After the storm: how the Caribbean islands are bouncing back
There’s no stopping the Caribbean’s determination to rebuild after last year’s devastating hurricanes
While hurricanes are nothing new to the Caribbean – the word most likely derives from hurakán, meaning "god of the storm" in the language of the area's indigenous Taíno people – the two that struck this much-loved region in close succession last autumn were a nasty blow. The good news is that over 70% of these balmy islands were unaffected by the Category Five hurricanes Irma and Maria, including such favourite winter sun escapes as Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia and Grenada.
As every business guru will tell you, setbacks are also opportunities. It's impressive how the islands that took a hit have responded, with residents and governments pulling together to get things back on track for the peak winter season. One example is Anguilla, the tiny British Overseas Territory that boasts some of the most mesmerising white sand beaches in the world.
Last September it was being ravaged by 185mph winds, yet just a month later officials announced the island was not only open for business but that they would use this calamity as a chance to extend the airport runway in order to welcome larger aircrafts.
Caribbean hoteliers have taken a similar bullish approach, although it will be several months before some top luxury resorts, with their impeccable standards, can re-open. In the British Virgin Islands, Sir Richard Branson's Necker Island will remain closed until October while Peter Island Resort won't open before December. And there is a clear determination to come back stronger and better.
"The future is very bright," affirmed Stephane Zaharia, general manager of Anguilla's CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa, where the rebuilding will see the addition of several new rooms "with all bells and whistles." >>
On the super-chic French island of St Barts, some of the first establishments to re-open – naturellement – were its gourmet restaurants. By mid-December boutique hotel Villa Marie St-Barth was once again serving foie gras and quenelle de mérou soufflée, while its rooms are set to open in March.
"Incredible solidarity has been driving the island during the past few months," reports Fabrice Moizan, general manager of the celebrated Eden Rock-St Barths hotel. While this prestigious property won't be welcoming guests till late 2018, its companion villa rental service is already back in full swing.
Devotees of the island's Le Sereno Hotel will have an equally long wait, but Samy Ghachem, its managing director, is promising "an even higher level of luxury including a new restaurant and wellness facilities."
Out on the glistening waves, the return to normality has been helped by the fact that boats are less dependent on shoreside facilities than hotels and resorts. "Everyone within the superyacht community – owners, crews, charterers, brokers, service providers and so on – has pledged to support the islands," said Alev Karagulle from Burgess.
The global brokerage reports that "an encouragingly high number of vessels have committed to the Caribbean season this winter," while Sacha Williams at luxury yacht charter specialists Camper & Nicholsons said "the marinas in Antigua and The Bahamas busier than ever." >>
Such confidence is striking, and the long-term appeal of the Caribbean with its heady marriage of sunshine, warmth, tropical beaches and vivid cultures – not to mention hit-the-spot rum punches – has not gone away. Before the hurricanes passed through the region was doing record business with annual tourism growing at 4.9% – higher than the global average – a buoyancy reflected in the huge investments the luxury travel industry is making here.
It is significant that well-known hotel brands are seeking a larger footprint in the Caribbean – Park Hyatt recently unveiled its first property in the islands on St Kitts, Oetker Collection has acquired Jumby Bay Island in Antigua while Belmond Cap Juluca will open in Anguilla late next year.
Independent initiatives, such as the much-anticipated debut of Silversands Grenada in March, which will boast the longest swimming pool in the region, are equally impressive. Without doubt, the Caribbean and its beautiful islands will be visited by more hurricanes, but that's not going to stop us enjoying fabulous holidays there.
Soon after Hurricane Irma struck the British Virgin Islands, Diane Wildenstein, owner of the exclusive getaway Valley Trunk on Virgin Gorda, sent out a heartfelt message that said it all: "The Virgin Islanders are proud, strong, very interconnected and resilient people. Trees grow back, boats can be replaced, from the ashes, roses grow."