We’ve discussed prior what it takes for an individual business to recover from a hurricane (see How Can Businesses Respond Effectively To Each Hurricane? on page 1 of our October 7, 2017 issue). Our step by step guide talked about the principles and foundational steps needed to go from the aftermath of a storm to the resumption of normal business operations.
Beyond individual businesses, reviving a whole industry can be a far greater challenge. This is particularly true of the tourism industry, a vital cornerstone of the Caribbean as a region but an industry uniquely vulnerable to the weather in a way that other others, e.g. banking, are not. Let’s look at how, beyond a business, an entire industry goes about recovery.
For an industry like tourism, that is vital to the regional economy, it’s essential to return tourists and customers to the islands as fast as possible. This can be particularly difficult in circumstances where one destination is ready again for operation but others are not.
While charter tours, cruise ships and other tourism providers may have previously travelled across a set itinerary of islands, when a hurricane has damaged a port, adjustments need to occur. While this is no easy feat, it is also not impossible. Puerto Rico sustained substantial damage this hurricane season but the Bahamas faced relatively little damage. Provided one port remains open when another closes, a cruise provider is already more than halfway to a remedy.
Recovery from hurricane damage requires work and restoration across multiple fronts.
Puerto Rico is illustrative of how these challenges are interwoven with one another: in the absence of a consistent electricity supply, businesses cannot operate. This means even essential services like banks can struggle to provide basic transactions, placing more pressure on aid and not-for-profit groups to meet the needs of the wider community.
This problem is compounded by a number of Puerto Ricans who have been displaced, having moved away temporarily from their local community to reside elsewhere as restorations proceed. While a port may be open to receive a ship, the industry that supports it may be non-existent until recovery is achieved.
There is also the question of priority. Governments will seek to restore tourism services as quickly as possible but need to first attend to providing emergency services to locals. Beyond this, the restoration of key community infrastructure like housing, schools, essential retail and utilities will take priority.
The Caribbean also faces a unique problem when it comes to generating tourism post-disaster. The region, as a whole, is recognised as an enticing destination. This is an advantage‚ just as the United States or Europe is recognised as a region with multiple destinations and diversity to attract a variety of tourists.
The downside to this is that, unlike the United States or Europe‚ if tourists hear of a disaster that has impacted the Caribbean‚ they can misperceive that it has affected the entire region. This was echoed by Matthew Beaubrun of Cox & Co. in our article on cruise ships (page 10).
This misperception needs to be corrected to ensure that the damage caused by a hurricane isn’t compounded by seeing business and tourism drop when many nations – like Saint Lucia in this hurricane season – essentially suffered no damage.
Getting the message out that the Caribbean is not only open for business right now but is always open for business, even if a hurricane has come through the region, is a key theme across this special Tourism Edition. It will also benefit all Caribbean business owners if together we can broaden awareness beyond our borders.
Beyond the restoration of services, the tourism industry needs to market heavily the fact that ‘business as usual’ for many islands has more or less resumed. This is something that has been a consistent theme across our articles discussing tourism in the post-Irma and Maria era. While this is similar to the task of any business, more is involved for a whole industry.
A local business in the Dominican Republic, St Kitts and Nevis or Guadeloupe may indeed need to resume operations in competition with other local providers. The Caribbean tourism industry needs to resume operations in competition with other tourism regions. While it should be noted that the scope and reach of global tourism providers is immense – and so a five-star cruise liner that regularly sailed to the Caribbean pre-disaster can easily be enticed to return – the difficulty of attracting tourists who may otherwise seek to travel through the Americas, Europe or even Asia means this is no easy task.
EDUCATION AND PREPARATION
Beyond restoration of services, and communication that tourism is back (and never really goes away, given the size of the Caribbean), it is essential that all Caribbeans revisit that old and familiar question: Where do we go from here? The raw power of nature, as seen in a hurricane, can often make seeking answers to this question painful, and feel fruitless.
While there is no big, magic solution to dealing with the damage a hurricane can cause, there are many little solutions that, together, can amount to real progress. Improving communications, coordination between stakeholders, and looking to identify areas where improvements and reforms can occur all serve as foundational goals in this sphere.
Ultimately, any hurricane or natural disaster will always bring about damage, disruption and heartbreak. Any suggestion otherwise would overlook the reality of the challenge, and do a disservice to all in the tourism industry, alongside the entire Caribbean community.
This notwithstanding, by building upon our experience and understanding, and enhancing our capacity to respond year by year, we can not only address the harm quicker but also increase our ability to minimise as much as possible the threat posed by future hurricanes to tourism and the livelihood of so many businesses in the region.
Gains here may be incremental but remain incredibly important to pursue. That’s the region’s task ahead.