Saturday, September 13, 2008

Island Tourism Survives Ike

By Laura Bly and Jayne Clark
As a strengthening Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Texas Gulf Coast, the battered Turks and Caicos Islands are still assessing damage from the storm's passage last weekend, and evacuated tourists are returning to the relatively unscathed Florida Keys.

Ike's torrential rains were blamed for at least 71 deaths in Haiti and caused widespread destruction across Cuba, where buildings crumbled in historic Havana and about 10,000 tourists were evacuated from seaside hotels.

On Sunday, it drenched the southern Bahamas and slammed into the Turks and Caicos, a British territory known for scuba diving and exclusive resorts, as a Category 4 storm.

Officials say the hurricane's impact was lighter on the Turks and Caicos' main tourist island, Providenciales, where commercial air service resumed Tuesday and many hotels, including Club Med and others on 12-mile Grace Bay, have reopened.

The all-inclusive Beaches Resort won't resume business until Nov. 15 because of cosmetic damage. And the super-exclusive Amanyara, where low-season rates top $1,000 a night, also remains closed. Many of the high-end resorts on Providenciales routinely close in September for maintenance, and officials said most would reopen as scheduled in October.
On the administrative and political capital of Grand Turk, Carnival Cruise Line's 2-year-old, $60 million cruise ship center was among the more than 80% of island buildings damaged during the storm.

Carnival said its facilities would remain closed until Oct. 8. The terminal had expected to handle more than 200 cruise ship calls and an estimated 400,000 passengers this year.

According to The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, thousands of pink flamingos on the island of Great Inagua were unharmed when their breeding colony — the world's largest — took a direct hit from Ike. All the country's hotels and other tourist facilities are open.

In the Florida Keys, 15,000 tourists were asked to evacuate last week as Ike approached and were allowed to return Thursday. Ike's tropical storm-force winds caused some erosion on Key West's Smathers and Higgs beaches and downed tree limbs, but no major damage was reported. Commercial flights and cruise ship calls resumed in Key West Thursday, and most hotels, restaurants and attractions are open as well.

Last week's Florida Keys visitor evacuation was the second in four weeks. According to the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the near-misses from Ike and Tropical Storm Fay have cost the Keys $29 million in lost visitor spending, and a summer "value added" promotion has been extended through mid-October.

As Ike approached the Texas coast Thursday, most airlines were waiving change fees for flights into and out of several potentially impacted cities, including Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

Source: UsaToday.Com

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