Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

*logoThe Caribbean region could benefit from the H1N1 swine flu outbreak -- although it is the kind of unhappy boon that tourism officials shy away from touting, given that the misfortunes in Mexico will result in a visitor uptick for the Caribbean, both in cruise passengers and land-based vacationers.

Ports that stand to see an increase in cruise calls due to redirected cruises include Grand Cayman, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios in Jamaica, Freeport and Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

Carnival Cruise Lines' Glory is confirmed for new calls in St. Thomas on May 5, 12 and 19. The ship can accommodate up to 2,974 passengers.

Carnival is evaluating its schedule to determine whether additional ships may be diverted to the Virgin Islands. According to the Department of Tourism, the West Indian Co. is on standby to accommodate additional calls as confirmed.

A Bahamas tourism official said that "this is not the way we want to get business, because this situation could be happening here, but the obvious conclusion is that there will be some diversion of cruise business towards the Bahamas."

On the land-based side, destinations that stood to benefit from the windfall of bookings redirected from Mexico include Jamaica, Aruba and the Dominican Republic, according to several operators.

Close to 50% of Funjet's Mexico business rebooked to the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica and the D.R., said President Mike Going.

The Spanish hotel chains with properties in both Mexico and either Jamaica or the D.R., such as Riu, Iberostar and Sol Melia, also gained Caribbean guests who transferred from the Mexico hotels.

"Most clients are rebooking to the Caribbean," said Steve Cosgrove, president of Dynamic Travel & Cruises in Dallas. "They are not giving up their vacations altogether."

Mexican officials estimated that 40,000 tourists, most of them Americans, left the Mexican Caribbean that runs from Cancun to Tulum last week, even though there was not a single confirmed case of the H1N1 virus in the state of Quintana Roo.

Swine flu cases were slow to show up in the Caribbean, although Belize reported four suspected cases and canceled all major public events last weekend, including a concert and an agriculture show. Belize shares a northern border with Mexico.

The Bahamas had a group of students and teachers under voluntary quarantine when they returned to Abaco following a school trip to Mexico. In Barbados, two students returning from Mexico were being watched for H1N1 symptoms.

Two passengers who arrived in Grenada following a Mexico stay were voluntarily quarantined.

All Caribbean countries stepped up surveillance at ports of entry. Arriving passengers from Mexico were greeted by teams of medical personnel who questioned them on the state of their health.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization said it was coordinating closely with all health authorities in the region.

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