Clockwise from left, a street being
repaired in San Juan. The beach at
Bolongo Bay in St. Thomas several
weeks after the hurricanes. Ani
Villas’ two-structure, private
resort in Anguilla was heavily dam-
aged by Irma and will not reopen
until March. The pools at the Sugar
Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas
after hurricanes Maria and Irma;
the resort is expected to reopen
for Christmas. T W
Puerto Rico tour operator
putting Love in Motion
Tour operators in the Caribbean are among those
thinking about how to make tourism more sustainable
for communities in the future.
After Hurricane Maria raked Puerto Rico, one operator, the island’s Local Guest, launched a nonprofit
organization called Love in Motion, dedicated to relief
“In order to impact Caribbean communities through
sustainable tourism, we need to help them recover
first,” said Carmen Portela, co-founder and CEO of Local Guest.
Portela realized that long-term solutions would need
to include industry stakeholders and community organizations working with localities to create sustainable
One project is helping to reconstruct the caves
at Cabachuelas, where tourists can climb through
a vast network of 60 subterranean caves. Love in
Motion created a $95 excursion to help clean the
caves so that travelers can come back, help rebuild
homes and build a community garden and a pottery studio.
Pottery is a big part of the culture in the region, and
Love in Motion has helped create tours in which local
artisans offer demonstrations and sell their wares,
while other locals prepare food from area farms for
the visitors. Still more locals are being trained to be
tour guides and interpreters.
“Every single component of that experience comes
from the community,” Portela said.
Love in Motion also helped to rebuild a vintage hostel, Casa Mamilili, in the town of Comerio, 45 minutes
from San Juan. Portela said the region has caves,
mountains, rivers and a picturesque dam.
The group is also helping to build a community garden next to the hostel that will feed visitors and offer
them products (fruits and vegetables) to buy.
“We think tourism can be the engine of economic development there,” Portela said.
Another project involves reconstructing El Malecon,
the oceanfront pedestrian walkway in La Perla, the low-
er-income San Juan neighborhood that became newly
popular when it was featured in the video for the mas-
sive hit song “Despacito.”
Love in Motion is working with other groups to get
more solar energy infrastructure installed as part of
the rebuilding so that the island won’t be as suscep-
tible to power outages from future storms. It is also
supporting projects to rebuild with cement instead of
“Next hurricane season, these communities will be
stronger,” she said.
Bloom said that, in general, Anguilla’s buildings are
well-built for hurricanes, but he called Irma “a different
With an eye toward future storms of that magnitude, Ani
is rebuilding the property with additional reinforcement of
its doors and windows and making other changes like using
steel framing instead of weaker metals in some areas. It is
also using different techniques to allow the passage of water
and wind through structures.
“We are building stuff
stronger in many cases,”
Bloom said. “And new struc-
tures we are building are defi-
nitely being built with what
transpired in mind.”
Others said that it is basical-
ly impossible to build a struc-
ture capable of withstanding
the strength of the storms that
hit the Caribbean last year.
David Krech, director of sales and marketing for St.
Thomas’ Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, which was badly damaged
and is expected to reopen by Christmas, said that was especially true of St. Thomas. Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record with 185 mph sustained winds and gusts
of up to 230 mph, ripped off roofs islandwide before Maria
dumped 20 inches of water on the island, destroying those
“I mean, how often has that ever happened?” he said.
“Nothing escapes the catastrophic damage from Category 5
Hurricanes … even structures built to Cat 5 code.”
Rice University’s Shelton said that on small islands where
it isn’t easy to relocate hotels and homes, and where the
tourist economy prizes waterfront properties, the rebuild-
ing equation might be different.
“In St. Thomas, it may be worth it to rebuild in places
that have been damaged multiple times in a way it might
not be in another place,” he said. “But if you do that, are
there ways that may increase the upfront cost but in the long
term maybe reduce the amount of damage we’re repairing
during subsequent storms? There’s a different equation for
every locality. All those unique circumstances need to be
taken into consideration.”
Recovery efforts hampered
For many structures, from 400-room hotels to individual
homes, any discussion about how to rebuild plays second
fiddle to when they can rebuild.
And across the Caribbean, with its acute shortage of supplies, construction workers and rooms for those who would
travel to the islands to work, “when” is increasingly difficult
“We are in big trouble,” said Pascale Minarro-Baudouin
of St. Barth Properties, a villa rental company.
She said there are not enough workers on the island and
that those who are able to come from other places to supplement them can’t find places to stay. This is especially difficult on islands like St. Barts and Anguilla where room and
villa rental rates are so high.
“We cannot get as many people as we want because of
that,” Minarro-Baudouin said.
In addition, building materials headed to islands like
The cost of rebuilding after such storms will undoubtedly make it more difficult to insure property in hurricane-prone areas, leaving more people dependent on governments to foot reconstruction costs, and these governments
are facing record disaster costs.
According to the New York Times, in 2017, storms and
wildfires cost the U.S. government $306 billion, more than
triple the amount the federal government spent on education that year.
Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more water than
any U.S. storm in recorded history, alone is estimated to
have cost $125 billion, second only to 2005’s Hurricane
And Maria’s devastation is expected to cost $90 billion
in repairs in Puerto Rico, where parts of the island still
don’t have power a full six months after the storm.
‘The need to recover longer term
can’t be outweighed by what
seem like short-term wins.’
Continued from Page 15
A worker with Love in Motion, a nonprofit started by tour operator Local
Guest, uses a chain saw during storm cleanup at Cabachuelas, Puerto Rico.