Virtually every explorer dreams of traveling to the Caribbean at least once in their lifetime. The region’s vibrant cultures, endless beaches, delicious cuisine, and vast array of wildlife all contribute to its intoxicating allure, which is experienced by as many as 25 million travelers per year.
However, times have been hard for some of these beloved islands lately. In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged through the region, leaving destruction in their wake. The impact these natural disasters left on the region cannot be understated. But Caribbean hurricane recovery efforts began almost immediately after the storms moved on.
Here’s a look at how tourism and conservation can work hand-in-hand to help the Caribbean get back on its feet again:
Why Caribbean Tourism is Imperative Now
“The Caribbean islands are primarily dependent on agriculture and tourism,” Dominica tourism official and guide Oris Campbell comments. “With the passing of Hurricane Irma, many of our crops, hotels, and tourist attractions were destroyed. I believe tourists should continue visiting the islands as soon as we are back to normalcy.”
It may be a few months before the most heavily affected Caribbean islands can start to welcome visitors again. Some islands with stronger infrastructure have managed to bounce back quickly, while others need to focus on the health and safety of the locals before they can reopen doors for guests.
But once these determined communities have launched their hurricane recovery efforts, they’ll need their tourism dollars more than ever before. Rebuilding their homes is just the first step towards the Caribbean’s revival. After that, a restoration of the region’s tourist economy is an essential part of bringing these islands back to economic health.
Hugh Riley, the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organizaton, has also expressed concern that even islands untouched by the hurricanes will struggle, as visitors considering a trip are put off by visiting the Caribbean region as a whole. The solution to this is well-informed, empathetic travelers who understand that many of the islands were unaffected. And these places still desperately need our attention now, more than ever before.
Working With the Environment
Studies by The Nature Conservancy have shown that working with nature is vital for the future prevention of these disasters. It may seem like nature is the reason why these things happen in the first place. But the careful and considered protection of the Caribbean environment can decrease the risk of intense tropical storms developing, and reduce their intensity when they do.
Looking more deeply at coastal ecosystems has shown that conservation of them can ease the impact of tidal waves. Research has proven that a healthy coral reef can “reduce a wave’s energy by up to 97% before it hits the shore,” and that “just 100 meters of mangroves can reduce wave height by 66%.”
This doesn’t just have benefits in terms of the amount of physical damage caused, but also the financial repercussions of Caribbean hurricane recovery efforts. As a prime example, researchers estimated that coastal wetlands thwarted $625 million worth of property damage during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
These numbers prove that investing in these habitats and the ecotourism opportunities they create is investing in a safer future for the Caribbean as a whole.
Why Your Next Caribbean Vacation Matters
By traveling to the Caribbean after disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Maria, visitors are giving over their vacation dollars to people in need. But they’re also sustaining an interest in the region that will help investors protect it in the future. Zegrahm’s Caribbean tours connect visitors with the area’s stunning natural wonders and offer an immersive experience, with expert guides always by your side.
On Zegrahm’s Hidden Gems of the Caribbean expedition, guests glide through the Atlantic on an elegant three-mast sailing vessel—a far cry from the giant cruise liners this part of the world sees so often. The itinerary goes above and beyond, too, focusing primarily on lesser-visited Caribbean islands such as the Grenadines, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and more. Most of the islands on this tour were relatively untouched by the hurricanes.
Throughout this journey, guests travel with a Nature Conservancy expert who can point out all of the area’s array of wildlife. Among the highlights are some beautiful endemic bird species, including the St. Vincent parrot, Montserrat oriole, and purple-throated carib.
Zegrahm’s Canal to Cuba expedition combines a few highlights of Central and South America with Cuba, giving you an all-encompassing view of this corner of the planet aboard a spacious and modern vessel. Guests will discover the hip-swiveling beat of Havana, Cuba’s lively capital, which is always sure to dazzle; they’ll also scuba dive through tropical coral reefs, discovering the reefs anew within the context of their involvement in minimizing natural disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
On this tour, guests are also joined by a geologist, naturalist, and marine biologist, who give a greater depth to the experience and boundless knowledge on the environments discovered. Visiting these ecosystems encourages their protection, as their tourism provides a valuable source of income for the surrounding communities. It’s a win-win for everyone—the reefs, the travelers, and the people that call this corner of the world home.
With all of this in mind, 2018 is the year to travel to the Caribbean. Explorers can come here knowing that the money they spend is helping to fund Caribbean hurricane recovery efforts, and that sharing their experience encourages other travelers to do the same. And with endless beauty still to be found in the region, its iconic charms will still very much be part of the adventure. If you want to do good with your travels, this stunning region should remain near the top of the list for your next once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Emma Higgins is a travel writer who’s been working in the industry since 2010. Her website, Gotta Keep Movin’, documents her travel across the globe through online content, a podcast, and an annual print journal. Her latest book, A Year in Portugal, is for anyone who loves adventure and outstanding travel narratives.