ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada -- Tourism officials from some hurricane-impacted islands appeared at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's annual State of the Industry Conference on Monday, updating recovery progress since Irma and Maria.


Rolando Brison, director of tourism, updated the media via Skype on the state of recovery from Hurricane Irma, which decimated the island on Sept. 6.

"We lost 70% of our hotel inventory on the Dutch side from that storm," Brison said. St. Maarten had 4,000 guest rooms prior to Irma.

"The good news is that St. Maarten is recovering and moving forward. More than 50% of power and water was restored within days of the storm. The Princess Juliana Airport reopens Oct. 10 for limited flights on American, Delta, Insel Air and Seaborne. We expect JetBlue to resume flights from New York and Fort Lauderdale in early November. KLM and Air France will both offer two flights a week from Amsterdam and Paris by the end of October," he said.

The Caribbean, mapped

Travel Weekly's map and guide to what's open and closed following hurricanes Maria and Irma. View it here.

The airport in St. Maarten is an important regional hub for smaller islands such as Saba, St. Eustatius and Anguilla among others. Brison pointed out that 30-40% of visitors who arrive at the airport in St. Maarten are in transit to neighboring islands. 

"It has been so important to get this airport up and running. We have been operating relief flights, but now we have commercial service again. The flights will operate in daytime only. There are no nighttime operations yet," Brison said.

Passengers will depart from a section near the D gates because not all sections of the airport have air-conditioning.

"We have set up tents to handle passenger flow as well. This is temporary until the damage from electronic systems has been repaired," he said.

Cleanup on the island is proceeding quickly. On Mullet Bay Beach near the airport, Brison said beach chairs are set up and vendors are selling pina coladas and chicken wings.

St. Maarten's largest hotels, the three Sonesta resorts and the Westin Dawn Beach, had almost 800 total guestrooms and all were severely damaged by Irma.

Brison reported that one of the Sonesta properties may have a partial reopening by the end of year. "The Westin is looking at later in 2018," he said.

St. Maarten expects to be up to 50% of room inventory by the end of the year. "We are monitoring airlift so that it remains proportional to room inventory," he said.

Regarding cruise tourism, Brison said, "The harbor fared well and Royal Caribbean wants to start on Nov. 11. There will be one or two ships calling on a daily basis after that."

Various estimates from the Red Cross and insurance adjusters put St. Maarten's hurricane damage at over $1 billion, most of which was to the large resorts, the airport, infrastructure, private homes and businesses.


Valerie Damaseau, president of the tourist office, described via Skype described Hurricane Irma as "the worst national disaster in our history."

"Our tourist industry has been shaken, but one month later, there are clear signs of recovery. Roads and beaches are clear and 88% of households have had electricity restored," she said.

The hospital is open and there have been no outbreaks of disease or infections from the storm.

Grocery stores have provisions and gas stations have fuel. Many restaurants and bars in parts of the island are operating, although in Grand Case, the island's culinary capital, many of the restaurants will not reopen until the beginning of 2018.

Grand Case-Esperance Airport has reopened and Seaborne is operating flights from San Juan.

"The hotel industry will have some soft openings in some guesthouses before the end of the year, but hotel inventory will not be back to normal until the 2018-2019 season," Damaseau said.

More than 95% of St. Martin's economy is based on tourism. Damage is estimated at $3.5 billion.


Cardigan Connor, parliamentary secretary for tourism, called 2017 a "bittersweet" year.

"We had stellar visitor growth through August, up 21% from the U.S. alone, and we were on track for a record year until Sept. 6 kicked in everything -- windows, doors, roofs, homes, electricity, roads, businesses, hotels," said Connor. 

Neighboring Dominica was the first on the scene after Irma, arriving with linemen to replace damaged telephone poles. "Then Dominica got decimated days later by Maria, and they had to return to deal with their own damage. We will never forget their generosity to us," he said.

Although Anguilla's tourism product was damaged, it was not destroyed.

"We are a little island with a lot of will to pick up and go on. Cleanup and recovery has been fairly rapid with phone and internet restored, roads and beaches cleared, gas available now at gas stations and grocery store shelves stocked."

Anguilla's room stock totaled 2,600 rooms pre-Irma.

"Some of our smaller properties and villas are open or will be open for business by Christmas, close to 300 rooms. Come home to Anguilla at Christmas and if the properties are not open, choose another island in the Caribbean. We are all one family," Connor said.

Anguilla's airport is open with flights from St. Kitts, Antigua and San Juan. The runway will be expanded in the near future to accommodate 737s.

The Blowing Point Ferry Terminal was demolished by Irma, but a temporary facility is now in place for transit to and from St. Maarten. Construction will begin soon on a new ferry terminal.

Anguilla's largest properties, the Four Seasons Malliouhana and Zemi Beach House, hope to reopen in the first quarter of 2018, followed by soft openings of CuisinArt and The Reef at CuisinArt in the second quarter, according to Connor.

"Our main challenge is to get our people through the next six months. Our annual budget is $200 million. The damage from Irma is more than that," he said.


Appearing via Skype from Virgin Gorda, Sharon Flax-Brutus, director of tourism, estimated the damage from Irma at $3 billion.

"We were poised to have a record year, but we are recovering and taking a phased approach. The BVI is not open for tourism this month. We are continuing our cleanup in terms of repairs to our electric and power grids. Airports and seaports and will be ready to welcome guests on Nov. 1," she said.

The BVI Sailing Regatta is in March 2018, while the Charter Yacht Society is scheduled for Nov. 27.

The destination's annual Lobster Fest  will take place Nov. 25 to 28.

The cruise port in Tortola is "okay," according to Flax-Brutus, but the park facility at the pier had damage. "It will be ready in November," she said.

The BVIs luxury properties, including Little Dix Bay and several high-end villas, had major damage and could take up to two years to return "to their former glory," according to the director.

However, some smaller properties, including Treasure Isle and Sebastian's, will be open this winter.

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