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Caribbean Tourism Feels Hurricane Hugo Impact

September 24, 1989|KIM UPTON | Times Staff Writer

As Hurricane Hugo raged through the Caribbean, many tourists still at home canceled long-planned vacations, while those in its path scrambled for safety.

Hotels closed and airlines suspended Caribbean flights. One cruise ship even high-tailed it out to sea, where it waited, without passengers, for the hurricane to move out of range. It was the first cruise ever to be canceled by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.

This left some tourists either high and dry at home, the result of trip cancellations, or waiting to see what will be left of vacations scheduled for September, October and even November.

Although spokesmen for most of the islands predict it will be tourism as usual by Dec. 15, the beginning of the winter season, the next two months remain uncertain in some places.

"There's been severe damage to the eastern part of Guadeloupe, especially the town of Saint-Francois," according to Joe Petrocik, spokesman for the French West Indies, which includes Guadeloupe and Martinique. "But I would imagine that after Nov. 15 things would be pretty much back to normal. Cleanup is already underway."

Tourism is big business on Guadeloupe, second only to agriculture in terms of income. Particularly popular with European travelers, Guadeloupe played host to 290,000 visitors in 1987.

Petrocik advises tourists planning trips to Guadeloupe within the next two months to contact both the airline on which they'll be traveling and the French West Indies Tourist Board, (212) 757-1125.

There were no reports of structural damage on the French half of the island of St. Martin, he added.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John sustained heavy damage when slapped with torrential winds on Monday.

Vacationers planning a visit within the next few weeks should contact the U.S.V.I. Tourist Board at (213) 739-0138 or (212) 581-3400 to be advised of the status of both the hotels in which they will stay and the surrounding countryside.

Tourists planning vacations to hard-hit Puerto Rico should seek out a status report from both their hotel and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. at toll-free (800) 223-6530, (213) 974-5991 or (212) 599-6262.

Alternatives Proposed

The Club Med facility on Guadeloupe sustained minor damage. Visitors were transferred to another Club Med facility on Martinique. For the next two weeks, vacationers are being offered an alternative vacation spot. For more information, call (800) CLUB MED.

Many hotels, such as the Caribe Hilton near San Juan and the Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach, were closed for a few days until the mess could be cleaned up. Broken windows and misplaced landscaping were the common problems.

Two hundred guests rode out the storm in the grand ballroom of the Cerromar Beach Hyatt, where they were treated to food, movies, music and entertainment. Gratis, of course.

Just a mile away, a sister hotel, the Hyatt Dorado Beach, will be closed until Wednesday to allow time for debris clearing. But at least two of its four golf courses will be open by early this week, according to a spokeswoman. The casino reopened almost immediately, she added.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caneel Bay Hotel on St. John closed due to storm damage but is expected to reopen this week.

Cruise Lines OK

Unlike some of their land-locked counterparts, the cruise lines seemed to have weathered the storm without much effort. But then, they're used to it. That's one reason why dry- and wet-dock repairs are annually scheduled for this time of year.

"This is the hot season for hurricanes," explained Rich Steck, spokesman for Royal Caribbean.

Should a hurricane threaten a cruise route, a common practice is to change the ports of call or alter the sequence to circumvent the storm.

"This isn't the first time this season, because of the potential threat of a hurricane, that we've changed itineraries," said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesperson Jennifer Foley. "We make arrangements for alternative ports of call whenever there looks like a possibility."

A port of call would be avoided, Steck said, should the site be too damaged to handle tourists, or should dock damage impair landing.

The Royal Caribbean ship Sun Viking, normally docked in San Juan, was sent out to sea without its passengers to avoid Hugo's slamming waters and winds. The cruise was canceled.

"We called all the people and told them not to come," said Steck of Royal Caribbean. "Fortunately, there were only 504 to call."

In return, those 504 were offered the option of rebooking on the same ship, the Sun Viking, between now and December, plus $200 spending money and 25% off a future cruise. Or they can book another cruise between now and December and receive 25% off a future cruise. Or they can receive a full refund plus 25% off a future cruise.

Meanwhile, the Sun Viking spent the week 150 miles at sea, safe from Hugo's pounding winds. Crew members were the only people on the luxury ship.

"This is the only cruise we've ever missed," Steck said. "In fact, that was one of our bragging points. But this one we missed. It's sort of sad."

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