Driving around the island of Providenciales last week with Oehleo Higgs from the Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board, I saw an island whose tourism grid has recovered well from the September hurricanes.
With the exception of a few properties, all major resorts were open, and in the next few days four more of them will welcome visitors, including Beaches Turks and Caicos on Dec. 14, Amanyara and Como Parrot Cay on Dec. 15 and Sailrock Resort on South Caicos on Dec. 16. Club Med's reopening date is Jan. 31.
Turks and Caicos was hit by both storms, although less so with Maria. Hotels rebounded quickly, attractions reopened, flights arrived and even the cruise facility in Grand Turk, which was damaged, welcomed passengers in fairly record time. So when I did spot errant tiles scattered on roofs, some local homes battered and a roofless casino with just a few boards jutting into the air and no support beams at all, I was surprised.
From the air, I had spotted blue roof tarps dotting homes in some communities when I flew in.
"We had some winds that were clocked at 220 mph, before the weather tower broke," Higgs said. "We had sustained winds at over 185 mph.
"These were bad storms."
Yes, indeed they were. I had concentrated on the impact to the tourism industry, but many locals (called Belongers) had suffered as well.
There's a message here. The story of the fast recovery in Turks' tourism sector has a lot do not only with a strict building code put in place in the late 1990s following a barrage of hurricanes, but also with the spirit found on so many other hurricane-impacted islands of neighbors helping neighbors.
"We pitched in," said Nathaniel Rigby, general manager of Ocean Club West. "Everyone pitched in. If someone needed to borrow a generator, someone else would lend one. If a friend needed gas for a car or meals for his aging mother, the community was there to help."
The building codes are modeled after those in effect in Miami that require all new structures to be able to withstand winds of 145 mph. In the case of Turks and Caicos, its new buildings can withstand wind forces of 165 mph.
Despite the higher winds of the September storms, most of the 30 resorts and condo hotels that line Grace Bay Beach, built after 1999, suffered only minimal damage, mostly to landscaping. That lessened the damage and amount of time to repair and reopen, along with immediate help from the U.K. and Canada, to get properties up and running within a few weeks.
The destination is looking for a strong winter season, although time will tell. Advance bookings at this time are softer than in years past, but hoteliers are cautiously optimistic that business will improve.
"What will help are big snowstorms in Northeast, our main market. Cold winters bring a lot of spur of the moment bookings," Sherman said. "We just have to continue with our message that we are open for business, that we can offer our visitors an excellent product and experience, and that our welcome mat is out."
It's the same message repeated throughout the Caribbean as the high season swings into gear.