Pól Ó Conghaile: After hurricanes, Florida and the Caribbean want your visits
After a natural disaster hits a destination, should you travel or stay away?
That’s the question facing countless tourists who have booked, or are considering booking, trips to hurricane-ravaged Florida and the Caribbean.
It’s natural to be swayed by fear and speculation. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused unimaginable destruction last month, but destinations are urging tourists not to feel guilty about travelling to the area, but to spend their tourist dollars to aid recovery.
“Come back to Turks & Caicos,” reads a letter from the islands’ Minister of Tourism. “You are helping us to rebuild our islands and returning normal lives to our people.”
The Florida Keys, where 50pc of the workforce is employed by tourism, has reopened to visitors. Although islands like Puerto Rico and Sint Maarten face overwhelming challenges, the western and southern Caribbean were mostly unaffected, and the vast majority of cruise ports are operational.
Cuba, where most owners of small restaurants and casas particulares depend on guests to support their families, wants visits “now more than ever”, says Edith Huntink of Rickshaw Travel.
“The best way to support the region is by continuing to visit those beautiful islands,” says Irish tour operator Tropical Sky.
Originally, this week’s travel features on Miami and the eastern Caribbean were scheduled for September. We held them back. But I think now is the time to publish. Florida and most of the Caribbean are open for business. Tourists really can do their bit to help.
“Celebrity Cruises are returning to the Caribbean,” they tell me emphatically.
Like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and others, they are adapting itineraries where necessary, rather than cancelling sailings (guests will be notified of port changes).
Check their website (celebritycruises.ie) or with your Irish travel agent.
Travalue.ie has a two-night stay in Miami and seven-night Caribbean cruise on MSC Seaside in March from €1,599pp. Or Travel Escapes (travelescapes.ie) has a 16-night Fred Olsen cruise from the UK to Barbados from €1,399pp, departing December 5.
“Once Irma passed, 100pc of our clients went ahead with their plans, and in their own words, would never have known there was such disruption,” says Veronica Flood of Tour America (touramerica.ie). “Florida did a great job clearing up.”
The company has a five-night trip to Miami from November 10, including direct return flights, from €799pp.
Meanwhile, Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.ie) has seven-night, all-inclusive stays at the Dominican Republic’s five-star Now Onyx Punta Cana from €1,299pp.
Find more deals on the ITAA’s website (itaa.ie/offers).