The State of the Tourism Industry Conference is one of the more important tourism meetings of the year, as travel professionals, tourism boards, suppliers and media came together at the show, this year held at Atlantis in the Bahamas, to gain insight into the state of the Caribbean a year after hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Antigua & Barbuda, and Puerto Rico each brought updates on the state of affairs in each destination, which were drastically damaged by the hurricanes last fall.
Colin Piper, with Discover Dominica, said 57% of hotel rooms are now available, all flights to the country have resumed and the cruise sector is returning. Piper also spoke of a series of investments that are in the pipeline, including 470 hotel rooms to be incorporated into the inventory by 2020.
Still to resume operation is Secret Bay, which will open in November with a new restaurant and a riverside wellness center. Slated to debut next year is Anichi Resort & Spa, which will have 128 rooms on 12 acres on Picard Beach in Portsmouth. Guest suites will have private pools, while public spaces will include swim-up bars in infinity pools, specialty restaurants and a spa. The resort will be a member of the Autograph Collection.
The British Virgin Islands is also full steam ahead on its recovery. Sharon Flax-Brutus, the BVI's director of tourism, said that 75% of the territory's inventory will be available by the end of the year.
Necker Island Resort will open its doors later this month with 11 bedrooms in the Great House, including the master suite and a bunk room that sleeps up to six. Later this year the resort will reopen Bali Lo, Bali Kukila, and Bali Buah, which are all standalone houses. More rooms will be added throughout 2019.
Rosewood Little Dix Bay also plans a reopening this year, along with Peter Island Resort & Spa and the Bitter End Yacht Club.
Charles Fernandez, minister of tourism and investment for Antigua & Barbuda, was also positive about the improvements coming to the islands. His announcement detailed a new ferry service, and he said that the new tourism strategy will be to market the nontraditional areas of the islands as well as environmental tourism.
A slew of properties are in the pipeline, including the construction of a Waldorf Astoria. The Waldorf Astoria Antigua will have 95 rooms, 25 villas, a spa and several waterside dining concepts. The resort will sit on 30 acres of beachfront, with an additional five acres to be turned into a national park. The project is slated to open in 2020.
St. Maarten/St. Martin is also on the rebound, with 30 hotels and inns having reopened in the last year. Alex Pierre, vice president of the French St. Martin tourism office, reported that 21 of 26 airlines are back, and the cruise port has welcomed more than 600,000 passengers since its reopening.
Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, has reported that 135 hotels are operational, and more growth in the inventory is expected next year. He said that 4,000 restaurants and shopping areas have reopened in the last year.
Future resort openings include the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, to open later this month; the W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island, which is closed for renovations through Dec. 31; and the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan, to open in late spring.
One of the more important takeaways from the conference was the public misconception about the scope of the hurricane damage in the region. Keynote speaker Steve McGillivray, chief marketing officer of the Travel Leaders Group, emphasized how important it is to spread the news that the Caribbean is open for business and that the majority of the islands never saw damage at all.
"Travelers and the media were uninformed about the size, scale, and geography of the Caribbean, and the fact that many islands were untouched," he said. "Some media stories even confused Aruba and Antigua, Barbados and Barbuda.
"The next time a weather event blows through, and the press is showing nothing but devastation on the TV 24/7, it will be your travel agent partners who are calming the fears of already-booked travelers and assuring future customers that the Caribbean is open for business."