MIAMI, United States (AFP) — The tourism industry in the Caribbean region attracted almost one million fewer visitors after hurricanes Irma and Maria hit last year, costing it over $700 million, according to an industry study released Monday.
“The hurricane season resulted in an estimated (loss) in 2017 of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean, compared to pre-hurricane forecasts,” said the report by the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council.
Those tourists could have spent US$741 million and sustained more than 11,000 jobs, it said.
With their turquoise waters and coral reefs, Caribbean island destinations rely heavily on tourism, which provides 15.2 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product and sustains 14 per cent of its labor force, according to the report.
Worldwide, the average contribution of tourism to GDP is 10.4 per cent.
In August and September of 2017, the Caribbean was devastated by two of the fiercest hurricanes ever recorded on the islands.
Irma and Maria left a trail of destruction in Barbuda, St Martin/Sint Maarten, St Barts, Anguilla, Cuba, Dominica and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Barbuda, Dominica and Puerto Rico were among the worst hit and are still recovering, but the loss of tourism in the Caribbean also affected islands that were not hit directly by the hurricanes.
That is because there is “a misconception on the part of the public that the entire Caribbean was hit by storms,” the report said. But, “more than two thirds of the destinations in the Caribbean were not physically affected.”
Still, recovery of the tourism sector to pre-hurricane levels could take four years, the group warned.
The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and stretches through November 30.