As Hurricane Irma, which is now being called one of the most powerful storms ever, makes its way to Florida with reports of 175 mph winds, Caribbean properties are evaluating conditions on an hour-by-hour basis.
Officials in St. Martin reported that 95 percent of the island was destroyed, including extensive damage to the iconic Princess Juliana Airport (SXM). Sonesta Ocean Point Resort has cancelled reservations for the rest of the year to address damage, and most other properties are at least temporarily down while damage is being assessed.
Jose Izquierdo, executive director of Puerto Rico Tourism Company, reported that Puerto Rico Convention Center and most hotels are fully operational, ready to welcome guests and accepting reservations. He said that most damages are restricted to debris, which is being removed. While the island suffered power outages, many of the hospitality and essential services have power generators for emergencies. The Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) is up and running on generators and reporting no structural damage. No groups or site visits have been canceled, he said in a press release on Friday.
On Thursday, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in Nassau evacuated guests and closed the resort as a precaution. Next door, Melia Nassau Beach was accommodating guests who were not able to get flights off the island, but were making preparations for a predicted 20-foot storm surge that could hit with the destructive wind and rain.
Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas reported that it would not be evacuating. A statement released on Friday reported that the property is “outside the cone of probability with respect to the center of the storm and should only experience tropical storm level winds and rain.” A representative added that management would continue to monitor alerts from the National Hurricane Center and take every precaution until the storm passes.
South Florida was the predicted next stop and forecasters say landfall could happen in the Keys by Sunday morning as a category 4 storm. Florida Governor Rick Scott was telling all Floridians to be prepared to evacuate.
Visit Orlando released a statement praising the area’s “extraordinary infrastructure of major public and private entities working together to protect the health and safety of our residents and visitors alike” and suggesting resident and visitors closely monitor storm progress and conditions can change quickly. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Orlando, Legoland Florida Theme Park and Water Park and Walt Disney World Resort planned to close on Sunday and Monday, although a statement said that Walt Disney World Resort hotels would remain open.
George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando reported that the hospitality industry there has stepped up to assist evacuees, “Our members represent more than 80 percent of the region’s hotel inventory and are a critical part of our emergency response system. Thank you to all of our members who have responded so quickly to calls for help, and also for generously increasing your flexibility for evacuees. Several member hotels have relaxed policies on allowing pets, changing or cancelling reservations and even adding wait lists.”
National Hurricane Center advised that in Irma’s wake, Jose was sustaining winds of 150 mph and moving in behind Irma with predicted landfall in the northern Lesser Antilles as soon as Saturday.