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In the wake of Cyclone Kenneth, parts of Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province are a mess. As the second intense cyclone hit the country in a matter of weeks when Kenneth made landfall in late April, it whipped the coast with winds of 140 miles per hour and dumped up to 20 inches of rain.
Today palm trees lie flattened in villages where simple adobe houses lie in ruins. Food aid has been slow to arrive and erratic in distribution. To make matters worse, the U.S. State Department has warned against travel to the region due to extremist attacks on local villages.
It’s a far cry from the paradisiacal images that have brought luxury tourists to these far northern reaches of the country. While oil and gas deposits have been a boon to the local economy, high-end tourism in the region’s Quirimbas Archipelago has blossomed in the past decade as island lodges make the most of the region’s tropical climate and unspoiled waters.
That tourism growth is under threat in the aftermath of Kenneth, although operators remain bullish that travelers will keep booking.
“We haven’t had any cancellations,” said Mark Havercroft, regional director for Minor Hotels Africa, which operates two properties in the region.
AVANI Pemba Beach Hotel suffered flooding in its conference facilities and some rooms, but remained opened throughout the cyclone. Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort, however, suffered wind damage to its rooms and some photovoltaic panels – the lodge is entirely solar-powered – and lost its beachfront activity centre. The island is closed for repairs, and is only set to reopen in late-July.
“The commercial [and] corporate bookings have slowed down, but individual travelers continue to book the hotels,” added Havercroft. “Our sales teams are also participating in various trade shows locally and internationally to sell the region and our properties.”
Joss Kent, chief executive officer of andBeyond, is also upbeat about demand going forward: “We have not experienced a slowing down in demand for the destination in the wake of the cyclones. Our forward bookings remain strong and we are undeterred in our commitment to standing by our lodges in Mozambique and helping contribute towards the development of local communities.”
AndBeyond’s lodge on Vamizi island was undamaged by the cyclone, but its supply routes on the mainland have been disrupted and the lodge — where private villas sell for upwards of $2500 per night — remains closed to guests.
But is luxury island tourism justifiable — or desirable — amid the human suffering on the nearby mainland?
“Many potential guests were left wondering about not only the practicality, but also the ethics of traveling in luxury while there was a natural catastrophe taking place in their chosen destination,” said Kent. “However, our view has been that it is more important now than ever to support the tourism industry.”
“It’s vital tourism recovers as quickly as possible,” agreed Fiona Record, co-owner of Ibo Island Lodge, which has been transformed into a headquarters for aid efforts in the region. While the lodge was relatively unscathed in the cyclone, surrounding villages suffered severe damage. “The people on the island are the first to agree — they need their jobs and income whilst the area is being rebuilt.”
Richard Holmes is a Skift contributor based in Cape Town.