Hurricane Irma was one of the most ferocious storms the Caribbean has ever experienced. Rob Gill looks at how the affected destinations are recovering.
Many Caribbean destinations are now well on the road to recovery a year after the devastation they suffered when Hurricane Irma ripped through part of the region.
Anguilla, St Barths, the British Virgin Islands (BVIs), Barbuda and St Martin were among the destinations severely damaged in September 2017 as Irma brought the strongest winds seen in the Caribbean for more than a decade – reaching speeds of up to 185 miles per hour.
Much of these islands’ tourism infrastructure, including hotels, roads and airports, was damaged in this massive storm – including Richard Branson’s Necker Island resort in the BVIs, with the entrepreneur forced to take cover in the property’s wine cellar until the hurricane passed.
But a year on, the situation is clearly improving with some destinations, such as Anguilla and St Barths, being further ahead in their recovery than some of the other badly damaged areas, including the BVIs.
Helen Tabois, senior product and marketing manager, Caribbean and cruise, for Inspiring Travel Company, said: “What’s exciting for us is that in the likes of St Barths and Anguilla, hotels have seized the opportunity not only to restore their properties but to refurbish and enhance them, so they’ll be back better than ever.
“For destinations like this, we’re seeing good demand in particular from repeat bookers who want to be among the first guests to experience the likes of Eden Rock, Le Toiny and Cheval Blanc St-Barth, Isle de France in St Barths and Belmond Cap Juluca in Anguilla.”
Anguilla was boosted by the reopening of several major hotels earlier this year, including The Reef by CuisinArt, Zemi Beach House Hotel and the Four Seasons. Other resorts such as CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and the new Belmond Cap Juluca are also scheduled to open in November.
Carolyn Brown, Anguilla Tourism Board UK director, added: “Anguilla has bounced back, and will be stronger than ever. With our established product and new openings, we anticipate UK visitor numbers will bounce back significantly throughout 2019.”
Caribtours managing director Paul Cleary agreed: “Anguilla is back. We had a fam trip out there and we’re expecting to have a good year for it.”
Other destinations are also recovering, but there is still plenty to do – on Anguilla’s neighbour, the French-Dutch St Martin/St Maarten, the terminal at Princess Juliana International airport was severely damaged by Irma and the airport was forced to create a temporary tented structure to allow flights to resume a few weeks after the storm.
The rebuilding of the airport is ongoing and, while many long-haul flights have resumed to the island including Air France and KLM services, capacity will continue to be significantly below pre-Irma levels.
In January 2019, there will still be 30% fewer flights compared with January 2017.
St Maarten’s hotels were also badly affected by Irma, with only around 54% of its pre-hurricane rooms due to be back in service by January 2019.
Hotels in the BVIs also took a severe pounding from Irma and the destination’s tourism industry initially got back off the ground through charter yacht and sailing operators, which resumed services in November 2017. Cruise lines also started to make visits to the islands from December, with more lines resuming calls for winter 2018-19.
Mike Taylor, Lusso Caribbean product manager, added: “The British Virgin Islands and St Martin were the most heavily affected destinations we feature and, as such, are not opening as quickly as other hurricane-affected destinations. Sailing is already back in the BVIs and we are thrilled to be able to sell yacht charters for this beautiful part of the Caribbean.”
Several resorts have now reopened in the BVIs including Scrub Island Resort & Spa, Cooper Island Beach Club, Guana Island Resort, Oil Nut Bay and Anegada Beach Club with more than 700 rooms available. They will be joined by the long-awaited relaunch of Virgin Limited Edition’s Necker Island next month (October).
Cleary added: “The Virgin Islands have been working tirelessly to keep the destination on the front page. When the luxury hotels are ready to accept guests, we will be at the front of the queue.”