoulder season between the end of summer and the arrival of peak season in mid-December.
A few examples: The Cayman Islands were quick to promote several of their historical sites, pegged to discounted stays and exclusive rates at high-end resorts and condos through Dec. 15.
The Calabash in Grenada, the newest member of the Relais & Chateaux family in the Caribbean, is touting its complimentary meal or suite upgrade on bookings of seven or more nights, valid through October.
The Verandah Resort & Spa in Antigua had a two-free-nights offer this fall.
These are typical package offers, but there are more of them than usual coming over the transom.
On Carnival Corp.’s third quarter earnings call last week, CEO Arnold Donald offered a ballpark estimate that 7% to 9% of the ports in the Caribbean had been severely impacted by the storms.
But to put that in perspective, he said, “We have 40-plus ports that were unaffected plus our own private destinations plus Mexico.”
Recent advice from Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, was to encourage travel to the affected islands when hotels, restaurants, cultural attractions and meeting centers reopen.
“The affected countries are getting on with the business of rebuilding, and they depend on us to lead the way because their livelihoods and economies depend upon tourism and hospitality,” he said.
At the same time, he pointed out that Irma and Maria grazed only a small portion of the region.
“The whole Caribbean has not been closed for business,” Riley said.
Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, advised his clients to see where things fall after further investigation.
“The situation is still very raw, with dear friends without water or electricity,” he said, before adding that much of the Caribbean emerged unscathed from the back-to-back storms.