Brian Major | September 05, 2016 12:00 PM ET
Caribbean Tourism Weathering A Stormy History
In several years of covering the Caribbean on land and sea, I have somehow avoided the island-rattling wrath of a storm or tropical hurricane. But every year Caribbean residents, visitors and tourism stakeholders cast a wary eye on the horizon and ponder severe weather’s impact.
Last year Dominica found itself in the eye of the storm, literally, as tropical storm Erika dumped 12 inches of rain on the island causing extensive flooding, loss of life and more than $200 million in damage to homes, businesses and public and tourist facilities.
In August it was Belize’s turn to face nature’s wrath as Hurricane Earl caused significant damage countrywide. While there were, fortunately, no reports of fatalities, the small Caribbean country’s public and tourism infrastructure suffered a significant blow, just as the country is building a growing tourism profile.
Belize’s National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) outlined the destruction in August. On the eastern coast, in the resort region of Ambergris Caye, 227 of the 252 boat docks lining the coast were affected including 135 that were totally destroyed. Several local dive shops, which serve a thriving market for adventure-based tourism, “were partially or totally destroyed due to the strong winds and surges caused by the hurricane,” with the damage totaling $11 million.
On Caye Caulker, another island resort district that’s especially popular among Belizeans, 49 of the 54 docks, most of which feature dive shops, were affected, including 30 which were completely destroyed. Here the damage totaled $2.5 million.
The storm’s impact on the lives of everyday Belize residents is unmistakable. A San Pedro Sun report on post-Earl recovery efforts includes interviews with several families faced with the difficult tasks of rebuilding homes and lives.
But the storm was also a harsh bump in the road for Belize’s growing tourism industry. Overnight visitor arrivals between January and June of 2016 totaled 213,430, a 16.5 percent increase over the same period last year, according to Belize Tourism Board (BTB) data. The figure also represents the first 200,000-plus visitor first half the destination has ever recorded.
The damage to impacted areas is likely to affect the country’s’ short-term tourism prospects. Yet in characteristic fashion tourism officials in the country are working hard to resume visitor momentum. In an August 9 press statement, BTB officials said many Belize districts, including major tourist areas, have been or are in the process of being rebuilt.
“Thanks to the unity of the entire community of San Pedro Town, we are all back in business and ready to cater to all our visitors,” reads another statement from the San Pedro Town Council, which oversees another key resort district. “Although many dive shops lost their piers, they did not lose their boats or their spirit to share with our friendly visitors the beauty of Belize.”
Caribbean destinations will most likely always confront episodes of severe weather. But regardless of their short term impact, the storms of recent years have failed to blunt the region’s overall tourism growth, which last year totaled 28.7 million overnight arrivals, a seven percent increase over 2014 and nearly double the global increase of four percent in 2015.
The current Caribbean hurricane season extends through Nov. 30. Residents, visitors and tourism stakeholders will again be watching the skies for signs of turbulence.
More by Brian Major
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Hotel & Resort
Destination & Tourism
Features & Advice
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Airlines & Airports