Thousands of Tourists Evacuated From Cuba and St. Maarten in Hurricane Irma’s Aftermath

Amandine Ascensio  / Associated Press

Damaged buildings and fallen trees litter downtown Marigot, on the island of St. Martin, after the passing of Hurricane Irma September. 9, 2017. Amandine Ascensio / Associated Press

Skift Take: After the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey, the Caribbean and Florida are feeling Hurricane Irma’s wrath with Hurricane Jose not too far behind for some.

— Dennis Schaal

More than 5,000 tourists were evacuated from the keys off Cuba’s north-central coast, where the government has built dozens of resorts in recent years, after Hurricane Irma ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline as it raked Cuba’s northern coast.

As Hurricane Irma’s eye wall hit the Florida keys Sunday morning, it had already left devastation on islands the length of the Caribbean in a trail of destruction that has left 22 people dead so far.

Prime Minister William Marlin of St. Maarten said about 1,600 tourists had been evacuated and efforts were being made to move 1,200 more.

Marlin said many countries and people have offered help to St. Maarten, but authorities were waiting on the weather conditions to see how it could be coordinated. Authorities are still trying to determine the extent of damage to the island but he said 28 police officers lost homes during the storms.

The U.S. State Department helped more than 500 Americans fly out of St. Martin, starting with those in need of urgent medical care, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Carol Basch, a 53-year-old tourist from Savannah, Georgia, took refuge during the storm in the bathroom of her St. Martin hotel room after windows shattered. She stayed there praying for about four hours, surrounding herself with pillows.

“I kept saying, ‘Lord, please stop this, and soon, soon,’” said Basch, who was evacuated to Puerto Rico. “I’m glad I’m alive. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

France and the Netherlands said their islands in the Caribbean were spared major damage from Jose, which passed farther away from the islands than expected.

Staggering Damage in Cuba

As Irma left Cuba and directed its 130 mph (215 kph) winds toward Florida Sunday, authorities on the island were warning of staggering damage to keys along the northern coast studded with all-inclusive resorts and cities, as well as farmland in central Cuba.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in Cuba — a country that prides itself on its disaster preparedness – but authorities were trying to restore power, clear roads and warning that people should stay off the streets of Havana because flooding could continue into Monday.

Residents of “the capital should know that the flooding is going to last more than 36 hours, in other words, it is going to persist,” Civil Defense Col. Luis Angel Macareno said late Saturday, adding that the waters had reach at about 2,000 feet (600 meters) into parts of Havana.

As Irma rolled in, Cuban soldiers went through coastal towns to force residents to evacuate, taking people to shelters at government buildings and schools — and even caves.

Video images from northern and eastern Cuba showed uprooted utility poles and signs, many downed trees and extensive damage to roofs. Witnesses said a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins. And authorities in the city of Santa Clara said 39 buildings collapsed.

Civil Defense official Gregorio Torres said authorities were trying to tally the extent of the damage in eastern Cuba, home to hundreds of rural communities.

In Caibarien, a small coastal city about 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of Havana, winds downed power lines and a three-block area was under water. Many residents had stayed put, hoping to ride out the storm.

Lush Caribbean Resort Feel Irma’s Wrath

Before slamming into Cuba, Irma had caused havoc in lush Caribbean resorts such as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

Many of Irma’s victims fled their battered islands on ferries and fishing boats for fear Hurricane Jose would destroy or drench anything Irma left untouched, but Jose veered away before doing much more damage.

On the Dutch side of St. Martin, an island divided between French and Dutch control, an estimated 70 percent of the homes were destroyed by Irma, according to the Dutch government.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded a hurricane warning for Barbuda and Anguilla. A hurricane watch also was discontinued for nearby Antigua.

In a tweet, the Dutch navy said the security situation on St. Maarten, which saw widespread looting and robberies after Hurricane Irma, had improved thanks to patrols by marines and police flown to the island to help overwhelmed local law enforcement.

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Rodriguez reported from Havana. Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein in Havana; Ben Fox in Miami; Ian Brown in St. Thomas, U.S Virgin Islands; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Alina Hartounian in Phoenix; Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris; and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

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This article was written by Desmond Boylan and Andrea Rodriguez from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Turkey Issues Travel Warning for Germany as Campaign Rhetoric Gets Racist

Ralf Hirschberger  / DPA via Associated Press

In this September 6, 2017 photo a protester holds a card that reads ‘red ticket for Merkel,’ at an election campaign of the conservative Christian Democrats for Chancellor Angela Merkel in Finsterwalde, Germany. Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel’s party complained in an interview that right-wing extremists are disrupting almost all of her events. Ralf Hirschberger / DPA via Associated Press

Skift Take: Discrimination against and hatred of Turks working and living in Germany is a decades-long problem. Right-wing campaigns, along with Turkey’s own repressive moves after the attempted coup, have exacerbated tensions.

— Dennis Schaal

Turkey’s foreign ministry has issued a travel warning for Turkish citizens living in or traveling to Germany, citing increased right-wing and racist rhetoric ahead of Germany’s Sept. 24 parliamentary election.

In a statement Saturday, the ministry said German candidates have shaped their election campaigns on anti-Turkish discourse to prevent Turkey’s membership in the European Union. It also cited fires of “undetermined causes” in immigrant neighborhoods in Germany as well as alleged ill-treatment of Turkish citizens at German airports as a basis for its warning.

The ministry repeated its allegation that Germany was harboring terror groups, including outlawed Kurdish militants and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for last summer’s failed coup. Gulen denies the claim.

The statement urged Turkish citizens to exercise caution and avoid political meetings.

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Trump Slump Is Real and 7 Other Tourism Trends This Week

Vincent Yu  / Associated Press

Activists chant slogans with placards during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s selective country travel ban outside of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, February. 1, 2017. Trump’s policies resulted in a decline in tourism after all. Vincent Yu / Associated Press

Skift Take: This week in tourism, we looked back. We discovered that despite U.S. Travel’s initial optimism, the dreaded Trump Slump was real after all, and we examined the biggest tourism trends of the summer.

— Sarah Enelow

Throughout the week we post dozens of original stories, connecting the dots across the travel industry, and every weekend we sum it all up. This weekend roundup examines tourism.

For all of our weekend roundups, go here.

>>Six Flags is sticking with its strategy of investing in new rides to drive visitors back to parks again and again. It could use some cooperation from the weather for the rest of the year to make sure those people show up: Six Flags Is Trying to Outdo Itself With Slate of New Rides

>>One market where the U.S. leads China in a trade imbalance: The United States is taking in way more tourists from China than it’s sending. Pollution, bureaucracy, and bang for buck are the major factors: Tourism Imbalance Is Vexing Problem in U.S.-China Travel

>>Take a look at our event schedule and find out when each of our world-class speakers is taking the stage at Skift Global Forum: Skift Global Forum’s Editorial Program Is Set

>>London is quick to paint a bright future for its tourism industry in the face of Brexit, but it also needs to accept that visitors won’t be happy with their experiences if the city loses its EU tourism workforce and that causes problems ranging from longer wait times to lagging infrastructure investment: London Lays out a Strategy for Smart Tourism Growth Amid Brexit Concerns

>>For a small town, Hopkinsville, Kentucky has some big-time lessons on how to plan and host a mass tourism event that will only happen once. The town is still figuring out how to use the positive PR to its advantage and how it can convince some of the eclipse chasers to come back: What Eclipseville, USA Learned From Hosting a Once-in-a-Lifetime Event

>>U.S. Travel’s initial forward-looking travel projections seemed too optimistic. Hopefully the industry can have a more serious conversation about averting a prolonged slowdown instead of hoping for the best and staying the course: Trump Slump Fears Are Realized as Revised Findings Show Tourism Drop

>>Employees of smaller companies are business travelers too. Concur’s latest strategy to go after unmanaged travelers shows how much potential exists for that segment: Battle for Unmanaged Travelers Heats Up — Corporate Travel Innovation Report

>>This was anything but a sleepy summer. The Trump administration, Brexit, and overtourism — to name a few tourism topics — definitely kept us on our toes during the past few months and we expect more news on these fronts in the months ahead: 10 Biggest Tourism Headlines of the Summer Travel Season

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New Zealand to Rebuild ChristChurch Tourism Attraction After Much Infighting

Mark Baker  / Associated Press

In this September 5, 2017 photo, tourists pose for a photo near the Feb. 22, 2011 earthquake damaged ChristChurch Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mark Baker / Associated Press

Skift Take: It shouldn’t have taken a half-dozen years to decide on a rebuilding plan of the iconic church. Let’s pray that the 10-year timetable to reopen doesn’t get elongated further.

— Dennis Schaal

More than six years after a deadly earthquake struck Christchurch and the city’s iconic cathedral in Wellington, the Anglican Church in New Zealand on Saturday made the decision to rebuild the landmark.

For many locals, the wreck has become a visual reminder of the infighting that has slowed the city’s broader rebuild.

The Gothic Revival-style cathedral was once one of the city’s top tourist attractions. When the magnitude 6.3 quake struck in Feb. 2011, it killed 185 people and destroyed thousands of buildings. It toppled the cathedral’s spire and ruined much of its structure.

Since then, the cathedral’s future has been the subject of intrigue and legal action. The basic points of dispute have been over whether the remains should be rebuilt or cleared away to make room for a new design, and who should pay.

Those questions have finally been resolved.

The Anglican Church said the ChristChurch Cathedral will be strengthened for future quakes and improved with better heating and seating, but otherwise rebuilt to its basic design.

The rebuild is expected to take 10 years and cost 104 million New Zealand dollars ($76 million). The tab will be picked up by the church, taxpayers and donors.

The decision was welcomed by the government. Lawmaker Nicky Wagner said it was the best possible outcome for the city.

“For many years, the cathedral has sat broken and neglected, detracting from all the amazing work taking place in Christchurch,” Wagner said in a release. “This decision gives the church, the community, businesses and tourism bodies the certainty they’ve been looking for.”

The decision came after three days of meetings by the 225 members of the Anglican’s local governing synod.

They voted about 55 percent in favor of the rebuild, after also considering building a new cathedral or simply handing over the ruins to the government as a gift.

Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews said making a final call hadn’t been easy, but “the overwhelming message Christchurch people told us was to ‘just get on with it’ and make a decision.”

This article was written by Nick Perry from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Dolphin Tour Operator Is Fined in Hawaii for Harassing the Animals

Associated Press

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrative law judge has fined a tour operator for alleged harassment of dolphins. Associated Press

Skift Take: Given that the honor system hasn’t worked, authorities are showing a (welcome) readiness to enforce rules to keep visitors from traumatizing dolphins. Meanwhile, socially conscious travel companies are increasingly limiting human interactions with captive animals.

— Sean O’Neill

A Hawaii tour operator has been fined for repeatedly dropping swimmers in front of dolphins and encircling the animals with his tour boat, officials said.

It’s the first such fine against an operator of spinner dolphin tours, Ann Garrett, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official in Hawaii, said this week.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrative law judge found Casey Phillips Cho’s actions on Oct. 23, 2014, amounted to harassment of dolphins. She fined Cho and his Big Island company $2,500 in line with NOAA penalty guidelines.

Cho’s attorney, Brian DeLima, said his client disagreed with the findings. But he said Cho paid the fine rather than appeal as a business decision.

“He has no intention of harming or disturbing in any way these mammals who grace the ocean,” DeLima said.

The ruling, issued May 31, found Cho violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act by “leapfrogging.” That’s when tour boats repeatedly offload swimmers in the path of dolphins as the animals swim along the coast. The ruling found dolphins were swimming below the surface at the beginning but came to the surface in the presence of the tour boat and people.

The judge, Christine Donelian Coughlin, also found Cho circled the dolphins with his boat, generating a significant wake. The dolphins began leaping and spinning in the air after this activity, which Cho described as doing “donuts,” the ruling said.

Hawaii’s spinner dolphins get their name from their aerial acrobatics. The behavior is sometimes playful, but it can also be an attempt to alert other dolphins to danger. The ruling found the dolphins in this case were leaping in response to harassment from Cho’s boat.

Garrett, who is the assistant regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s protected resources division for the Pacific Islands, said her agency has issued verbal and written warnings to tour operators over the years.

But this is the first fine.

“We’re hoping that it will send a message that there are activities that are disturbing the dolphins,” she said. “Some of the tour operators — we would like to see them behave in a different way.”

Garrett’s office last year proposed requiring swimmers to stay at least 50 yards from spinner dolphins in Hawaii out of concern tours are stressing the animals and depriving them of the rest they need. The rule would likely have a major effect on dolphin tours, which have become a popular way for tourists to view Hawaii wildlife.

NOAA is currently reviewing feedback it received on the proposal. It’s also working on an economic analysis conducted to determine how the proposed rule would affect businesses. It expects to finalize a rule within the next 12 months, Garrett said.

Cho is manager and owner of Auwana Hawaii, LLC which does business as Adventure X Boat Tours on the Kona side of the Big Island.

This article was written by Audrey McAvoy from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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HotelTonight Pivots to Hotel Whenever and 3 Other Hospitality Trends This Week

HotelTonight

HotelTonight is shifting its focus away from last-minute bookings. HotelTonight

Skift Take: This week in hospitality, HotelTonight learned that the last-minute market might be too small, and century-old Taj Hotels has a new CEO.

— Sarah Enelow

Throughout the week we post dozens of original stories, connecting the dots across the travel industry, and every weekend we sum it all up. This weekend roundup examines hospitality.

For all of our weekend roundups, go here.

>>You don’t need to paint your restaurant millennial pink to attract customers (I promise), but these four summer trends are worth your attention: Chefs+Tech: This Summer’s 4 Hottest Restaurant Trends

>>Take a look at our event schedule and find out when each of our world-class speakers is taking the stage at Skift Global ForumSkift Global Forum’s Editorial Program Is Set

>>Taj Hotels has been around for more than a century but the company remains a smaller player. No doubt The Indian Hotels Company hopes Chhatwal can help the group become an even bigger global player by growing its portfolio and brand recognition worldwide: Taj Hotels Has a New CEO

>>HotelTonight’s pivot into a 100-day booking window is a concession that the last-minute market was too small. Yet the company’s swing to profitability is remarkable: HotelTonight Essentially Pivots to Become Hotel Whenever

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California’s Big Sur Makes the Best of Tough Times for Tourists

Nikki Ekstein  / Bloomberg

Travelers in Big Sur, California. Following a rockslide, the community has banded together to promote itself in new ways. Nikki Ekstein / Bloomberg

Skift Take: Big Sur has turned a potential disaster into a win for its community and travelers alike.

— Andrew Sheivachman

When a million tons of rocks tumbled down the coast of Big Sur, Calif., on May 20, the landslide added 13 acres of land to the region and buried scenic Highway 1 in 40 feet of dirt and gravel—the equivalent of 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It was just the latest blow for a tiny community: The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge had already begun to fail in February after heavy winter storms caused slides up and down the coast, and it will remain closed until October.

Taken together, the weather events shut off access to an entire region of Southern California that’s otherwise known for its postcard-perfect vistas, switchback hiking trails, lighthouse-dotted beaches, and, lately, as the setting of HBO’s breakout hit Big Little Lies. Now it’s known colloquially as “Big Sur Island”—bounded by the closure at Pfeiffer Canyon on the north and landslide-related barriers to the south.

But Big Sur is already doing big business—and for travelers, at least, it’s better than ever. “There’s a silver lining for everything,” began Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive officer of Visit California, the state’s tourism marketing arm. “The people that have been there for the last three months have all been awestruck about the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that have come of all this.”

Because the highway is inaccessible to car traffic until the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge reopens, travelers to Big Sur can, for the first time, walk or bike unimpeded along a 45-mile stretch of the Pacific coast. An hour-long hiking path was created post-mudslide as a way to connect the local community to essential services in nearby towns, and once there, you can rent e-bikes from Big Sur Adventures, a service that sprang up in the wake of the road closures.

“All the businesses north of the bridge are back in business—and have been for much of the summer,” said Mike Freed, managing partner of Post Ranch Inn, which also offers helicopter rides for guests at the cliffside Post Ranch Inn, which reopened in April.

Many businesses south of the bridge are open as well, and they are making the most of a surprisingly peaceful summer. “We usually operate at 90 percent occupancy year-round, since we only have 40 rooms,” said Freed. “We’re still way below that, but we’re holding our own. I’m amazed. Given the situation, we’re thriving.”

Nepenthe, the Big Sur restaurant with perhaps the best view in the area, is also operational, and also relaxed for this time of year. Freed talks to his friends there on a regular basis and said that while the restaurant usually welcomes 1,000 diners per day in peak summer months, it’s serving closer to 300 now. That sounds like a huge hit to bear, but it’s a major improvement, comparatively speaking: Before the trail let visitors hike into Big Sur, the restaurant was serving “maybe 30 guests a day,” said Freed.

Also open—minus the crowds—are all of the essential Highway 1 pit stops, such as the Hawthorn Gallery, the Henry Miller Library, the local tap house, and a crab-and-beer bar popular with locals. The meditation-themed Esalen institute has reopened for workshops on mindfulness and yoga and is offering shuttle service from the Monterey airport for patrons. Even the tiny, 10-room Lucia Lodge is taking reservations again. And hiking trails new and old, from Point Lobos State Park to the Point Sur Lighthouse and Coast Road, are all safe for walkers.

There are exceptions. Ventana Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn’s closest competitor for luxury lodging, had planned to close this year while it underwent a restoration and rebranding—a process that took longer, due to the natural disaster. It will relaunch in October, when the Pfeiffer bridge reopens, as the first Alila resort in the United States.

Vistas Without Tourists

Big Sur without road trippers, it turns out, is even more spectacular than Big Sur with them. “Guests who want to see Highway 1 can still see it,” said Freed, who touted Post Ranch Inn’s relationship with Lexus. Because they have 15 hybrid vehicles on property, guests can drive down the stretch of the highway that’s bounded by the bridge closure and the mudslide without worrying about having to fill up for gas. “You’re basically the only ones on the coast,” he said.

And then there’s the newfound possibility of walking down the Pacific Coast Highway. “We have guests that are walking to Nepenthe, and you literally have more animals than cars on the road. Deer, bobcats, turkeys, California condors, foxes … you could never do that before,” Freed said.

For guests at Post Ranch Inn, the helicopters—recently approved to fly to Hearst Castle—are a bonus. “It feels like it did 25 years ago,” said Kristina Jetton, general manager of Ventana, the soon-to-be Alila resort. “It’s very serene and quiet and peaceful, and people are loving it.”

“Highway 1 is like the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower,” said Beteta, aware of her own bias but firm in her conviction. “It’s that big of a world icon—that’s where it is on people’s bucket lists.” She said being there during this quiet recovery period magnifies the appeal. “It’s a whole different experience. The visitors in Big Sur now are realizing it really is once-in-a-lifetime.”

Community Bonding

The slump in business may make for a unique travel experience, but the local economy is feeling the crunch—not least because of the  estimated $1 billion in damages that stemmed from the landslides. “These are communities that can only thrive based on the inflow of visitors coming and going,” said Beteta, who added that the hospitality industry rallied in the days after the mudslide to lobby local government, deregulate recovery efforts, and support the locals who needed the most help.

The community has come together in other ways, too. Post Ranch Inn managed to hold onto 120 of its 200 employees, offering many of them on-property housing and even letting them stay in guest rooms. Ventana kept 85 of its 145 employees on the payroll, despite its months-long closure. A local deli owner has even been hiking the trails each morning to buy newspapers for locals and hotel guests.

Big Sur residents still need to make three-hour journeys just to get gas and groceries, because their cars are parked on the opposite side of Pfeiffer bridge, an hour’s hike one way.

Yet, they’re unfazed. “You hike the trail, and you run into somebody that you know. You check in on how they’re doing and see the school kids walking up and down. It’s very endearing and special—how the whole community has come together around this lifeline,” said Jetton.

Getting Back to ‘Normal’

The window on Big Sur’s struggles is closing, though, and the reopening of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in October will inspire a massive sigh of relief from the community. By that point, cars will be able to come in and out—and the remaining closures on Highway 1 will be navigable via a series of relatively painless detours.

“As soon as the bridge opens, we will be able to open,” said Jetton, who is ready to unveil her newly renovated resort to the global jet set. Aside from soft enhancements in all of the 59 rooms, the resort will have a fully redone, expanded spa, a new pool, and 15 luxury campsites scattered through the redwoods, each with daily housekeeping and s’mores turndown service.

Beteta teased that the epic California road trip might soon get an extension, thanks to the 13 acres of coastline that was added in the aftermath of the landslide.

“We kind of understand that this comes with the territory of a partnership with Mother Nature,” Beteta said about the catastrophic event and the area’s natural bounty. “But when you’re in Big Sur on a perfect 72 degree day, it’s just spectacular.”

Jetton seemed inclined to agree: “It’s a special place right now, but it’s only getting better.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Nikki Ekstein from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Hurricane Irma Leaves Devastation in Caribbean While Florida Prepares

Desmond Boylan  / Associated Press

Winds brought by Hurricane Irma blow palm trees lining the seawall in Caibarien, Cuba, on Friday. Desmond Boylan / Associated Press

Skift Take: Hurricane Irma is a monster storm the likes of which the Caribbean and United States haven’t seen in a while. While tourism usually rebounds after major storms, we haven’t seen an active Atlantic hurricane season like this for nearly a decade and many travel brands will need to think long-term to recover.

— Dan Peltier

Hurricane Irma left a wake of destruction behind in the Caribbean while those in the path — Cuba, cruise ships, the entire state of Florida, and swaths of the Southeast United States — prepared for a hit.

Residents and tourists in Florida continued to flee north on Friday in an exodus that started days earlier; state officials said 5.6 million had been asked to evacuate, according to news reports. With the storm’s estimated point of landfall still unknown, all of Florida remained in the track.

Cruise lines canceled sailings, altered itineraries to visit Cozumel instead of Key West, and sent ships packed with evacuees and employees out to safety at sea. Several popular port destinations including St. Martin and St. Thomas suffered extensive damage that will likely keep cruise traffic away as they recover.

On Friday, some of Florida’s biggest tourist draws — Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando — announced their theme parks would close for the anticipated impact on Sunday and Monday. SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens, in Tampa, also announced closures on those days.

More than 3,000 flights into and out of Florida had been cancelled for the time when the storm is expected, USA Today reported, and airports in South Florida were suspending operations Friday night.

The toll on islands already hit by the storm was still being calculated. But it is already clear that  the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is quickly becoming one of the most active, costliest, and deadliest seasons in more than a decade and travel brands in the Caribbean and United States Southeast and Gulf Coast are bracing for fallout from the storms.

Tourism is the most important industry in many of the impacted islands and areas, and depending on how quickly travelers come back and infrastructure recovers – and especially how cruise lines cancel or adjust itineraries – the fourth quarter of 2017 could be difficult for many travel brands and destinations.

Travel Agents Say It’s Early To Access Storms’ Impact

September and the fall season is typically a quieter time of year for Caribbean tourism, which means less immediate fallout from tourism from hurricanes and other storms, said Albert Herrera, Virtuoso‘s senior vice president of global product partnerships. “However, we fully recognize that many islands and our partners on those islands have been severely impacted, and we are waiting to see what it means for our partners in Florida,” said Herrera.

He said that while Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas last month, was enormously damaging, it had less of an impact on tourism just because of the geography.

“No one yet knows how long tourism in the Caribbean and Florida will be waylaid due to Irma,” he said.

Herrera said that roughly a third of its Caribbean and Florida overall 2016 bookings were for September-December. He added that 50 percent of Virtuoso’s business for the region for September-December usually happens in December. “Both the Caribbean and Florida tend to be booked closer in than other more exotic destinations, so we cannot easily give a year-over-year comparison using future 2017 bookings,” he said.

It remains to be seen how this increasingly active hurricane season will change consumer behavior and bookings, said Herrera. “Educating and encouraging travelers to come back to these destinations and spend at their hotels, restaurants, attractions will be an imperative part of the recovery process,” he said.

John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network leisure group and hotels, said that if the reports of destruction on some islands that he’s been hearing are true, recovery will take awhile.

“But I think it’s really early to talk about some of these islands since we’re still waiting to re-establish communications with partners in a few cases,” said Lovell, speaking by phone from Orlando, another potential target of Irma. “We expect on Monday and Tuesday for more assessments to start coming out of Caribbean destinations. We’re all concerned because the Caribbean is a huge percentage of our North American business.”

Lovell said overall bookings for the Caribbean region from Travel Leaders Network partners, which number 40,000 travel agents, are up year-over-year for September and that November and December bookings are also looking strong. “Do I anticipate cancellations right now? Yes, that will happen,” said Lovell. “It’s really a wait-and-see approach for the next week or two. A lot of that is predicated on what cruise lines will have to do. But at least before these storms, it was shaping up to be a great fourth quarter of 2017.”

Wave season, which typically starts in January when travelers book their winter and spring Caribbean cruises and when cruise lines heavily market their itineraries and offerings, has also started earlier in recent years, said Lovell.

“Wave season for us has really backed up to December and into November for 2018 bookings,” he said. “But I don’t think in 2005 [which included storms such as Hurricane Katrina, Wilma and Rita, for example] we saw some of the devastation we’re seeing to cruise and land-based destinations with storms this year. But tourism came back in 2005.”

The Impact So Far

Just last month, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Houston and along Texas’ Gulf Coast, killing at least 70 and causing widespread flooding and damage that could reach $180 billion, according to the state’s governor.

So far this week, Hurricane Irma – one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean – has pummeled Caribbean islands such as Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Barthelemy, and severely damaged tourism infrastructure including cruise ports, hotels, and airports, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the region’s tourism board with 28 member countries, said in a statement. The Associated Press said Friday that the storm had so far killed 21 people in the Caribbean.

Some of the hardest-hit islands were just beginning to take stock of the damage as they faced a new threat: Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm.

Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, Nevis, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic suffered minor damage but were spared the brunt of Irma. The storm was moving toward Florida between Cuba and the Bahamas late Friday.

Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the island’s tourism board, said in a statement that major tourism infrastructure and attractions such as the cruise port and airport are operational after Irma passed over the destination. “While power outages are present throughout the Island, many hotels, as well as essential services on the island such as hospitals, are operational due to generators and the majority of hotels throughout mainland Puerto Rico are ready to welcome new guests, said Jose Izquierdo, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, in a statement. “Attractions such as parks and beaches are currently being assessed to ensure a committed focus on quick clean up in the coming days.”

South Florida and potentially other U.S. Southeast states are next up on Irma’s path, with some wind and storm impact expected to approach the Florida Keys late Saturday, followed by Miami-Dade County and other parts of South Florida.

Many Floridians are comparing the potential strength of Irma to that of Hurricane Andrew, which struck Florida in August 1992 and is the most destructive hurricane to hit the state to date.

Recovery efforts for Andrew cost $26.5 billion in 1992 (the equivalent of more than $46 billion in 2017) but the storm did the worst damage to the south part of the county and largely spared the downtown Miami and Miami Beach areas.  Many hotel rooms in those areas were later occupied by recovery teams, said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But both downtown Miami and Miami Beach are significantly more developed in 2017 than they were 25 years ago, and other tourist attractions outside of these areas suffered considerable damage that took a toll for years. If Irma packs as much of a punch as the much smaller Andrew — or eclipses that storm in destruction — major impacts to Miami’s tourism infrastructure and core tourist areas are likely.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez earlier this week ordered mandatory evacuations from areas including downtown Miami and Miami Beach and Miami’s CVB is listing information from airports, cruise lines and other weather updates on its website.

Hotels Say They Prepared

Marriott International said it’s had hurricane plans in place and that hotels in the impacted area are waiving cancellation and change fees but details will vary depending on the hotel. “Plans are in place to evacuate and close our hotels and offices if local authorities or conditions require such action,” the company said in a statement.

“At this time we have not received any reports of guest or associate injuries. A select number of our hotels in [the Caribbean] have sustained minor to significant damage. We are assessing the extent of impact on each hotel and efforts are underway to fully restore operations in those properties more significantly affected by the storm,” Marriott said.

IHG Hotels tweeted on Friday that pet fees and restrictions for hotels in impacted areas will be waived for the storm, citing that many of the company’s hotels were already pet-friendly before the storm formed.

Hilton said in a statement that its Puerto Rico properties didn’t suffer any significant damage and the company has no reports of guests or staff being affected by the storm. Hilton is waiving cancellation fees for hotels in affected areas of the Caribbean and Florida (including Advance Purchase) with arrivals from September 5 through September 12.

Wyndham called Irma a storm of epic proportions and had begun evacuations at its properties in South Florida on Friday. The company is waiving cancellation fees in areas with expected impact at its branded hotels, vacation ownership resorts, and vacation rentals.

“At properties we directly manage, our teams are coordinating with local authorities, following evacuation and other emergency directives, and taking precautions to best prepare and respond to the storm,” Wyndham said in a statement. “Our teams are also in communication with our many franchised and affiliated resort properties across the region.”

News editor Hannah Sampson and hospitality editor Deanna Ting contributed to this report.

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Norwegian Ship Is Escaping Irma at Sea on a Cruise to Who Knows Where

Guldem Ustun  / Flickr

Norwegian Escape is awaiting the passing of Hurricane Irma from safer waters with thousands of passengers on board. The ship is shown in this photo in the Bahamas during calmer times. Guldem Ustun / Flickr

Skift Take: This kind of evacuation is not what Norwegian Cruise Line had in mind when it named a ship Norwegian Escape. But for thousands of passengers, spending an unknown amount of time in safe waters will be better than staying in the path of Hurricane Irma or scrambling to get out of Florida.

— Hannah Sampson

Hundreds of passengers of the Norwegian Escape disembarked from the cruise ship Thursday in Miami to face Hurricane Irma rather than wait out the storm at sea.

After setting sail from Miami on Saturday, the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. vessel returned to port early and gave passengers the choice of either getting off the ship or staying on board to sail away from the storm, a trip to an undetermined location for an unknown amount of time. Hundreds chose the former, pouring off the ship into a region undergoing its biggest ever evacuation.

While many of those who left the ship said they were tempted by the prospect of the adventure, most said they had to get back to work or get home to prepare their homes for the pending storm.

“I need to get home and get my house ready,” John Pelliccio, a firefighter from Ocala, Florida, said, adding that he would make the 300-mile trip Thursday evening by car. “My two children that are home are doing some preparations ahead of time, getting food, getting fuel, making sure those things are all prepped and ready to go before we get home. I’m worried about the drive now because my sister already evacuated Broward County, so I have no ride there to get my vehicle. I’m trying to get an Uber.”

Departing passengers faced a mad rush on a hot summer day to either get to an airport or find a rental car, while most of the surrounding area of downtown and the nearby Brickell financial district was emptying out in Miami-Dade County’s biggest ever evacuation order. The U.S. Coast Guard plans to close South Florida ports on Saturday morning in preparation of landfall, which could make the aptly named Norwegian Escape one of the last ships to depart before the storm. The life-threatening hurricane is heading for a direct hit on Florida Sunday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Judy Lynn Strayer said she had enjoyed the trip, but said that work commitments back in Ohio made her decide to get off and drive home.

“They couldn’t tell us when the ship would be coming back to port, and we all have to be back to work on Monday,” she said, adding that the crew had not been able to give them any information about the destination or length of the trip. “They didn’t know where the ship was headed to or how long they’d be out.”

Of course, there were a number of passengers who took the company up on its offer of a mystery trip. Some of those people could be seen relaxing in bathing suits on deck.

About 4,000 people set off on the journey after passengers on the company’s Sky vessel were also allowed to join, Norwegian’s press department said in an emailed response to questions.

“We do not have an estimate as to when the ship is able to return, but our marine operations team is in close contact with PortMiami and Coast Guard officials,” the company said. “As soon as the port reopens, the ship will return.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Nathan Crooks from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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JetBlue Pilots Will Come From the Ranks of Ex-Baggage Handlers and Grocery Clerks

Bloomberg

JetBlue is taking online applications for the four-year, $125,000 pilot-training program starting Wednesday and running through September 30, 2017. Bloomberg

Skift Take: JetBlue should be saluted for trying a creative fix to a looming pilot shortage. It’s opening up aviation careers to folks who otherwise might never have had the chance.

— Sean O’Neill

JetBlue Airways Corp. is looking for more supermarket clerks and accountants to train to fly its planes as the U.S. airline industry copes with a looming pilot shortage.

The New York-based carrier said its first-in-the-U.S. training program that turns people with little or no flying experience into commercial jet pilots has been so successful that it’s seeking a second round of candidates. The company is taking online applications for the four-year, $125,000 program starting Wednesday and running through Sept. 30.

The window opens as six of the program’s initial 24 candidates selected in 2016 begin training to become a flight instructor, a key step toward becoming a certified passenger pilot. Trainees include a baggage handler, a grocery-store clerk, a heavy-equipment operator and an accountant.

“We have every intent to continue with this program,” Warren Christie, JetBlue senior vice president of safety, security and air operations, said in an interview. “We have six others to attract and recruit pilots. This one has been very successful. It opens up aviation careers to individuals that otherwise might never have had the opportunity.”

Major U.S. carriers long have relied on hiring pilots who already have the required minimum of 1,500 flight hours, typically amassed in military aircraft or by working as a civilian instructor before snagging a job at a regional airline. Breaking with that tradition, JetBlue borrowed from training regimens used by the military and some carriers in Asia and Europe to create the Gateway Select program, which seeks to train pilots “from the beginning.”

A pilot deficit in the U.S. aviation industry will soar to 15,000 by 2026, according to a study by the University of North Dakota’s Aviation Department. More captains are reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 and fewer young people are choosing commercial aviation as a profession.

New Round

JetBlue, which received more than 1,500 applications during about a week in the first Gateway Select round, will choose 24 candidates again this time. Training could begin in early 2018.

Trainees go through classroom instruction — including meteorology, aerodynamics and aircraft systems– spend time in flight simulators and then build up 1,500 hours of flying experience before they are hired at JetBlue. The program was opposed by the pilots’ union when it was announced last year.

Nineteen candidates from the original group of 24 still are in training, broken up into smaller groups. Having to fund the six-figure cost of the program has proved to be the biggest problem, Christie said. The airline continues to work on ways to help the candidates secure loans for the training, he said.

This article was written by Mary Schlangenstein from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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