Restoring island tourism economies after climate change-powered megastorms

Beyond individual businesses, reviving a whole industry can be a far greater challenge. This is particularly true of the tourism industry, a vital cornerstone of the Caribbean as a region but an industry uniquely vulnerable to the weather in a way that other others, e.g. banking, are not.

For an industry like tourism, that is vital to the regional economy, it’s essential to return tourists and customers to the islands as fast as possible. This can be particularly difficult in circumstances where one destination is ready again for operation but others are not.

Recovery from hurricane damage requires work and restoration across multiple fronts. This problem is compounded by a number of Puerto Ricans who have been displaced, having moved away temporarily from their local community to reside elsewhere as restorations proceed.

While a port may be open to receive a ship, the industry that supports it may be non-existent until recovery is achieved.

There is also the question of priority. Governments will seek to restore tourism services as quickly as possible but need to first attend to providing emergency services to locals. Beyond this, the restoration of key community infrastructure like housing, schools, essential retail and utilities will take priority.

Puerto Rico is illustrative of how these challenges are interwoven with one another: in the absence of a consistent electricity supply, businesses cannot operate.

The Caribbean also faces a unique problem when it comes to generating tourism post-disaster. The region, as a whole, is recognized as an enticing destination. This is an advantage‚ but the downside is that when tourists hear of a disaster that has impacted part of the Caribbean‚ they often perceive that it affected the entire region.

It’s the equivalent of not visiting Miami from England because you heard that Chicago was snowbound. It sounds silly when speaking of North America or Europe, but it’s a very real dynamic in the Caribbean, since few people appreciate the region’s size and diversity.

As a result, communications is a key part of restoring tourism: people must be made aware of undamaged destinations, as well as when damaged places are back to functioning properly.

Some nations, like St. Lucia—way down in the largely hurricane-free southern portion of the region—need to revive tourism as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, even though those storms never even came close to them. In such cases, educational marketing is the entire key to reviving the tourist trade.

Featured photo of San Juan, Puerto Rico via Adobe Stock.

See full article by Keryn Nelson in the St. Lucia Star.

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