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Grand Cayman and Grenada Tourism Industry Face
 Long, Hard Climb Out After Storms
By Michael A.W. Ottey, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 27, 2004 - The stream of hurricanes that hit the Caribbean this summer will knock the wind out of several tourism-dependent economies, and it will be months, even years before they fully recover, analysts say.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks many of these vulnerable economies suffered and only recently had begun to bounce back. But now storms have blown progress to bits.

The Cayman Islands and Grenada are still in a daze from the blows dealt by Hurricane Ivan. Jamaica, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, St. Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were all struck -- to varying degrees -- by Ivan, Frances, Charley or Jeanne.

The full impact of this unusually busy hurricane season on the Caribbean's $20 billion tourist industry won't be fully known for some time, the analysts said, but it's almost certain that the coming winter tourist season will feel a chill.

"Tourism will be hit very hard," said Caroline Antsey of the World Bank. "Missing a season will be devastating. It's really going to set them back enormously." The World Bank has established a $10 million contingency fund for hard-hit countries in the eastern Caribbean, Antsey said.

"It's going to be a long, hard climb out," said Denis G. Antoine, Grenada's ambassador to the United States. "We have been set back for many years. It's going to be impossible without help." Seventy percent of the dollars pumped into Grenada, for instance, comes from tourism, said Ian DaBreo, president of the Grenada Hotel & Tourism Association. Last year, 142,355 visitors flocked to Grenada, a 7.5 percent increase over the previous year. Between January and April Grenada saw a 9.1 percent jump in visitors compared to last year.

With a fairly successful campaign to lure more tourists, and construction of a new multimillion dollar dock to accommodate larger cruise ships, Grenada tourism officials had hoped for continued growth. But with much of the country destroyed by Ivan, it will be quite some time before tourists begin to return.

Grenada, which had hoped to inaugurate its new cruise port in November, is now faced with repairing it after Ivan damaged it.

"Grenada has been affected and Grand Cayman has been affected and we're working with international relief agencies to try to return both destinations to normalcy," said Alec Sanguinetti, director general of the Caribbean Hotel Association.

While he acknowledged there will be interruptions to the tourist trade in some islands, Sanguinetti stressed that not all of the Caribbean has been adversely impacted by the battery of storms.

"The Caribbean is over 35 islands," he said. "Business is ongoing in the Caribbean." While Grenada, the Cayman Islands and most recently Haiti -- where more than 1,000 people died in floods and mud slides -- have been the hardest hit, hurricane damage sustained by Jamaica, Barbados, St. Vincent, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas has been confined to specific areas, including agricultural regions that are not big tourist draws.

Jamaica's banana fields in the southwest took the brunt of Ivan.

While Jamaican ports sustained some damage, its popular north coast beaches and hotels were spared. No such luck for Grand Cayman and Grenada, where hotels have announced they will be closed for months for repairs -- or at least a year in some cases -- while they rebuild.

One of those is the 66-room luxury Spice Island Beach Resort in St. George's, which sustained severe damage, and will stay closed for almost a year.

"We have a tough road ahead as we more extensively evaluate the situation and develop plans to rebuild," Royston Hopkin, the chairman and owner, said in an e-mail to past and future guests.

"But I am fortunate to have a dedicated team behind me, and we will face the challenge together."

Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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