Yesterday, I read a short sentence that made me sad. In a listing of hotels and resorts and how they fared through Hurricane Irma it read – Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort: Marriott International has advised the resort is closed until further notice. Of course it came as no surprise to read that, knowing full well the incredible destruction that occurred on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas during the disastrous storm known as Hurricane Irma. In a scene that some have called cataclysmic, St. Thomas was hit much harder than many other neighboring islands. It’s not the first time St. Thomas has been hit by hurricanes, a devastating one also hit the Caribbean island in the late ‘80s. It may take a while to come back, but St. Thomas and all of the islands hit hard by the storm will come back, as long as we are there to support them.
It may sound a little strange, but I do think the Caribbean is underrated. Not as a beach destination, but as a cultural one. St. Thomas is actually a great example of that. Three years ago I wrote a post in defense of the island. In talking with people, it seemed to me that St. Thomas was given short shrift. Every so-called expert I consulted told me to skip St. Thomas and instead spend my time on nearby St. John. I’m so thankful I ignored them, because my time on St. Thomas was unexpectedly fun.
Driving around the island, from one side to the other the sea was never far away, providing views from high atop mountains that would make an angel weep. At one point standing on the side of the road I looked down and saw Magens Bay, one of the top beaches in the world and in the distance a smattering of islands, strewn around the sea like marbles. It was stunning, beautiful, gorgeous; whichever word you want to use to describe natural perfection without sounding too saccharine. Go ahead and try, it’s not easy.
Across the channel I could see St. John and I wondered. I wondered why everyone seemed to flee St. Thomas in preference for this other island, this supposed crown jewel of the Virgin Islands. I have no doubt that it is indeed beautiful, but frankly I find it hard to believe any island in this fortunate grouping are bad places to spend some time. Some may be more developed than others and some may have more activities for impatient vacationers, but none are bad.
Driving back to the Frenchman’s Reef, watching the sun set below the water I decided that St. Thomas was my island, that everyone else can thankfully fill the beaches of St. John while I keep this bit of island perfection all to myself.
Tourism as Philanthropy
Hurricane Irma was a beast of a storm, and if you’ve been anywhere near a TV in the last week then you’ve seen the horrific images from places like Barbuda and St. Maarten. But the storm was not an equal opportunity destroyer. While some islands were indeed devastated, many others suffered either no or very little damage. The hotels and restaurants are open for business in many areas of the Caribbean and as their peak season approaches, they need us, the tourist, more than ever. That’s why if you have travel plans to islands that have been unaffected, don’t change those plans! And if you’re looking for a nice escape this winter, then I strongly suggest using your tourist dollars as a form of philanthropy. While giving to charity groups who are helping out in the Caribbean is certainly worthwhile, and I myself have made that donation, even more impactful is going down there and just being a normal tourist. It’s more than just about your trip, because in visiting you will become a de facto ambassador. What never changes in the world of travel and tourism is that most of us make travel decisions based on advice from friends and family. We hear about the trip our co-workers took, and we ourselves become motivated to book the same adventure. So when you travel down to the Caribbean, you’re encouraging those you know and love to do the same. It’s a cascading effect and is exactly what this amazing part of the world needs right now. Naturally, there are businesses and even entire islands that will take much longer to recover. All we can do for them is hope for the best, knowing that they will indeed rebound and when they do, then you better believe I’ll be back down there, fruity drink in hand.