PHOTO: An expansive Haiti landscape. (photo by Brian Major)
The Bahamas and Haiti are at opposite ends of the Caribbean tourism spectrum. Yet, tourism-reliant communities in both destinations were devastated by Hurricane Matthew, the deadly October 2016 category four storm. Similarly, disparate elements came together in the storm’s aftermath to provide aid and assistance.
Matthew killed nearly 1,000 residents of Haiti’s the southwestern region, wrecking agricultural and fishing sites, flora, natural attractions, schools and homes. Thousands of families were made homeless.
Hard-hit areas included Jacmel, the capital of Haiti’s South-East Department and home to a large art-producing community and one of the country’s emerging tourist districts. The Damien, Jérémie and Les Cayes districts were also heavily damaged.
While the Bahamas’ critical Nassau/Paradise Island resort district was largely spared, Matthew caused severe damage on Grand Bahama Island, North and Central Andros, and the Berry Islands. The impacted region’s uneven tourism business, symbolized by recent resort closures and tour operator withdrawals, already presented a sobering contrast to the thriving Nassau/Paradise Island.
In tourism terms, the countries couldn’t be more different. The Bahamas is among the region’s most popular travel destinations, with 1.2 million land-based visitors and 3.8 million cruise ship visitors in 2016 reports the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). Haiti, in turn, is struggling to sustain a recent tourism turnaround that peaked in 2015.
Haiti recorded 141,957 overnight arrivals between January and April, a 14.5 percent decline versus 2015. Cruise arrivals also declined, as Haiti hosted 284,957 cruise passengers between January and April, a 9.4 percent decline versus 2015.
Yet, both nations are relying heavily on tourism to secure a measure of economic stability. These and other Caribbean destinations have, in many ways, thrived despite challenges ranging from natural disasters to economic setbacks—including the current de-risking threat. It is a testament to the ingenuity and teamwork displayed daily by tourism professionals and ordinary people across the region.
Indeed, Caribbean destinations impacted by Matthew will benefit from a combination of foresight, teamwork and a commitment to support the region partners following the devastating storm.
The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility formed in 2007 to provide catastrophic insurance coverage to Caribbean destinations, said in January it would pay Haiti just over $20 million in accordance with the country’s Tropical Cyclone Policy.
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Furthermore, in Matthew’s direct aftermath, Jamaica dispatched assistance teams to Haiti and The Bahamas to help with initial recovery efforts. Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said in press reports the teams included Jamaica Defence Force officials.
Most recently, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) presented checks totaling $70,000 to hotel associations in Haiti and The Bahamas to assist residents in both countries with Hurricane Matthew relief efforts.
CHTA developed a fundraising initiative through online auction channel CharityBuzz.com. Regional hoteliers donated room nights for the auction to benefit residents in Haiti and The Bahamas, some of whom “continue to struggle to put their lives back in order,” said Troubetzkoy.
"Our Caribbean countries and the industry responded when help was needed and I wish to thank those who answered the call," she added. Caribbean destinations will likely rely on partnership and teamwork to encounter challenges yet to come.