Tourism industry threatened in Florida, Caribbean islands in Aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction up Florida’s Gulf Coast threatens to interrupt a flourishing country tourism industry worth more than $100-billion (U.S.) yearly just months before the busy winter travel season.

Some of the nation’s most important attractions have declared temporary closures, such as amusement park giants Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Legoland and Sea World, which all planned to shut through Monday.

About 20 cruise lines have Miami as a home port or a port of call, according to the PortMiami site, and several have had to move boats from the region and revise schedules.

Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have revised and cancelled several sailings because of the storm and have provided credits and waivers on trips where passengers are not able to travel.

A Carnival spokesman said the situation in Florida on Sunday was still not clear enough to completely evaluate how widespread the consequences will be.

“We will know more in the hours ahead because the hurricane is active in Florida at the moment,” spokesman Roger Frizzell said.

Irma made a second Florida landfall on Sunday on southwestern Marco Island as a Category 3 storm bringing winds of 185 kilometres an hour and life threatening sea surge.

Disney cancelled the Monday sailing of one of its cruise ships and said it is assessing future sailings, which stop throughout the Caribbean and from the Bahamas.

Florida is among the world’s top tourism destinations. Last year nearly 113 million people visited the country, a new album, and spent $109-billion, state officials said earlier this season. The first half of 2017 was on course to beat that record speed, officials said.

The harm Irma’s winds and storm surge do to Florida’s 1,060 km of beaches and the structures built along them during over 30 years of explosive population growth will be crucial to how fast the nation’s ‘s No. 1 industry recovers. The Gulf beaches west of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, are squarely in the storm’s path.

In 2016, more than 6.3 million people visited Pinellas County, which encompasses those cities, and generated more $9.7-billion in economic activity.

Up and down the broad, sandy beaches of Pinellas County are traditional “old Florida” waterfront hotels like the Don Cesar, a coral-pink 1920s resort on St. Pete Beach, which was shut by the storm. Additionally, there are modern high-rises and resorts which are a part of the country’s main chains and brands such as Hyatt Hotels, Marriott International, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Hilton Hotels amp; Resorts and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

Meanwhile, the storm’s deadly tear throughout the Caribbean will hobble that area’s multibillion dollar tourism industry for months, only as hotels, airlines and cruises were gearing up for the area’s peak winter season.

As one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, Irma has killed at least 29 people, leaving hotels, airports and other buildings damaged or flattened across prime holiday islands like Saint Martin and Barbuda.

Jack Richards, president of U.S.-based tour operator Pleasant Holidays, said it might be well into next year before the local tourism sector begins to normalize, costing it billions of dollars in lost business. The area’s busiest travel season runs from mid-December to Easter, when Canadians, Americans and Europeans leave behind cold and snow for the warm, turquoise Caribbean waters.

“Can this be repaired in time? The infrastructure to rebuild these countries simply is not there,” he said. “This is simply massive.”

In 2016, overseas visitors spent $31-billion from the Caribbean and were expected to invest an additional 5.3 percent in 2017. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that in 2016, travel and tourism contributed $56-billion in gross domestic product.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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