Tourism Aides in Disaster Recovery

Hurricane Irma aftermath

Many of the world’s top tourism destinations are the most vulnerable to natural disasters.

The Caribbean – a favorite yacht charter destination – is prone to some of the world’s most violent hurricanes, like Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and the Virgin Islands, among others in 2017. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was another natural disaster that devastated tourist beaches in Southeast Asia, including Phuket, Thailand.

Yet, after a hurricane, tsunami, or earthquake, our first inclination is often to stay away. We don’t want to burden relief efforts and assume we might even be turned away. Even months or years after a hurricane, we might still assume that it’s unsafe to visit.

Here’s the truth: Often that’s the last thing officials, businessowners and citizens of these countries want. In fact, they’re often the first to encourage visitors to return and welcome them back. The reason is often economic – tourism helps a struggling post-disaster economy recover and puts citizens back to work.

Are you considering a trip to an area that’s been affected by natural disaster?

If so, you might be wondering if you’ll be helping or hurting businesses and residents or disrupting the recovery efforts. And here’s the short answer: Your decision to return might help the recovery and relief – in a big way. The economic benefits of tourism play a major role in the recovery following natural disasters.

How Natural Disasters Affect Tourism

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and fires wreak havoc on local economies. And the recovery can take months, if not years.
Consider the economic importance tourism plays in Mexico. There, tourism spending accounts for about 16% of GDP. And that’s true for many destinations in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia. An instant drop-off in tourism spending can cause long-term economic stress.

But beyond the economic impacts disasters can have, there are some other ways that these disasters disrupt tourism.

Hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters tend to significantly damage infrastructure, including hotels, airports, cruise ports. On St. Martin, Hurricane Maria damaged nearly 70 percent of the islands hotels, as well as the island’s airport. And officials estimated it would take up to nine months to bring all their available hotels back online.

In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria created the second-largest power outage the world has ever seen, and running water, food and basic services were also disrupted during the initial months post-hurricane.

Damage to infrastructure tends to have a significant impact on tourism, and hotels, restaurants, airports, ports and marinas can bear the brunt of the damage.

How Charter Tourism Helps Boost and Rebuild Economies

During recovery efforts, the economic boost from tourism provides a spark to help these regions bounce back quickly. But how exactly does it boost the economy?

For one, tourism is a significant creator of jobs. The industry creates direct and indirect job opportunities. For example, direct jobs are at resorts and cruise ship terminals, while indirect jobs are created at retail businesses and spas. In other words, returning to a location can help residents and locals get back to work.

With all this job creation, tourism has a “multiplier effect” on the economy. Workers spend their wages locally, which in turn creates even more job opportunities. With more people going back to work, tax revenue increases, which helps fuel for recovery efforts and infrastructure restoration.

Finally, an improving tourism industry helps shape potential visitors’ views of the area. They see more people returning and hear positive stories, and they’re, in turn, more likely to return. In Phuket following the tsunami, visitors returned within weeks, and this helped frame the story that the region was ready to welcome tourists.

Should Charterers Visit Areas Recovering from Disaster?

Tourism is one of fastest industries to recover, following a natural disaster. Whereas with an industry like manufacturing, which can be disrupted long-term due to widespread infrastructure problems, tourism can begin humming back to life within months or weeks.

Hurricane Maria affected the Caribbean just before the winter yacht charter season. Yet, the most-affected islands, like St. Martin and Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands had restored basic services and brought a large percentage of their hotel inventories back online in time for peak tourism season.

That happened as well after Hurricane Odile in Mexico in 2010. The government expedited the recovery to get tourists to return faster. And that’s true in most areas. Because tourism benefits the economy in such significant ways in these countries, local governs will use an all-hands-on-deck approach to expedite recovery in major economic areas.

When to Go: Post-Disaster Recovery and Tourism

That still begs the question: When is the right time to return to a region recently affected by a natural disaster?

The first few weeks or months after a hurricane or earthquake can be chaotic, with services disrupted and key infrastructure damaged and offline. And for visitors, this is often one of the most difficult times to return. Ensuring people are safe and basic services are restored are the country’s top priorities. And the region’s airports and roads – if undamaged – are often inundated with relief teams arriving and hotels and resorts are closed.

Visitors should typically avoid a disaster-struck area during this initial response and relief effort.

Yet, once basic services have been restored and infrastructure has been repaired – which may take weeks or months, depending on the severity – visitors are welcomed with open arms. And often local tourism offices, governmental officials and businesses are first to give the all clear.

Following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, Thailand even went on a marketing offensive to encourage visitors to return. And visitors were already back weeks later.

You might also be wondering: Should I go to an area during hurricane season? In short, hurricane season is – despite what many think – a fabulous time to visit the Caribbean or take a Caribbean charter. Some years hurricanes don’t even make landfall in the Caribbean, and this off-peak season means fewer crowds, calmer waters, and gorgeous weather. The key is to stay up-to-date on local weather, as hurricanes are predicted weeks in advance.

You might cross a region off your vacation wishlist following a natural disaster. But visiting after a hurricane, earthquake or fire offers you the chance to help indirectly in relief. After the initial recovery, your decision to visit can help locals get back to work, encourage other visitors to follow your lead, and help a region get back to prosperity faster.

Considering a yacht charter in an area recently impacted by a hurricane or other natural disaster? Worldwide Boat offers advice about the right time to return and can keep you informed about local recovery efforts and what to expect.

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