Irma’s path changed several times, as did its strength, weakening before it hit the US, and then intensifying again to category four.
What was certain was the devastation that Irma wreaked. At least 38 people killed in the Caribbean; the French part of St Martin “95% destroyed”; 1,400 people homeless and 90% of structures destroyed in Barbuda; devastation in the British Virgin Islands; and streets transformed into canals in Cuba. And that was just the Caribbean. As TTG went to press, 12 deaths had been reported in the US, with Florida Keys particularly badly affected by the hurricane.
For the travel industry, the unpredictability of Irma presented its own challenges, as cruise lines, operators and airlines evacuated customers. Cruise ships were even used to transport employees out of the storm’s path and later, to carry humanitarian aid to affected islands.
The clean-up will be long and expensive, but the travel industry is already rising to the challenge.
Appeals have been launched by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and island tourist boards, while firms including Caribtours and Blue Bay Travel have pledged donations.
As always in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the scenes on TV risk giving holidaymakers the idea the entire region is out of bounds, when in fact much of the Caribbean was unharmed – and is as reliant on tourism as ever. It is travel’s responsibility to monitor the recovery of damaged areas, and encourage customers back there as soon as possible.
Irma might have been unpredictable, but as an industry which sends 1.1 million Brits to the Caribbean annually, the travel sector can at least make certain it plays a role in the region’s recovery.