The Garden of Eden shows signs of life

By | Category: Travel destinations

one of the images of Dominica today

This was a phrase used by Robert Tonge, the Minister for Tourism and Urban Relief in the Caribbean island of Dominica at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Just over a month ago, the island country was one of the worst hit destinations when Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc. On that one day, buildings were demolished or damaged, the forests were denuded of many trees and tourist trails and even the seas were damaged off the coast. A country that should, next year, be celebrating forty years of independence from the UK will hopefully, be celebrating its complete recovery from Maria and the fact that tourism will have returned to pre-Maria levels.

For the 74,000 inhabitants of this mountainous, small, island country with picture postcard coral reefs and clear waters, the memory of September 18th 2017 will not fade quickly. Dominicans have weathered hurricanes before but Maria was different. She lost people their homes, their jobs and deterred visitors coming to bolster the economy.  Tonge said that 90% of the buildings on the island were affected and that the Garden of Eden had ceased to be if only temporarily.

Dominica isn’t the only Caribbean island or country to have been hit. Barbuda has patriated its inhabitants to Antigua after the devastation caused earlier by Hurricane Irma and only now are people slowly returning. Puerto Rico still has no power for 80% of its inhabitants despite the high-profile link to the USA and the prominence given to it by US media. The US and British Virgin islands are in the throes of reopening for tourism business. But Dominica seems to have been largely overlooked in European media.

Champagne Reef

As I mentioned, on Wednesday, a briefing was given as much to locals as outsiders about how the country was prospering one month later.

The main airports are opened and there are flights to (or will be from Monday) to Antigua, Barbados, and Puerto Rico. Ferry services are back up and running linking the country with Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia. The cruise pier in the capital city of Roseau isn’t back in order yet put the plan is it have it back in use when the cruise season starts in earnest from January 1st.

Colin Piper, the CEO of Discover Dominica Authority which is the tourist board gave a summary of how tourist accommodation has fared.  On their books prior to Maria, they had 73 properties which, in total, had 909 guest rooms. As of Wednesday, 64 of them had been assessed for hurricane damage.   That showed that 32 are moderately damaged and able to operate now or in the near future but 27 properties have been severely damaged or destroyed, with serious to total destruction of structures including roofs, electrical and plumbing.  What it amounts to is that 467 accommodation rooms have suffered moderate damage. That doesn’t mean to say that if you wanted to holiday in Dominica tomorrow you could find a room. Many are being used by the staff of relief agencies or by volunteers who have come to the island to help out by cleaning debris away or trying to re-install basic services.

one of the bungalows at night for tourists to stay in. Is it still there?

As for the attractions that tourists visit they suffered as well.  Diving is a growing tourism business due to the coral reef, the array of marine life and the clear waters. Overall, 35% of reefs at dive sites were damaged particularly sponges and softer corals. Currently all nine dive operators are closed for business and most will not be operational before January 2018. Upon resumption the number of dives per day will be reduced to ease the strain on the fragile reefs.

It is not just the seas that suffered. Major tourist attractions such as the Trafalgar Falls, Ti Tou Gorge, Champagne Reef and the Emerald Pool have all been impacted because access roads, whilst some have been cleared, many remain passable only with care and some need considerable repair. Trails in the mountains are still being assessed. In all, thirty have been examined so far. All are officially closed and will remains o for a while. Some visitor centres have survived better than others but there will still be a considerable amount of work required to bring them all back into operation.

Some measures have been taken to encourage rebuilding of tourism associated projects like removing VAT and duty on building materials but some owners say that they haven’t the money or that it isn’t worth rebuilding.

Other tourist attractions have been postponed such as the 20th World Creole Music Festival which was due to be held later this month and has been called Dominica’s signature on the world. The event always attracts visitors to the island and with such an established pedigree people travel considerable distances. This year, the organisers are asking ticket holders to donate the money to relief work rather than claim a refund.

Diving was one of the big money-earners for island. Even the reefs have been damaged by Maria

In a nutshell, only one type of tourism is still viable at the moment and that is voluntourism as outlined by Careen Prevost, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Tourism and Urban Renewal. This is where volunteers have given up their time to come and assist the authorities in bringing a semblance of normality back to the island. In the rainforests, for example, trees were torn up and the country is planning to plant a thousand new trees.  This sort of work is ideally suited to volunteers with few practical skills but want to contribute to the regrowth of Dominica.  Volunteer work and that of the locals is improving things day by day prompting Tonge to say that the Garden of Eden is showing signs of life.

But the island will need visitors, as many as can fill the rooms when they re-open. The cost of the damage is not properly calculated yet. It won’t be cheap and, for a small island with as few inhabitants as Dominica, they will need money. Visitors won’t provide all of that but the revenue from tourists will help.

Images © Discover Dominica Authority and show, apart from the first, what Dominica was like before Maria hit

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , , , , ,