The Cliff Notes version to this third report from SOTIC, the State of the [Caribbean] Tourism Industry Conference: Islands that were hit directly by the hurricanes (e.g. the British Virgin Islands) are working to get back on their feet, and those that didn’t suffer damage are offering aid to their neighbors, as well as expanding their tourism sector in important ways. And now, the facts:
British Virgin Islands
“The BVI was poised to have a record-breaking year,” but then Irma barged in, “so the BVI will not be open for business during the month of October,” announced Sharon Flax-Brutus, director of tourism. Unable to attend the conference, she addressed us via Skype from the British Virgin Islands.
Right now assessments are being completed, and yachts, accommodations, beaches, and access ports are getting repaired. Flax-Brutus reported that progress is being made in restoring communications, utilities, and airport services—for example, the three airports have reopened—but as on other afflicted islands, “available room stock is being utilized by hurricane relief workers. The BVI will begin to welcome guests to the islands on Nov. 1.”
There was less damage to Tortola than to Virgin Gorda, “which sustained major damage.” She said Nanny Cay, Treasure Isle, Sebastian’s on the Beach, and several other smaller hotels will be among the first to reopen to guests. However, “Many luxury properties may take up to two years to return to their former glory.” By contrast, Anegada is in such good shape that the Nov. 25-26 Anegada Lobster Festival will go on as scheduled. At least four yacht-chartering companies, including The Moorings, will resume operations in December and January.
Above all, Flax-Brutus concluded, “the BVI will rebound, with its friendliness, service, safety, and authenticity” intact. “We’re getting a lot of help from the U.K…. and we are the still-beautiful BVI and Nature’s Little Secret.”
“We’ve banded together with our neighbors to the north,” said Patricia Maher, CEO of the Grenada Tourism Authority. In fact, she added, “Every island has been assisting with relief funds and supplies.” So far, Grenada has contributed more than $600,000 to the recovery effort, and it has sent technical experts as well.
“As a result of the hurricanes, we will be hosting 28 more ships this season,” said Maher, but Grenada’s popularity as a cruise ship destination was already soaring, with year-over-year growth of about 27 percent.
The country is also strengthening its position as a luxury destination with the upcoming opening of “the first luxury beach resort on Grand Anse in more than 20 years.” Maher was referring to Silver Sands, a boutique property that adds an ultra-modern, urbane option to Grenada’s mix. Calabash Hotel has joined Relais & Chateaux, and signature property Spice Island Beach Resort & Spa has undergone a designer upgrade, including a new yoga pavilion. The 160-room Kimpton Kawanna, a new build on the former Flamboyant beach, will open in 2019.
“Sandals LaSource has put in 32 more suites, Mount Cinnamon added eight, and True Blue Bay will be adding 22 in the coming year,” said Maher. All told, “The three islands have 1,500 hotel rooms plus villas and guesthouses, and we will grow 26 percent in the next few years.” When a journalist expressed concern that Grenada might allow “too many high rise buildings,” Maher declared, “We won’t. Grenada will stay this way.”
Arrivals from Canada were up 6 percent year over year through August, and U.S. arrivals jumped 13 percent, and, of course, airlift is a major contributor to that. American Airlines now flies daily from Miami, JetBlue offers daily nonstops from JFK, and Air Canada Rouge just added new flights.
“In 2016 the number of visitors to Martinique grew 9 percent, and in 2017 through July it’s up 5.7 percent,” said Valerie Vulcain, deputy director for the Americas at the Martinique Promotion Bureau. Five times as many cruise ships visit Martinique than visited just seven years ago, and they’re bringing 20 times as many passengers. Airlift has risen dramatically, too, with Air Norwegian scheduling new flights from Providence and Fort Lauderdale and adding flights to existing routes, and American expanding from Miami. It doesn’t hurt that Resonance Consultancy’s Caribbean Tourism Quality Index has named Martinique the “Safest Destination in the Caribbean.”
Diamont les Bains Hotel is about to debut a complete renovation and a new Diamond Rock hotel is being built. Road Scholar, which operates “adventures in lifelong learning,” has added Martinique to its offerings, and diving operator New Caradonna Adventures will offer diving packages to the island. In a private conversation with Vulcain, the deputy director talked about how the recently opened French Coco was raising the bar for chic luxury on an island that already offered its share of savoir faire.
Tourism Commissioner Karine Mousseau spoke movingly about the islands being “one Caribbean family, not just a group of islands competing with each other. We are a community; we share one heart.” Martinique, like the other more fortunate islands, has been generous to its neighbors.