By Jacob Passy
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
Many people may now be questioning their choice to book that beach getaway following Hurricane Irma’s rampage — but proper planning can keep future travel to Florida and the Caribbean from taking a disastrous turn.
Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in its wake, after striking parts of the Caribbean and Florida. Nearly all buildings on the islands of Barbuda and St. Martin were destroyed, and reports of chaos have emerged from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The Florida Keys remain closed to residents as officials survey damage to infrastructure, and many parts of Florida are still assessing the impact of Irma’s storm surge and wind. In the U.S. alone, Irma is estimated to have caused roughly $100 billion in damage, according to AccuWeather . As of Thursday, the death toll from the storm was 26, USA Today reported .
Given the amount of damage the storm caused, many tourists may be reconsidering travel plans to the region in the near future. Indeed, it could be weeks, months or even longer before some parts of the Caribbean and Florida are reopened to tourists. Here is a breakdown for what travelers can expect on their upcoming trips, along with some strategies to ensure that future vacations to the region during hurricane season are not ruined by a major storm.
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Is it safe to travel to islands in the Caribbean that were hit by Irma?
With the exception of islands that received the storm’s worst — including Anguilla, Barbuda and St. Martin — most places should be fully repaired in time for holiday and winter travel, said Albert Herrera, senior vice president of global product partnerships at luxury travel agencies network Virtuoso. Turks and Caicos and St. Thomas will likely be closed for only a couple of weeks, for instance. Not only does the damage vary by island, “it varies block by block,” he said.
The storm’s timing was critical. September and October are typically a slow time of year due in part to hurricane season, and many resorts close during these months anyway to do annual refurbishments. The biggest issue, Herrera said, will be restoring infrastructure.
As islands begin to welcome tourists once again, travelers call their resort to ensure it is fully repaired, said John DiScala, travel expert and founder of JohnnyJet.com. “I would be more worried about people who are renting a house or going through a tour operator or an independent hotel,” he said.
Resorts still in a state of disrepair may offer better deals to lure tourists, but guests may have to endure construction noise and other inconveniences during their stay.
How can tourists help areas affected by Irma?
Some people may be inclined to avoid places that were hit hard by Irma because they don’t want to get in the way. Others might want to replace a vacation with a volunteer trip to assist with disaster relief. In either case, it’s important for consumers to research before making a final decision.
Online travel agency Responsible Travel, which specializes in ethical and “green” vacations, has guides on how to assess whether to visit a region following a natural disaster and how to go about planning a volunteering trip . If a consumer ultimately decides to cancel a trip, they should consider redistributing those funds to charitable causes to aid in post-storm recovery.
Guests should check with the local tourism bureau to determine whether they will be a burden by visiting a region so soon following a disaster, their business is also sorely needed in many of these places that rely on tourism. “Tourism is the lifeblood of these islands, not only for the businesses but for the people they employ,” Hererra said.
Should you visit these regions next year during hurricane season?
Guests planning trips to areas often hit by hurricanes from the beginning of June through the end of November should invest in travel insurance that covers weather-related losses. Insurance won’t cover any losses related to a hurricane if purchased after the storm is named.
Of course, travel insurance only covers the financial loss. That doesn’t make up for the disappointment of a canceled vacation.
Cruises can be a relatively risk-free means of taking a Caribbean vacation during hurricane season. More often than not, they will rearrange the itinerary rather than cancel. So rather than sail to the Virgin Islands, they may take travelers to Cozumel. “The Caribbean is so vast that there’s plenty of places to go,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-at-large of travel website Cruise Critic.
Other travel experts recommended planning trips to areas that are less often hit by hurricanes, such as the so-called ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) or Barbados. Still, these areas can and will get hurricanes — last year, Hurricane Matthew brushed past the ABC islands , causing some beach erosion and minor flooding.
For consumers who do decide to plan trips during hurricane season though, it’s equally important to map out a contingency plan if a hurricane were to hit while on vacation, said Hannah Sampson, news editor at travel website Skift. Hundreds of tourists found themselves stranded in St. Thomas following Irma — and many were dismayed when they were not allowed to board a ship chartered by Marriott to evacuate guests staying at its resort on the island, the Washington Post reported.