Before Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria wreaked havoc across the Caribbean, the region was already dealing with another perfect storm — its marketing campaign funds were running on fumes.

And there wasn’t an adequate emergency fund for calamities that were soon to become sad realities.

That’s the view of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and members of its board who spoke at the State of the Travel Industry Conference in Grenada this week. They discussed the dollar amount it would take  for future emergency marketing campaigns..

Caribbean destinations, including 28 members of the tourism organization, plan to launch a unified marketing campaign telling travelers that the Caribbean is open and educating them about the geography of the region – some countries in the region, like Jamaica, weren’t impacted by recent storms.

But the search for funding for such a campaign continues, said Hugh Riley, secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, because it wants to launch the campaign as soon as it can. Riley noted the campaign and its funding will be a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors.

Having $10 million would be sufficient, said Riley, because that’s how much was in the region’s coffers for post-disaster marketing after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when many people were wary of traveling at all.

“What we’re trying to get back to is the kind of campaign we had right after 9/11 that was called ‘Life Needs the Caribbean’ campaign,” said Riley, speaking at the conference. “It was a $10 million fund and campaign that drove the message that Caribbean tourism was still open and that’s what we need to get back to.”

However, a smaller amount of funding could also go a long way, said Riley. “If we had anything between $1 million and $10 million, we could do some very meaningful things with it, keeping in mind that $10 million gets spent very differently today than it was spent in 2002 and we’d certainly allocate it differently,” he said. “If we had $1 million we’d probably get $10 million worth of value out of it.”

Riley said that after the Caribbean’s post-9/11 campaign in 2002, the funding for future campaigns wasn’t sustained. “We need to find a mechanism to create an adequate and sustainable fund for these kinds of issues,” he said. “On the few occasions when that has happened it has been amazingly successful. The public and private sectors must come together on this.”

The World Travel & Tourism Council, meanwhile, said during a media briefing in New York City last week, that its members and those in the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association pledged $30 million to the Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund, which both organization created. The $30 million includes direct contributions and in-kind donations.

That funding would go towards rebuilding infrastructure and buildings, for example, rather than destination marketing efforts.

Post-Hurricane Education and Marketing Campaign

Restoring electricity and running water, for example, remains a challenge for some destinations such as Puerto Rico.

The Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund still hasn’t looked at which countries will get funding to rebuild, said Karolin Troubetzkoy, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association  and executive director of the Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts in Saint Lucia.

On the destination marketing side, the planned post-hurricane campaign would feature public service announcements teaching travelers about the geography of the Caribbean because, as tourism organization found in a recent analysis, many travelers aren’t aware of the size of the region or how one part can be impacted by hurricanes while another area feels nothing.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association launched CaribbeanTravelUpdate.com as a precursor to the campaign, said Troubetzkoy.

But rolling out a website clearly isn’t enough, said Troubetzkoy. “While we knew that we needed to educate the world on the diversity that the region offers it was quite stunning how little the world actually knew about the Caribbean,” she said at the conference. “Without having the funding we didn’t just stand still, we tried our best to communicate to the world that we are open for business.”

Troubetzkoy said that the Caribbean doesn’t have the marketing funds that other regions have to push out a message after a natural disaster. “Clearly there is fear and lack of understanding among many travelers and the question is will this repeat itself?” said Troubetzkoy. “We want to create a command center for this funding.”

Troubetzkoy said hotels that signed onto the One Caribbean Family initiative will pledge a small percentage of their new bookings towards relief efforts during the next few weeks. “A lot of hotels have agreed to come on board and we’re really working on this during the next week,” said Troubetzkoy.

“We all had our thoughts and prayers after the hurricanes but then it started to get a little shallow because the second sentence has been, ‘But we are open for business, come!’ said Troubetzkoy. “I want to challenge our hotels. If they say, ‘we’re open for business,’ then do more than just those words. Put your money where your mouth is basically.”

Photo Credit: Caribbean destinations are struggling to scrape together funding to launch a post-hurricane marketing campaign. Pictured is a photo from last month that shows a view of buildings partially destroyed by Irma in the French Caribbean island of St. Martin. Christophe Ena / Associated Press