The 2017 Hurricane season was devastating for the Caribbean islands of Dominica, Barbuda, The British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, St Martin, Turks and Caicos and the U.S Virgin Islands. After a rough start, these islands are on the road to recovery. Today we conclude our look at how these popular destinations are rebuilding with a special focus on Turks and Caicos and the United States Virgin Islands.
Turks and Caicos
Of the islands hit by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Turks and Caicos made one of the fastest recoveries.
The seven-square-mile island of Grand Turk, where cruise ships dock and where a million cruise ship passengers disembark every year, did not sustain any damage to its most important bit of infrastructure: the cruise pier.
That doesn’t mean the port didn’t suffer from the same reluctance that kept some travellers away from the region. But cruise traffic is picking up again.
“[Now], the tours are back up and running — pretty much everything is there,” said David Candib, vice president of global port and destination development group at Carnival Corporation, which owns the Grand Turk Cruise Center. “There are still parts of the island that are still a work in progress.”
Travellers to Turks and Caicos can still expect to see some debris, homes being rebuilt and landscaping work on the islands, travellers said. But nearly all hotels have reopened, including the larger resorts in Providenciales.
“We found that just by working with government and communities, the port authority and tourism indsutry, it’s an incredibly resilient region,” Candib said. “After the impact of two very powerful storms and the devastation it caused, the ability to come back as quickly as it did is a testament to what we have been able to do together.”
U.S. Virgin Islands
Chuck Meany and his two college-age children, Ryan and Shannon, went back to the Caribbean expressly to help the rebuilding effort.
The three took a week-long trip to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands aboard Carnival Glory in early March as a way to pump tourism dollars into the region.
“After the hurricanes, I paid attention, I made a contribution to one of the causes. Then I decided I wanted to go there,” said Meany, who is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. “You can contribute money, but these people that are running a business, a taxi cab [for example], it’s not going to trickle down to those people.”
When their ship docked in St Thomas, Meany said the cruise port looked like it had during his past trips to the island. It was clean and shops were open. There, he and his kids took a taxi to another port, where they chartered an $800 private boat to sail to nearby Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands.
“I was carrying a lot more cash than I normally would,” he said, in order to spend more money and hand out tips.
Overall, Meany said he thinks the U.S. Virgin Islands are back — just missing many of their hotel rooms, which will undoubtedly limit their ability to rebound to pre-storm levels quickly, he said.
Only about 40 to 50 percent of the hotels in St Thomas and St John have reopened — about 2,500 units, including timeshare, Airbnb rentals and villas, across the two islands. The lack of housing options has also affected flights, which are down to about 50 percent of the typical capacity this time of year, said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty.
Major resorts still closed on St Thomas include The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove and Sugar Bay Resort & Spa.
In St Croix, the situation is a little cheerier. The island has a higher percentage of accommodation units that have reopened, but many of the 1,300 rooms available are still housing relief workers, Nicholson-Doty said. Air seats into the island are down to about 5,000 from 6,000.
But more flights are on the horizon: This month, United Airlines returns to the USVI. In May, Spirit Airlines will increase service with flights to St Croix and Delta Air Lines will reinstate service to St Thomas from New York.
On the ground, beaches have reopened and are being tested weekly for water quality, Nicholson-Doty said. But some excursions will take longer to come back, including the Tree Limin’ Extreme Zipline experience and the St Peter Greathouse & Botanical Gardens, both on St Thomas, which remain closed.
Without most of its hotel rooms open, the USVI, too, has benefitted from receiving cruise passengers — who don’t need land-based accommodations. All but one of the cruise lines that called on St Thomas prior to Irma’s passage have returned to the country.
“The cruise lines’ return provided a significant economic balance to ensure that at least some of our tourism-based workers could return to work and that we could keep the economic channels of tourism flowing,” Nicholson-Doty said.
Miami-based Norwegian Cruse Line is the only line that has pulled back significantly from the region, repositioning the eastern Caribbean voyages on the Norwegian Escape to the western Caribbean until November 2018. From mid-April through September, Norwegian Getaway will also sail to the western Caribbean instead.
In the meantime, Nicholson-Doty said the U.S. Virgin Islands is focusing on being honest with travellers about what they can expect on the island.
If they are looking to enjoy food, natural attractions, marine activities and shopping, then Nicholson-Doty encourages travelers to move forward with their trips to the USVI.
“If you are looking to come to a destination where you see no remnants of a storm, we are asking you to please give us a year because we would prefer you to wait a year than to come and be disappointed,” she said. “We honestly want to exceed expectations.”
But for those who have gone to the Caribbean-post hurricanes, it has perhaps never been a better time to visit: Tours, attractions and beaches are less crowded, and islanders are keen to provide superior service.
For those who go, even if it’s just to vacation like Meany, giving back is in the act itself.
“I think the biggest thing for people is to go,” he said. “They need people. They need butts in seats.”
(Source : Miami Herald)