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After Ivan Cleanup, Jamaica Good as New, If Not Better, for the Peak Winter Season
By Doreen Hemlock, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

September 14 2004 - Just hours after Hurricane Ivan skirted Jamaica this weekend, the island's top tourism leader was on the phone to U.S. media reporting his hotels on the north coast had sustained only minor damage, Air Jamaica was ready to fly, and the island's chief airport hub would reopen Sunday.

Gordon "Butch" Stewart, chairman of Sandals and Beaches resorts and Air Jamaica airlines, had good reason to act quickly.

Jamaica depends on tourism as its economic lifeblood, and Stewart recognized it was imperative to spread the word that the island of 2.7 million people had not been devastated, could still cater to visitors and, after cleanup, would be as good as new, if not better, for the peak winter season.

It's a message that tourism authorities around the Caribbean, the world's most tourist-dependent region, also are striving to relay -- and fast.

Damage differs widely from island to island and even within each island. The demolition on small Grenada,with its 90,000 residents, is not the norm across the archipelago where more than 34 million people live. Even on Grand Cayman Island, population 40,000, damage might extend to as many as half of the homes, not the 90 percent on Grenada.

"The mistake is grouping the islands all together, as if they were Grenada," lodging analyst Scott Berman of PricewaterhouseCoopers said Monday. With most major travel destinations either spared or likely to be fully operational by winter, "we're looking at another record year for tourism in the Caribbean," he said.

In Jamaica, after Ivan's lashing Friday night, the airport at Montego Bay reopened Sunday, and the one in Kingston reopened Monday, officials said.

Early reports show most of Jamaica's main tourist area, including the north coast towns of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, "suffered mainly cosmetic damage, and all structures remained primarily intact," Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook said in statement Monday. Assessments were still being made in southern areas.

Stewart said his five hotels in Ocho Rios should be tidied up within days, the three in Montego Bay ready by the weekend and the trio in Negril likely ready a bit later.

Some business travelers in Jamaica already were making plans Monday to return once the island settled back to normal.

Martyn Farrelly and his three colleagues from British phone giant Cable & Wireless lost a week of work from Ivan, holed up in the Kingston Hilton.

"Basically, my trip has been unproductive because my clients and colleagues in Jamaica were making sure homes were safe, offices were safe, as well as protecting their families, rather than actually doing business," Farrelly, an information technology executive, said Monday in Kingston.

The group plans to return in October to Jamaica, its largest Caribbean client, he said.

Meanwhile, authorities said the Grand Bahama Island, which received the brunt of Frances, expects to be mostly returned to normal within weeks. The Best Western Castaways Resort is open, the Sheraton at Our Lucaya plans to reopen Oct. 1, and the Westin at Our Lucaya on Nov. 1. Assessments are still pending for several other hotels.

Officials from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization said it was still too early to quantify damage from the hurricanes and their longer-term effect.

As of Monday, the group was busy compiling information, with updates posted on its Web site, www.onecaribbean.org

And it was organizing meetings with tour operators and other partners in New York today and Toronto on Wednesday, said deputy-secretary general Karen Ford-Warner.

Short-term, effects of the storm likely would be hardest on small businesses that depend on vacation arrivals, such as taxi drivers, souvenir shops and waiters.

But by the peak winter months, the tourism industry that employs almost one in six Caribbean residents should be in full swing -- with rare exceptions such as Grenada.

Stewart recalls that after Hurricane Gilbert pounded Jamaica in 1988, causing far more damage than Ivan, the island "had its best year ever the following year."

"What the hurricane does," Stewart said, "is energize everyone to get it right."

Staff Writer Karla Shores contributed to this report from Kingston, Jamaica.

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5009.

-----To see more of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com. 

(c) 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HOT, TSG, IHG, PCLN, 



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