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News Article

Hurricane Irma to hit Caribbean and Florida tourism


Caribbean islands fear grim tourism season

Hurricane Irma has now thankfully finished its path of destruction, but as damage continues to be assessed and recovery operations get underway, residents of the Caribbean and Florida and the tourism industries in these regions must now take stock. Key Florida tourist attractions such as the Disney theme parks were temporarily closed, as were many airports, and cruise lines had to cancel or revise a number of sailings. Florida’s tourism industry will undoubtedly take at least a short-term hit from Irma (and in the Florida Keys it could take months for power to be fully restored and the infrastructure rebuilt), but it may be the Caribbean islands, which had the full force of the storm last week, which have the worst long-term damage. With many buildings destroyed, and airports, power lines and other infrastructure damaged, the world’s most tourism-dependent region is likely to face huge losses.

While agriculture and financial services are also important industries in much of the Caribbean, the region is often described as the most tourism-dependent region in the world. A Caribbean Journal article from 2013 used World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) figures from 2012 to discuss the over-reliance of tourism in the region. Using the WTTC formula for total economic impact of tourism (direct impact of travel and tourism plus indirect economic impact of investment) for the year 2012, the figures for many islands show the dominance of tourism. Jamaica (27.4 percent of GDP), St Lucia (39 percent of GDP), Barbados (39.4 percent of GDP), The Bahamas (48.4 percent of GDP), and Antigua & Barbuda (77.4 percent of GDP) provide a good sample of the regional trend.

In 2016, Caribbean tourism passed 29 million arrivals for the first time, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and grew faster than the global average to record a 4.2% increase over the previous year.

“Encouragingly, we welcomed over one million more visitors last year than in 2015, to reach 29.3 million, continuing our proud record of continuous growth for the seventh straight year,” CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley told a news conference in February. Visitor expenditure also hit a new high, growing by an estimated 3.5 per cent to reach  US$35.5 billion. Regarding the outlook for 2017, the CTO predicted increases of 2.5 and 3.5 per cent in long-stay arrivals and increases of between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent in cruise passenger arrivals.

The region’s busiest travel season is from mid-December to Easter, when tourists from Europe and North American head for winter sun. But few tourists will be booking trips until the extent of the damage caused by Irma is known, and on the worst-hit islands much of the tourism infrastructure may have been damaged or destroyed. Large hotels and resorts are likely to have been built to higher standards than the houses of many locals and so have survived the storm relatively intact, but roads, airports and power generation and transmission structures have all suffered damage in prime vacation islands such as St. Martin and Barbuda. On Barbuda, home to around 1800 people, some 95% of buildings are reported to have been destroyed, and preliminary damage estimates top $100 million. Six out of 10 homes on St Martin, an island shared between France and the Netherlands, are now uninhabitable, French officials say. Both the British and US Virgin Islands have suffered considerable damage, while in Cuba the roof of the international airport in the tourist region of Cayo Coco is reported to have collapsed. In Puerto Roci, parts fof the island have been "decimated", but the Governor reports that the tourism infrastructure is largely intact.

“Any disruption in the tourism industry is a disruption of our livelihood” says Hugh Riley from the CTO. Latest news on Irma and other hurricanes is posted on the CTO Storm Watch Center.

Reuters quotes the President of U.S.-based tour operator Pleasant holidays as saying that it may be well into next year before the local tourism industry begins to normalize.

Jamaican Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett says he will be leveraging his role as chairman of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) Board of Affiliate Members to appeal for aid for Caribbean islands recently devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Bartlett says 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. The UNWTO is conveying a special meeting to address the impacts of Hurricane Irma and the way forward on the occasion of its 22nd General Assembly taking place in China this week.

Granvorka and Strobl (2013) modelled the impact of hurricane strikes on the Caribbean tourism industry, suggesting that an “average” hurricane strike causes tourism arrivals to be about 2% lower than they would have been had no strike occurred. Forster et al. (2012) discuss the influence of hurricane risk on tourist destination, and demonstrate that respondents were significantly less likely to choose holiday options where hurricane risk is perceived to increase, and significantly more likely to choose options that offered financial compensation for increased risk. Oliveira et al. (2011) review the effects of hurricanes on tourism in the Cayman Islands.

In 2016, more than 112 million people visited Florida, according to data from the state. That pace was expected to continue this year, where in the first two quarters of 2017, a total of 60.7 million people visited the state, up more than 4% from the same period last year.

In 2015 alone, visitors directly spent nearly $109 billion in the state.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 12 September 2017
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism