That was the nominal title of a Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) press conference on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. A timely topic, because the annual season officially began June 1.
CTO communications specialist Johnson Johnrose and a panel of four experts agreed that the Caribbean in general is more ready now for hurricanes than it was in 2017, when Irma and Maria crashed through some of the northern islands. Of course, the devil’s in the details, so let’s look at a few of them:
1. In 2017 communications among the islands took too long to be restored. Now, said Henry Williams of Caribbean mobile phone network Digicel, there’s more back-up and redundancy in infrastructures, and “adequate equipment is available if there’s a need to respond quickly.” There’s also a better system in place for islands hit by hurricanes to get help from personnel on unaffected islands.
2. CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Association), like Digicel, is working on systems that will get help to an affected island within a day or two, said executive director Dr. James Hospedales. His goal is not just to cure outbreaks of diseases, but to prevent them. As another panelist pointed out, CARPHA is protecting both locals and visitors.
3. Jamaica-based, award-winning travel writer Janet Silvera reminded everyone that although this season is projected to have normal hurricane activity, “It takes just one hurricane to … destroy your business.” She congratulated Barbados for hosting an important conference on resilience, and she singled out a few other islands for ramping up their preparedness. In Anguilla, a victim of the 2017 storms, “hotels have been rebuilt using more resilient materials, and they have put emergency supplies in storage.” Of her own country she said, “Jamaica couldn’t be more prepared.” It has allocated more than $700 million toward this effort. Saint Lucia is educating its population on how to respond to disasters, and the BVI is replacing windows and shutters with sturdier materials.
4. Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) CEO Frank Comito reported that CHTA has offered preparedness training to hotels and encouraged them to stockpile food supplies this year. The association has also provided guidelines for hotel cancellations, and today, “almost all our [members] have hurricane cancellation policies.” CHTA guides travel advisors on these cancellation policies, too. He also explained how the Caribbean region is so large that, contrary to what you might conclude from portrayals of storms in the mass media, no hurricane hits more than a fraction of the islands. “We don’t want to discourage travel,” he concluded. “We want to alleviate people’s concerns.”