As you are undoubtedly aware, savage hurricanes Irma and Maria took a heavy toll on parts of the Caribbean this fall. The devastation is heartrending and tallies in the billions. So do you need to change your future travel plans to the Caribbean? The short answer is “No!” The Caribbean is open for business and needs tourism to aid in recovery.
75% of the Caribbean was completely unaffected.
Many people don’t realize just how large the Caribbean really is. The Caribbean Sea is 1.06 million square miles in area, which is about 25 percent larger than the entire country of Mexico, or one-third of the entire United States.
- The Lucayan Archipelago: the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos
- The Greater Antilles: the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico
- The Lesser Antilles: Leeward Islands – Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Monserrat, Saba, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts and Nevis, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Windward Islands – Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago
- The ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao
Of these, the majority were not in the path of the two hurricanes. It’s business as usual on the islands of Aruba, the Bahamas, Belize, Curaçao, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico’s Yucatan region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Current Status of Damaged Islands
The hurricanes mainly impacted the Caribbean’s northeastern Leeward Islands, including:
Antigua escaped most of the hurricanes’ wrath and most of its hotels and restaurants, as well as its cruise port are open, but its sister island Barbuda was completely destroyed.
Puerto Rico sustained extremely heavy damage across the island. Although recovery will continue for some time, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is fully operational and San Juan Harbor has resumed homeport operations for Royal Caribbean and Princess cruise lines. More than 80 hotel properties on the island are open and most are taking new reservations for the upcoming months, although many are housing relief workers.
The U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John are still struggling with power outages and lack of running water. The airports of St. Croix and St. Thomas have reopened to commercial flights; however, most of the hotels remain closed or only open to relief workers. Most of the hotels on the nearby British Virgin Islands also remain closed.
Both Anguilla and St. Barthélemy took a beating and the tony resorts of both islands have canceled reservations through the end of the year or into mid-2018.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten was severely damaged. Although the Princess Juliana International Airport has reopened, the island is still struggling for basic needs and most resorts are closed until further notice.
The Turks and Caicos Islands have reopened their Providenciales International Airport and Grand Turk Airport. Infrastructure has been repaired and several hotels and restaurants are open for business.
Cuba remains accessible to Americans, although the U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning regarding mysterious sonic attacks on U.S. Embassy employees. The Havana cruise port has reopened and various cruise lines will continue calling on the port, although it’s said that power, water, and transportation are still a challenge outside Havana.
How You Can Help Caribbean Hurricane Recovery
Most of the Caribbean islands’ economies rely primarily, if not solely on tourism dollars. Justin Ram, Director of Economics for the Caribbean Development Bank stated that a 1% drop in visitors equates to a $138 million reduction in tourism spending. That’s an enormous loss for islands that desperately need that income to facilitate recovery.
The way you can help is to go there. Take a cruise that calls on one of the recovering islands. When you get there, take a taxi to town and eat at a local restaurant. Buy souvenirs and gifts in the local shops. The money you spend will go directly to the people who need it to repair their homes and businesses.
As mentioned, some land-based vacations will have to wait, but your travel advisor can help you choose a different Caribbean island with the activities, culture or landscape you desire. Even when you visit the islands that were untouched by the hurricanes, you contribute to the economic health of the region as a whole.
You can also travel with a purpose to provide hands-on aid. José Izquierdo, Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s executive director said, “We’re working to finalize compelling voluntourism activities for those who want to head out beyond San Juan and help the communities in greater need.”
The Caribbean is a paradise of beautiful beaches, succulent seafood, outdoor adventure, and diverse cultures. And it’s open for business.