Charged with heading the messaging effort for a region battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association president Karolin Troubetzkoy, who is also executive director at St. Lucia's Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain resorts, has been very busy. Her group has launched the website CaribbeanTravelUpdate.com to provide ever-changing status reports on the region. Troubetzkoy spoke with senior hotels editor Danny King.
Q: How are your resorts doing?
A: St. Lucia has been very fortunate. We're fine here as an island, but it's a trying time. Dominica is our closest neighbor, and it's still dire there. There are so many misperceptions about the Caribbean region. No one really grasps that the region is over 1 million square miles, that there are more than 7,000 islands and that 70% to 75% of our destinations have not been affected.
Q: What's your primary message to travel professionals?
A: Please keep sending visitors to the Caribbean. Educate yourselves and your clients, explain to them how many islands are open for business, keep an eye on the destinations that are currently recovering, and when they are open, show your support by rebooking. We built www.caribbeantravelupdate.com literally 48 hours after Irma, and we update it every day. For places like Turks and Caicos, it looked grim for a moment, but they've come back really strong. For others, be a little patient and wait for the hotels to fully assess the situation. In some of these cases, tourism provides up to 80% of the GDP, so we must make it clear to the public that the region is open for business.
Q: Are you concerned that climate change may make the region more susceptible to these storms?
A: The storms are getting stronger than ever, so that presents a challenge. We have to be advocates to the community, and allow funding for the Caribbean to be better prepared. [Climate change] definitely leads to storms being stronger. What I can't answer is if they're happening more often. Some years, you have a more active hurricane season, but others you have none. I'm not a scientist, but when you're talking about Florida or Texas or the Caribbean, we all need to have these discussions and prepare better for the storms.
Q: How are some Caribbean destinations helping others?
A: There's a big effort by the community called One Caribbean Family, and the association has created a page at www.tourismcares.org/caribbean, where hotels can pledge donations toward the tourism-recovery fund. When you're on an island that's not affected and you get additional bookings because another island has lost a booking, it doesn't feel particularly good, so those hotels getting continual bookings can show their support. We're also creating an online platform to show which hotels have made those pledges. It allows us to promote the region without being insensitive.
Q: Some have questioned the effectiveness of U.S. government support, especially for Puerto Rico. What are your thoughts?
A: Sitting in the region, I would have to say it does appear, not just for Puerto Rico, that the aid efforts are not as well-coordinated as one would hope, but I'm not blaming anyone. It's a wake-up call on how these relief efforts need to be structured in the future.
Q: What response have you seen from travel professionals so far?
A: I'm really touched. I see a lot of passion and compassion for the region. During a webinar yesterday with Virtuoso, we also discussed opportunities for "voluntourism." I love the fact that the travel-adviser community does feel part of the family. They need to all become our ambassadors.