As Hurricane Irma carved its destructive path through the Caribbean, the people of island nations from Antigua to Cuba were left to assess the damage and begin efforts to rebuild. The Category 5 storm killed at least 28 people, leaving a trail of destroyed homes, hotels, and infrastructure in a region long beloved by meeting and incentive attendees for its leisurely activities and luxurious properties. By the time the hurricane was moving across Florida's west coast, governments and properties were considering more long-term recovery efforts.
Meetings and incentive destinations throughout the region were impacted by the hurricane, several severely, with the Caribbean Tourism Organization
(CTO) and Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
(CHTA) providing regular island-by-island updates of damage and recovery efforts.
Here's the most current breakdown of which islands are off the meetings and incentive grid for the time being and those that are open for business:
In Need of Repairs
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of St. Maarten reported that four people there had died, with 70 percent of homes damaged or destroyed as well as properties across both the French and Dutch sides, with the Westin Dawn Beach, Beach Plaza, Riu Palace St. Martin, and Oyster Bay Beach Resort, suffering significant damage. Turks and Caicos Islands experienced severe flooding and structural damage, temporarily closing Providenciales International Airport (flights resumed the morning of Sept. 11) and losing power and water at properties including the Gansevoort Turks & Caicos, Villa Del Mar, and Seven Stars Resort.
British Virgin Islands Director of Tourism Sharon Flax-Brutus described the destruction from Hurricane Irma as devastating, downing cell phone towers and losing entire structures, with the UK government sending in the Royal Navy flagship HMS Ocean to provide relief. The U.S. Virgin Islands suffered major damage to the islands of St. Thomas and St. John, according to Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty, with the Windward Passage Hotel on St. Thomas expecting to remain closed for six months as it recovers.
Meeting and Incentive Ready
In the Bahamas, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar suspended operations over the weekend but is not closed, the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach was evacuated, and Atlantis Paradise Island is expected to be fully operational by Sept. 11. While the 68-square-mile island of Barbuda was among the hardest hit, with 95 percent of its structures suffering damage, its sister island of Antigua reported little long-term damage to its properties.
Amidst the destruction, there were also reasons for relief. After fears that Hurricane Jose would follow in Irma's path, striking many battered places a second time, it changed course and moved away from the islands. Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruises that cancelled their sailings out of Florida rerouted ships to assist in delivering supplies and helping evacuate travelers on the Caribbean islands. Though 60 percent of Puerto Rico was estimated to have been left without electricity and President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for it on Sunday, the island was spared the worst of Irma's damage.
"I have to tell you it was a big scare. It's a big monster, but we are so lucky and grateful that this veered north and even though we had a portion of the winds and some of the rain, it wasn't as much as some of the islands," said Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico.
He noted that in less than 24 hours, in most cases, the hotels and venues were up and running, including the Puerto Rico Convention Center and Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. Those that didn't have the power back were working off of their own generators and water cisterns. Things have improved so much, that Puerto Rico has become a hub
for relief efforts to the U.S. Virgin Islands and beyond.
"One of the things I've said about us as a destination is that it's about preparedness," said Segarra. "It's important for clients to know that we are prepared for any eventuality, whether it's security or health-scare related or weather related, and Puerto Rico has proven to be in good shape when these types of things happen."
To help respond to the devastation and assist in the rebuilding effort, the Caribbean Tourism Organization launched a CTO Relief Fund on GoFundMe. The funds will be sent directly to those CTO-member destinations affected by the story.
"The damage caused by the force of Hurricane Irma is an important example of why we must do whatever is possible to provide financial relief to those who need it most," CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley said in a statement. "It's through this fund that the CTO channels monetary assistance to our impacted member state."
For the latest updates for each island, visit the CTO's Storm Watch Cente