Whether you're a first timer or a repeat visitor, now – more than ever – is the time to plan a Caribbean vacation.
Although this has been an unprecedented hurricane season throughout the islands, about 70 per cent of the region was unaffected by storms. And many islands are well on their way to a speedy recovery and will be ready to welcome visitors as soon as the first snowflake falls.
"The best way to help the Caribbean, is to travel to the Caribbean," Hugh Riley, Caribbean Tourism Organization's secretary-general, said at the annual State of the Tourism Industry Conference recently held in Grenada. But the current challenge is determining which islands are ready to welcome you now.
Progress among the regions affected by hurricanes is a moving target; some islands are bouncing back faster than anticipated, while others are having more difficulties rebuilding their tourism infrastructure. However, the cruise industry has recently reported that almost all ports of call in the Caribbean should be open by mid- or end-of-November – even those hardest hit.
This quick recovery is thanks, in part, to the efforts of assistance groups such as the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association – which founded the "One Caribbean Family" movement as a hub where hotels, travel advisers and tour operators could facilitate donations through guest bookings. And the Caribbean Tourism Organization quickly created a major portal to channel donations to the islands that needed it most. Visit: gofundme.com/hurricane-relief-fund-cto.
Then there are ordinary citizens who volunteered their time raising online funds and disseminating information on missing people and area status.
Sisters Mimi and Linda Gratton, from Pointe-Claire, Que., found themselves in that situation in 1995, when monster Hurricane Luis hit Anguilla while they were visiting. Instead of hightailing it home, they stayed and helped with the clean up. They instantly fell in love with the island and moved there for good.
"I was visiting family back in Canada when this last hurricane hit, and couldn't wait to get back to help," Mimi Gratton says. "The prevailing hashtag you see now in relation to rebuilding the islands, '#CaribbeanStrong,' is more than just a motto; it's a real thing. These are the most resilient group of people I've ever met."
Anguilla, in fact, is approaching the necessary rebuild in a creative way by rolling out interesting new "voluntourism" programs through which tourists can pitch in by, for example, planting trees.
As the area continues to recover, it's important to remember that the perception of the Caribbean as one entity completely devastated by hurricanes is a faulty one. The region covers a whopping 2.754 million square kilometres, and although the storms zigzagged throughout some areas with a vengeance, many islands were completely unscathed. Others, located "outside of the hurricane belt," such as the Dutch Caribbean ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) have not seen a hurricane since the 1700s.
Here, the status of the Caribbean at a glance.
Unaffected or slightly affected, yet open for business
- Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Cayman Islands, Saba, St. Eustatius, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, Montserrat, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize and Cuba, are all ready to welcome you to their shores right now.
- The Bahamas – although not officially “the Caribbean” (it’s actually a region of its own covering some 700 islands) – is in great shape. Only a few tiny non-touristy islands were badly affected. The rest of the region is in business-as-usual mode.
- Note: Trinidad and Tobago were not hit by hurricanes, but a recent oil spill might affect visitor experience.
Heavily affected with varying projected recovery times
- Puerto Rico: Not recommended for tourism travel until late 2018, although the port will receive cruise ships soon.
- Saint Martin: Although the airport has been open to commercial flights since Oct. 10, the tourism infrastructure will take a few months to be rebuilt. Some major resorts, such as Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, are projecting a spring, 2018, reopening.
- Anguilla: Basically ready for guests and rebounding quickly, but many of the larger luxury resorts will not open until the new year. The Blowing Point Ferry Terminal will be rebuilt; for now there is a temporary structure to receive guests. Their airport is open and expanding to receive larger planes in the near future. Ferries are running from St. Maarten airport region for access from large commercial flights.
- St. John: Will not be ready for guests for an indefinite time.
- St. Thomas: Not ready for guests on land right now, but their cruise port will open Nov. 1.
- Dominica: This was the second hit for this lush little outpost in two years. They will need much time to recover.
- St. Croix: Slated for full opening by spring, 2018.
- Saint-Barthélemy: Slated for full opening by spring, 2018.
- British Virgin Islands: Tortola and Virgin Gorda were badly hit and are not ready to welcome guests; no estimated recovery time as yet.
Check each island's individual tourism website for updates as things are changing quickly, or visit caribbeantravelupdate.com for all islands.
The bottom line is that the entire region is dependent on tourism. So if your favourite destination isn't ready to welcome you just yet, choose another island, because the Caribbean needs you now, more than ever. #CaribbeanStrong