After dealing with the initial onslaught of cancellations
and rebookings due to Hurricane Dorian -- mostly caused by changes to cruise
itineraries -- travel advisors last week found themselves facing the public
perception that the Category 5 storm had left the entire Bahamas devastated.
In reality, the storm only appears to have heavily damaged
the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island in the Northwest Bahamas.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation is
encouraging travelers to visit unaffected islands, such as Nassau, Paradise
Island, Eleuthera, Harbour Island and others, which are home to the vast
majority of the country's hotel and resort rooms.
Despite that, images of devastation from the Abacos and
Grand Bahama continue to permeate consumer media coverage of the storm.
"The general takeaway is people believe the entire
island chain of the Bahamas has been rendered totally uninhabitable," said
Lindsey Epperly, founder of Atlanta-based Epperly Travel. In reality, though,
she said the majority of the tourism industry in the Bahamas remains intact and
could benefit from tourist dollars.
"I would love to get that message across: The Bahamas
are not down and out," Epperly said. "People can still go there, and
their tourist dollars could be doing a huge good to the rest of the Bahamas to
Daniel Olsen, COO of Beyond and Back Travel in Melbourne
Beach, Fla., said his agency is experiencing the same misconceptions.
"What we've found is the way that the situation has
been portrayed and what people are seeing on TV, you're really only seeing the
worst parts," Olsen said. "I think our clients who are considering
the Bahamas have serious questions and don't realize that there are parts of
the islands that were not really devastated."
Often, Olsen said, clients don't even inquire as to the
status of the Bahamas, instead saying they were considering it for future
travel but had decided against it. When that happens, Beyond and Back advisors
encourage them to reconsider.
"At this point in time, they really could use business,
probably more than ever before," Olsen said. "We definitely don't
want people to be discouraged from visiting the Bahamas just because of what
they're seeing on TV."
Olsen's Travel Leaders Network agency found itself in the
same position as many other agencies in Florida in the days before the storm.
In addition to keeping clients updated, the agency and its employees also had
to prepare for the effects of Dorian locally.
One advisor was relocated out of the state in case of a
direct hit, and backup plans were put in place to ensure that employees could
work from home, and computers were connected to battery backups.
Julie Irovando, owner of a Cruise Planners franchise in
Valrico, Fla., had a number of clients affected by changed cruise itineraries
during the storm. She estimated that about 100 passengers were affected. Some
80% opted to stay on a modified itinerary, whether longer or shorter, while the
rest accepted future cruise credits.
Irovando had a large corporate group of around 1,500 headed
to Atlantis Paradise Island last week. The group leader was at the resort
through the hurricane.
"They said they had a lot of wind and a lot of rain,
but there was absolutely no damage to the property at Atlantis, and Atlantis
handled the situation beautifully," Irovando said.
As for why no one in the group canceled, she credited photos
that the group leader sent to the group after the storm, revealing that the
resort remained in good condition.
Last week, Louisa Gehring, owner of Gehring Travel in
Cincinnati, was still getting news from resorts as to their status. Many were
fine, but some smaller properties had yet to provide updates, she said. As a
result, "a lot of my clients are really in a wait-and-hold pattern."
"The fact that [hurricanes] Irma and Maria were so
recent and so devastating to tourism in the Caribbean, there's just a feeling
that nobody will want to go to the Bahamas because they're assuming that
everywhere was devastated," Gehring said. "I think in the next months
and even up to a year, that's where we come in as advisors in trying to get
down there, in trying to talk to people."
Margie Hand, an affiliate of Andavo Travel based in
Birmingham, Ala., said she is encouraging clients to visit unaffected areas to
support the region, though she said she believes tourism will be affected as a
result of the extensive news coverage of the damaged areas.
"It is hard to think of going to a location and having
a great time while there are refugees so close to you in a shelter," Hand
said. "But by continuing with travel plans, it is helping the economy of
the Bahamas, which helps them to rebuild."