By F. Martin
TTC Service.- The Caribbean islands struck by Hurricanes Irma and Mary during this Atlantic hurricane season began an arduous task of restoring their main livelihood, tourism, and hopes for all the help they can receive.
According to preliminary estimates, rebuilding costs after major hurricanes including Harvey in the United States, and Caribbean could reach hundreds of billions of dollars.
Harvey drenched coastal Texas on August 25, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 10 and 10 days later, Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico.
During a brief visit to the island administered by Washington, President Donald Trump has heaped praise on his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, said Puerto Rico’s leaders should be “very proud” of the low official death toll.
But the bad news was that the President appeared to complain about the cost of the recovery effort.
Puerto Rico was badly hit by cyclone Maria, a 4 category storm. The island’s 3.4 million residents – particularly those in the more isolated parts – are still largely without electricity, communications and access to clean drinking water and food.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack”, said Trump to officials of the island.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, Puerto Rico could see a 50 percent drop in tourism and as a result, 36,600 fewer jobs.
Other Caribbean islands hit hard by hurricanes expect to receive a better treatment.
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Bart’s, Puerto Rico, St. John, and Dominica have suffered some of the worst damage following the landfall of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Other islands, such as Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, have fared much better and have already begun to welcome tourists back to the islands.
Those who navigated with luck are trying to extract some advantages from the catastrophic situation. According to Reuters, Jamaica expects an increase in the number of tourists to the country as travelers rebook holidays to avoid other destinations in the Caribbean that were hit by hurricanes.
Jamaica Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said the increase in visitors by travelers who changed their holidays to Jamaica would be around 1 to 2 percent this year, and the island expects to get $150 million to $200 million in additional tourism revenue.
“The experience is that people who have committed already to the Caribbean, who have made bookings for the Caribbean, are going to go to the Caribbean, and so the issue is where in the Caribbean they are going to go,” Edmund told Reuters at a World Tourism Day event in Doha.
But Bartlett, in his position as chairman of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Board of Affiliate Members, appealed for aid for Caribbean islands devastated by hurricanes. The minister said that aid will most likely come from the UNWTO Sustainable Tourism — Eliminating Poverty Initiative (ST-EP) Foundation, which promotes poverty alleviation through the provision of assistance to sustainable development projects in developing countries. He thanked the UNWTO for pledging to assist in rebuilding the tourism industry in the affected countries.
“We are all a part of the regional tourism family, so it is important that we are willing to help each other in times of need, he said.
Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UNWTO, called for an emergency meeting to discuss the impact of recent hurricanes on the travel and tourism industry and the future of tourism Caribbean member nations.
The timeline for rebuilding varies greatly island to island and can stretch anywhere from a few weeks to up to years.