LAS VEGAS -- Ovation Vacation's Jack Ezon said he is "shocked"
by the number of clients who think the Caribbean is decimated because of
hurricanes Irma and Maria.
"They don't know because nobody's telling the story
anymore," Ezon said during a roundtable discussion on Caribbean recovery at
Virtuoso Travel Week here.
The truth is that most of the Caribbean is open for
business. Affected islands are courting tourists to help their recovery
According to Karolin Troubetzkoy, past president of the
Caribbean Hotel Association, about 90% of hotel inventory in the Caribbean
affected by the storms has reopened. Six destinations are still in recovery
"There is a certain spirit of enthusiasm in the
Caribbean," she said. "It's been really tough, but we are going to
come back really strong from the experience."
According to Ezon, comparing this year's festive season
(Dec. 22-Jan. 3) to what was on the books last August, travel to the Caribbean
is 13% down. It's not terrible, Ezon said -- there is space for more travelers,
"but it's not wide open."
January is down 18%, while February is up 2% and March is up
1%, thus far. April is 34% down so far.
Ezon said he and his advisors are being proactive to get
clients back to the Caribbean, calling those who have visited before and
telling them they can return. Many are surprised, he said.
He called on other advisors to do the same and help the
Advisor Carmen Teresa Targa of Condado Travel shared her
story during the roundtable. Condado, based in Puerto Rico, is owned by Targa's
The hurricanes last year weren't the first Targa has
experienced. The first major hurricane she lived through was Hurricane Hugo in
"Nothing prepares you for the aftermath, especially
when you have small children and families to take care of," Targa said.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was left
with no power or communications. But Targa noticed a sense of community. She
met neighbors, people who she didn't know before.
Condado has three branches in Puerto Rico. One, located where
Maria made landfall, was a complete loss.
In the days after the storm, Targa and her family worked to reopen
and help their clients. The normalcy of going to work helped them deal with the
disaster they had experienced, she said.
In addition to helping clients, Condado helped staff
members. Some had lost everything they own. The agency brought generators to
the office and served meals at work.
As far as serving clients, Targa said "it was hard."
The airports were closed for a week. For clients already on trips, Condado
advised them to stay where they were for the time being.
She and her father were getting up at 3 a.m. to check the
day's flight inventory as it came online and nab seats. They gave priority to
those who urgently needed to leave the island, like pregnant women and
individuals who were ill.
They told their clients to keep their bags packed and ready,
Targa said. As seats became available, they would text their clients to get to
the airport and, hopefully, out of Puerto Rico.
Today, Targa said, she is bolstered by the attitude of
everyone on the island. They are grateful they survived the storm. Restaurants
are open again. Hotels are open. Tourist attractions are back up, too.
She encouraged people to visit, and expressed gratitude to those
who helped Puerto Rico after the hurricane hit.
"We want you to come," she said. "We want you
to see it, because we need you and we want to say thank you -- thank you for
everything you did for us."