It might seem "unseemly" to be thinking about vacation when people have lost their homes, livelihoods, and some, even their lives. But for many of the tropical destinations that Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have devastated, tourism is big business and getting back into business is the next step after the safety of their residents. If you already have a trip planned or are thinking about visiting one of the tropical destinations affected by the recent storms, here are some ideas about things to consider, and how to proceed.
The first concern for those of us who have spent some time in the Caribbean and Southern US or have relatives there is for their safety and condition of their homes. Now most of us have heard from our loved ones, and the rebuilding has begun. We've learned that some islands have been devastated and if you'd like to help, its best to direct your funds to charities with a long standing track record of helping in the area. I like to use Charity Navigator for hard data about where my money is going. Unfortunately, there are people are out there trying to take advantage in a crisis, so be judicious about where your money goes and who it will help.
I have heard also from people who want to know what to do about their vacation plans. Whether they already have a booking or had planned to book, everyone is wondering what to do next. Unfortunately, some islands had their tourism infrastructure ruined, and while you might hear positive things from those governments and tourism councils, desperate for your tourist dollars, in reality, it may be a while before you could expect the same pre storm vacation experience in some places. These are just my own opinions, based on years of travel, and experience in islands that have been affected by storms in the past. They are colored by the fact that I understand how important tourism is the islands and that discouraging travel deals a second blow of devastation to the economies of these small islands. On the other hand, I'moften asked for advice by travelers who want to wisely spend their travel dollars.
If you already have a trip booked in an affected area
I have a cruise booked...now what?
If you are booked on a cruise in the Caribbean or departing from Texas or Florida, your first stop should be to check with your travel agent or the cruise line where you are booked. If you aren't departing soon, be patient, because communications are down in many places and many employers are allowing time for their employees to tend to their own homes and families first. I've noticed that all the cruise lines I follow have been out in front keeping passengers informed via social media about itinerary changes and cancellations. "Like" their pages for the latest news. Read through the cruise contract you agreed to when you booked, (all that teeny, tiny print you usually never need!) and you will see that acts of nature like this allow the cruise lines to make changes without requiring them to refund your deposit or compensate you. However, most of the cruise lines do seem to be allowing for some flexibility with cancellations, rebooking at another time or giving compensation or "perks" for inconvenienced passengers, so be sure to check with your line directly about they are handling changes.
I have a vacation at a Caribbean resort booked...now what?
One good source I found for how the tourism business has fared on each of the Caribbean islands that was impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria is Forbes. Check here to see if the island you plan to visit and your resort has been affected. Remember that many of these are self reported, so "minor flooding and exterior damage" could mean different things to different resort managers. Once things have settled in the destination, call and ask pointed questions about the condition of rooms and what facilities will be available, so you know exactly what you will get. Many times, I've seen a resort will open with limited rooms, but your experience can be affected by noisy construction in another part of the property, or damage to the beach or a pool closing. Also ask about the ability to cancel, or re book for a time when the resort will be back at full capacity. By asking these questions, you'll know what you are getting into before you go.
I have a Caribbean Yacht Charter booked...now what?
Many boats go out to see or are re-positioned when a storm comes up, sparing them from damage. But some have no choice but to ride out the storm in port, and the photos tell the story of some devastated charter boats. Check with the charter company to see if they will be able to accommodate your charter, and expect that if they can, the captain will be making changes to the itinerary based on the damage to ports around the islands.
I have a vacation in or cruise departing from Southern US...now what?
The Caribbean islands take the brunt of a storms force, because the storm lands after building strength out over the ocean, and that's devastating to low lying islands. Once the storms make landfall in the US, they've generally lost some of their punch. Also, US building codes and infrastructure is generally better than that of small Caribbean nations, so in addition to less devastation, rebuilding can happen faster. Check with your resort or cruise line for any changes to your itinerary. Ask and listen for honest answers to whether all facilities will be available and how damage has affected beaches.
If you are planning a trip to an affected area
I don't have a vacation booked, but I was planning to...what should I do next?
- If you have a regular place you go, and it's been affected, consider going, if it's safe to do so, but with a change in attitude. It may not be the relaxing vacation it has been in the past, but will your presence be encouraging to old friends and travel partners in your favorite destination? Can you possibly go there through a voluntary program and help rebuild the place you love? What do they need? Pack For a Purpose is my go to source for discovering what to pack to help because the lists are made by the organizations themselves. But if you have relationships with people on the island they may know what you could bring that will help. Obviously, if a lack of service or amenities is going to ruin your vacation experience, by all means wait, but if you have already have a connection to a place, your concern and presence could really help and you might get some favorable pricing, with destinations hoping to lure you back!
-If you are looking forward to that typical island vacation, with palm trees swaying and drinks by the beach, you might be disappointed with the Carribean in the next year. Beaches may be damaged with debris or erosion. Palm trees may have been wiped out, giving the landscape an otherworldly look. Going to the far southern Caribbean, such as Aruba might be an option. You may want to look to Latin America (Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico etc) which were spared from the worst storms this year. Don't forget that some islands were fortunately missed completely by the storms and they will be looking to reassure travelers they are "open for business"! Other "tropical" options are Hawaii and French Polynesia, although, Id be expecting prices there to rise, if demand for those locales rise, and of course, their remoteness often makes travel costs higher.
- If you are looking for a cruise vacation, I've noticed that the cruise lines are selling their Western Caribbean itineraries hard, with specials being offered to counter act all those images of devastation that may be affecting bookings. The mobile nature of cruise ships allows them to re-position around to less devastated areas, so a cruise trip can be a good way to experience the Caribbean while avoiding the challenges of rebuilding on an island. On the other hand, cruise destinations that weren't affected by the storms may see an increase in tourism and cruise travelers straining their resources.
- Is this the year to try something different? Maybe it's time to take that bucket list trip you've thought about instead of sitting under an umbrella with a mojito this year? A trip to Alaska, an African safari, a trip to the Galapagos or a visit to a European city might be in the cards this year instead of palm trees and ocean breezes. We have lots of ideas on our site...just scroll down the destinations on the right side of our website to get some ideas...and wherever you go, safe travels!
My thoughts go out to all the travel partners and people affected by these terrible storms, I'm not shying away from traveling to Florida and the Caribbean this winter, and I'm sure I'll see examples of incredible resiliency that characterizes island living. I plan to do my part, participating in fundraisers, donating to charities that are helping to rebuild and "packing for a purpose" this winter, and I will be sure to report what I find when I get there! Let us know what your experience has been too!
If you live in the Greater Boston Area...join me and my friends, we will be attending a Zumba Fundraiser for Hurricane Relief in Puerto Rico