Report from SOTIC, Part 2: What’s New on Four Islands

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Every country in the Caribbean was affected by the recent hurricanes—emotionally, that is—so both governments and resorts are contributing to relief and recovery efforts. Physically, however, the overwhelming majority of destinations were unscathed. Here’s the start of an update on Caribbean countries both lucky and unlucky.

“2017 has been a bittersweet year,” said Cardigan Connor, parliamentary secretary with responsibility for tourism. “It started out with our 50th anniversary, strong growth in tourism (21 percent from the U.S., and Canada wasn’t far behind),…But on Sept. 6th an unwelcome guest kicked in our back doors and windows.

“Now cleanup and recovery are exceeding our expectations,” declared Connor. “Electricity is restored to much of the islands. Gas stations and grocery stores are well provisioned.” Moreover, he promised that a few resorts (e.g. Carimar Beach Club) will be open for Christmas 2017, and some five-star resorts are targeting the first quarter of 2018. Malliouhana, Cuisinart, and The Reef will require more time. Several popular restaurants have already reopened.

Airlift (e.g. Seaborne from San Juan) has returned, and the tarmac will be extended to accept more international flights. “The ferry terminal was demolished, but it will be rebuilt. And it’s about time,” he said with a smile. “These projects were on the drawing board, anyway. That’s the silver lining.”

Antigua and Barbuda
“Amazing what a difference of 30 miles can make,” said Colin James, CEO of the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority, referring to how Hurricane Irma decimated Barbuda yet hardly harmed Antigua at all. “If you came, you wouldn’t see any damage at all from the hurricane.”

“Barbuda had less than 100 rooms, which was less than one percent of the country’s total,” he said. “However, tourism accounts for 55 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s GDP…so if you really want to contribute to the rebuilding effort, book a vacation.” James also promised that Antigua will “make sure that the folks who come have a first-class experience.”

Postscript: After James’ presentation, I asked him if he could show me a post-hurricane photo of the Antiguan landscape. Before one hour had passed, his office sent me several post-hurricane photos—each of a different scene (the cruise ship welcoming area, a panorama of rolling hills, etc.). Sure enough, I saw no damage from the storm.

The Bahamas
“Andros and Grand Bahama Island were still recovering from Hurricane Matthew when along came Irma and Maria,” said tourism director Joy Jibrilu of the Bahamas. Grand Bahama’s tourism is still weak enough to bring down the entire country’s arrivals numbers. However, said Jibrilu, “We are spread out over 100,000 sq. miles, so it’s important that people understand that if a hurricane hits, say, seven [of the 30 inhabited] islands, 23 are not hit.”

She reported that “The Family Islands [aka the Out Islands] are thriving; we’ve gotten word out that the Bahamas is not just Nassau-Paradise Island. Airlift…has been key,” and she mentioned the Delta flights to Marsh Harbour and Eleuthera, new American flights to San Salvador and Exuma, and Elite Airlines from Newark to Bimini.

“The big story in the Bahamas is Baha Mar. It’s real, it’s alive! Grand Hyatt is calling this a soft opening, but when you have 1,000 rooms, 11 restaurants, and an enormous casino—that’s open,” said Jibrilu. “Another 800 rooms will open by the end of this month, SLS opens in November, and next year, Rosewood.”

Atlantis is launching its new focus on Authentically Bahamian theme in November, with Bahamian restaurants, arts and crafts, junkanoo music, and immersive experiences. Atlantis is also promoting a stay at the resort with a stay on one one of the Family Islands,” with transfers by seaplane. In spite of Atlantis’ appointment of a new managing director, “The partnership with the Family Islands will continue,” predicted Jibrilu, in part because it helps Atlantis distinguish itself from Baha Mar.

Regarding the many cruise ship passengers who visit the Bahamas, one of Jibrilu’s goals is to “convert them to stopover visitors.”

Barbados tourism has risen 7.4 percent this year, and that includes a 12 percent jump from Canadians and 16 percent from the U.S. “And we’re predicting another record year,” said William “Billy” Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marking, Inc.

William "Billy" Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marking, Inc. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)
William “Billy” Griffith, CEO of Barbados Tourism Marking, Inc. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)

Airlift helps. “JetBlue will expand from eight to 24 weekly flights from Newark and switch to year-round service from Boston. JetBlue will resume daily flights from Fort Lauderdale, too. Air Canada Rouge and WestJet will resume winter schedules from Toronto, with Rouge flying twice daily. Air Canada will fly from Montreal four times a week. Cruise ship arrivals are up, as well.

Hotel stock is expanding rapidly: “Sandals Royal Barbados is opening in December with 220 rooms and the first rooftop infinity pool in the Caribbean,” said Griffith. “Sea Breeze Beach Hotel, an all-inclusive, will reopen in December with 40 percent more rooms. The Fairmont Royal Pavilion will reopen with 72 rooms, and Elegant Hotels’ Tamarind, The House, and [newly acquired] Treasure Beach are about to reopen after renovations.” When the Wyndham Sam Lords Castle Resort opens in the couple of years, it will add yet another 450 rooms. “Nikki Beach Barbados debuts in December, and what it brings to the island—we’re very excited.”

As for events, note that the Mount Gay Round Series (January) has been renamed Barbados Sailing Week. The inaugural Sugar & Rum Season will run this winter through April, and the upcoming Food & Rum Festival will feature the likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and trini-Canadian chef Chris de la Rosa. Do you detect an emphasis on gastronomy?

To read the Report from SOTIC, Part 1, click here. For SOTIC, Part 3, click here.