Caribbean destinations have to walk a thin line in the coming months by communicating that hotels and resorts are prepared for possible monster hurricanes while not mentioning the "H" word too much to scare off would-be visitors.
So with that mind, Caribbean hotels, resorts, villas, and restaurants that are renovating and rebuilding are accounting for future extreme weather events similar to Irma,. Some are even reconstructing to double as hurricane shelters.
As the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on Friday and runs through November 30, Damaseau and other tourism officials from islands severely impacted by Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Jose last year spoke during a Caribbean Tourism Organization virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Eden Rock St. Barths, which plans to reopen December 22 and started to accept reservations on May 31, is rebuilding its restaurant kitchen and technical spaces with water-tight doors and will be pressure-sealed and air-tight.
Guest rooms and villas will also have “stronger defenses,” according to general manager Fabrice Moizan, but guests won’t notice the changes. Some buildings have been rebuilt higher than before to account for rising sea levels and future storms.
“New defenses for infrastructure and equipment below and above ground are being investigated and some of them are being installed,” said Moizan.
Dutch St. Maarten is considering rebuilding some hotels as hurricane shelters, said Cornelius de Weever, minister of tourism for St. Maarten.
Subtropical Storm Alberto, which made landfall on the Florida Panhandle last weekend and brought strong wind and rain to much of the Southeastern United States, is perhaps a foreboding of what’s predicted to be another active hurricane season. The News Service of Florida and Bradenton Herald reported that Visit Florida plans to step up marketing efforts for Panhandle destinations that lost out on tourism during Memorial Day weekend because of the storm.
The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization plan to launch a regional marketing campaign – the first in more than a decade – in the next couple of months to convey timelines for re-openings and renovations and spread general awareness of the Caribbean.
Many destinations are still a work in progress as they recover and rebuild nine months after the hurricanes but some milestones have been hit.
Apple Vacations, one of the Caribbean’s largest all-inclusive tour operators, said it’s had strong demand for Puerto Rico, St. Maarten/St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands this year.
“While performance for these destinations has been held back due to lower inventory, demand for these islands and the region, in general, remains high,” said a spokesperson for Apple Vacations. “Near double-digit growth for the Caribbean overall—inclusive of recovering islands—reflects travelers’ appetite for the region.”
Apple Vacations’ travel agent partners are promoting the AV-OK Total Vacation Security Plan to travelers concerned about the 2018 hurricane season. “Strong booking numbers into the fall suggest that travelers are undeterred,” the company said.
The company said it plans to open new properties in 2019 in Aruba, Barbados, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and Turks & Caicos to accommodate demand.
Wimco Villas, a villa rental company with properties on several Caribbean islands, including Anguilla, St Barths, St. Martin, and Nevis, said its Anguilla properties are in good shape. “The island infrastructure is in good shape, and we have made reservations for clients there recently, said Stiles Bennet, president and CMO of Wimco Villas. “Our villa specialists will spend their time on villa inspections as we are very comfortable with the state of the island.”
St Martin, however, is a different story for Wimco. “Most of our villa inventory on St. Martin will not be back online until Thanksgiving,” said Bennet.
“We have several villas open and available now, however, consumer demand is non-existent for travel to St Martin this summer,” said Bennet. “We are monitoring the rebuild in Marigot, Grand Case, and Orient Beach areas which are popular with our clients. Our villa specialists will dig into this more deeply the week of June 18.”
St. Martin currently has 200 hotel rooms open but anticipates that 700 hotel rooms, guest houses, and villas by the end of December, said Damaseau, and 60 percent of restaurants have reopened.
St. Maarten, the Dutch half of the island, had a 90 percent airline load factor in March, but that likely includes aid and relief workers. Princess Juliana International Airport will likely be fully operational by the first half of 2019 but more likely by the latter half of next year, said de Weever.
About 80 percent of St. Maarten’s restaurants are open, said de Weever, and that 90 percent of land and water cruise excursions are back online, although some European cruise lines haven’t returned.
Despite more than $250 million in storm-related damage in Antigua and Barbuda, the destination anticipates 40,000 Candian arrivals – one of its largest source markets – by the end of 2018, up from an average of 25,000 per year, said Colin James, CEO of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, speaking during the press conference.
Dominica has more than 200 cruise calls scheduled for 2018 to 2019 season. Colin Piper, CEO of Discover Dominica Authority, said that tourist arrivals were down 40 to 50 percent from October to February and were down 20 percent in March.
“We’re happy to welcome visitors to Dominica now as long as they understand the expectations of the experience,” said Piper.
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Photo credit: Eden Rock St. Barths, pictured here, is one example of a Caribbean property that has taken future extreme weather into account as it renovates and rebuilds from last year's hurricanes. Eden Rock St. Barths