Two years since hurricanes Maria and Irma: Openings and updates

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The Serafina Beach Hotel in San Juan opened in March 2018 and was a visible sign of the resurgence in Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.
The Serafina Beach Hotel in San Juan opened in March 2018 and was a visible sign of the resurgence in Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

September could well be the cruelest month as far as Atlantic hurricanes go.

Dorian's Category 5 winds are gone, leaving a path of destruction in its wake on Grand Bahama and the Abacos, but mid-September marks the statistical peak of the hurricane season, when weather conditions favor storms forming quickly, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Several storm systems were brewing in the Atlantic last week, with tropical warnings posted for the northern Bahamas, and the Atlantic hurricane season still has more than two months to go until its official end.

Dorian's rampage two weeks ago served as a harsh reminder of the deadly power of a hurricane's ferocity. We only have to look back to September 2017 to Cat-5 storms Irma and Maria. Both have had a lasting impact on several islands.

I recently took a look back and, as bad as those storms were, I found much to celebrate in terms of recovery and progress.

After those storms passed through, the World Travel and Tourism Council estimated it would take four years for the islands to get back to their previous level of tourism.

However, according to Frank Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, recovery is ahead of schedule. He cited as examples that 90% of Puerto Rico's hotel rooms are back online, while the U.S. Virgin Islands has 70% of its previous capacity.

Anguilla

Openings and reopenings in 2018 and beyond testify to the rapid progress and recovery on Anguilla.

The majority of 1,200 hotel rooms are back in operation, as are more than 90% of restaurants.

These include the Quintessence hotel, Zemi Beach House, the Four Seasons Resort and Residences, The Reef by Cuisinart, Malliouhana, CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and Belmond Cap Juluca.

Barbuda

The tiny island of Barbuda, which was the first to be slammed by Irma, suffered damage to 95% of the homes and businesses, totaling 1,200 properties.

Most of the Barbuda's 2,000 residents relocated temporarily to neighboring Antigua, which had minimal damage.
Barbuda Belle resort reopened last November; plans are moving forward on actor Robert de Niro's Paradise Found resort project on the site of the shuttered K Club; and more than 600 residential and business properties have been rebuilt, according to Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

The frigate birds have long since returned to their sanctuary in the Codrington Lagoon.

British Virgin Islands

On the two-year anniversary of Irma, the hard-hit British Virgin Islands are looking good, as evidenced by the number of re-openings across the board in hotels, resorts and villas.

The BVI lost more than 90% of its accommodations and attractions in Irma, but by the end of 2018 it had more than 1,000 rooms and 3,200 charter berths back online.

Anegada Beach Club, Cooper Island Beach Club, Necker Island, the Sugar Mill Hotel, Oil Nut Bay, Guana Island, Scrub Island Resort & Spa and Quito's Inn on Tortola have all rebuilt and reopened.

Pussers Marina is slated to reopen next month; Lambert Beach Resort on Tortola reopens Nov. 1 as a Wyndham Hotels property; Mango Bay on Virgin Gorda will welcome guests on Nov. 1.

Bitter End Yacht Club plans to open its Marina Village in early 2020, with the rest of the resort to follow in different phases.

Still to come early next year are Rosewood Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda and Norman Island Resort. Peter Island Resort is aiming to reopen sometime next year.

A new dive site will be created in October, when three airplanes disguised as sharks will be sunk into the waters off the Dog Islands near Virgin Gorda to create an artificial reef.

The iconic old Willy T floating bar, destroyed in the 2017 storms, was sunk off Peter Island in August, but its replacement has a permanent home in the bar's original location, at the Bight at Norman Island.

Dominica

The island, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, will welcome its first luxury branded hotel on Oct. 14 with the debut of the 151-room Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica.

That opening will be followed later this year by the Anichi Resort and Spa as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection in Portsmouth on the northern part of the island.

In addition, well more than half of the island's 962 guestrooms before the storm are back in operation, including the Fort Young Hotel, Secret Bay, Calibishie Cove, Citrus Creek Plantation and phase 1 of Jungle Bay.

Rosalie Bay Resort is not reopening.

Discover Dominica Authority recently relaunched its revised and updated destination specialist program for agents at dominicaexpertsus.com.

Stayover numbers through April indicated a visitor increase of 87.5%, to 23,444, over the same period in 2018 when the island was still reeling from the storms.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's already vulnerable electrical grid and infrastructure collapsed under Hurricane Maria's catastrophic battering, leaving much of the island in darkness for months.

Two years later, the destination's hospitality sector has staged a big comeback, with more than 90% of hotels in San Juan now back in operation, including the Condado Vanderbilt; Hotel El Convento; the Caribe Hilton; La Concha Renaissance Resort; the El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton; Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve;  the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort; the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort; and the Condado Plaza Hilton.

New properties include O:LV Fifty Five and Serafina in San Juan.

El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort near Fajardo, is still undergoing restoration, as is the adjacent Las Casitas Villas, with plans to reopen by fall 2020.

The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan plans to reopen by the end of the year as do the Hyatt Hacienda del Mar, Dreams Resort and Spa in Guanica and Aloft Hotel Ponce.

On Vieques, Hix Island House and El Blok have reopened. The new Finca Victoria is now open. But the W Retreat & Spa Vieques will not reopen.

Recovery continues in El Yunque National Forest, although some of the lower trails have reopened to hikers.

Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said: "Puerto Rico is open for business. Tourism is our priority. Our resurgence  continues to position Puerto Rico higher than ever as a viable tourism destination and experience. We're back on track to achieve a record-breaking year in 2019."

St. Barts

Irma's arrival caused damage to the island and shuttered the majority of its hotels and restaurants.

But most of St. Barts rebounded in time for the last winter's season, including Hotel Le Toiny, Villa Marie Saint Barth, Villa Saline, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa, Eden Rock, Le Sereno St. Barth and the Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France.

The Hotel Barriere Le Carl Gustaf and the Christopher are targeting December debuts.

Le Guanahani has targeted an October 2020 reopening.

Villa stock is back to pre-storm levels, of more than 800 villas.

St. Maarten/Martin

Irma's power destroyed 70% of the structures on St. Maarten/Martin, including massive damage to the roof and interior of Princess Juliana Airport.

All airport repairs are slated for completion by 2021, according to Brian Mingo, CEO.

More than 65% of hotels and timeshares throughout the island have reopened.

Sonesta's rebound on St. Maarten was marked by last December's reopening of the adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort, followed by the adjacent Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa in February.

Both properties were rebuilt and strengthened and reinforced from their steel skeletons outward.

Divi Little Bay Beach Resort reopened last December, and the Morgan Resort & Spa will reopen on Dec. 15 on the site of the former Alegria hotel near the airport.

The all-inclusive Planet Hollywood resort, the former Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort, plans to launch in 2020.
New attractions on the Dutch side of the two-nation island include the Rainforest Adventures Rockland Estate and Topper's Rhum Distillery.

On the French side, there's been  progress as well, with many reopened beach bars and more than half of the inventory in hotels, timeshares, guesthouses and villas back in operation.

Most of the 75 rooms at Grand Case Beach Club will be open this winter.

The adults-only Secrets St. Martin Resort & Spa is scheduled to open  in late December on the site of the former Riu Palace St. Martin and will mark AMResorts' debut on the island.

Stayover arrivals topped 171,543 in the first six months of 2019 compared with 177,819 for all of 2018.

"These numbers highlight how much we have improved since Hurricane Irma and show the resilience of our people," said Stuart Johnson, minister of tourism, economic affairs, traffic and telecommunication.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands, which was battered by both hurricanes, has since seen a massive tourism rebirth.
More than 70% of accommodations have reopened on all three islands, and close to 1,500 Airbnb listings and 900 villa units are available, according to Joe Boschulte, the USVI's tourism commissioner.

The Ritz Carlton, St. Thomas will reopen on Dec. 1.

Both Frenchman's Reef Resort and the adjacent Morning Star Beach Resort on St. Thomas, former Marriott properties, will reopen next year under the management of Aimbridge Hospitality.

Bolongo Bay welcomed its guests back last June.

On St Croix, the Buccaneer Hotel was the first to reopen after housing relief workers. The new Fred Hotel in Christiansted opened last winter; the Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino is expected to reopen in December, and the Renaissance St. Croix Carambola Beach Resort & Spa on the island's northwest tip is set to reopen next spring under the management of Aimbridge Hospitality.

Also under the Aimbridge umbrella is the Caravelle Hotel & Casino in the center of Christiansted, which is undergoing renovations and has not yet announced a reopening date.

The Westin St. John Resort Villas have reopened; there is no reopening date for Caneel Bay at this time. Concordia Eco-Resort will not reopen.

"The demand for our destination is strong," Boschulte said, citing new airlift from Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale and Miami for the coming winter season.

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