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2004-11-22 17:30:22

What Hurricane? Bahamas Expects a Superlative Season

Most of the Bahamas islands -- a string more than 700 miles long -- were spared from the hurricane's wrath.

Though a quartet of hurricanes battered parts of the Caribbean this year, many islands escaped damage and those that were impacted are well along in their recovery.

Indeed, only a handful of resorts in the most heavily damaged islands will not be ready by the traditional start of the region's winter season, tourism officials say.

"The entire Caribbean will be open for business by Christmas," said Karen Ford-Warner, acting secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

That doesn't mean that every hotel on every island will be fully open. But the latest reports indicate that even the hardest hit islands will be accepting tourists to some, if not most, of their properties.

"I don't think we'll have a great impact from the hurricanes [for the winter season]," Ford-Warner said last week in a telephone interview from London, where she was attending the World Travel Market. There, she said, the Caribbean was receiving very favorable response. Europe supplies 25 percent of all Caribbean tourism.

Even if some islands still can't handle a full complement of tourists, she said, "The Caribbean is a big place, and there are alternatives." If Grand Bahama can't cope with a full load of tourists, minimally damaged neighboring Nassau and other Out Islands of the Bahamas stand ready.

On the positive side of hurricane-wrought damage, repairs and renovations will provide fresher and more modern facilities for tourists.

Meanwhile, new air services promise to make travel to Caribbean points easier and less costly, such as low-cost airlines JetBlue and Song, inaugurating flights from New York to Nassau.

Most of the Bahamas islands -- a string more than 700 miles long -- were spared from the hurricane's wrath. Nassau has been up and running for weeks and is looking forward to new air service from low-cost airlines JetBlue and Song beginning in December.

Hardest hit was Grand Bahama Island, whose port only reopened to cruise ships earlier this month. But Janet Johnson, deputy director of community affairs for the Bahamas Tourist Office, said all major hotels will be open in time for the winter season.

The Sheraton reopened Oct. 14, Johnson noted, and hosted a jazz festival that month. Also open are the Best Western Castaways, Island Palms, Island Seas and Pelican Bay hotels. The Westin reopens Dec. 17, the Wyndham Fortuna Dec. 18, and the Royal Oasis is expected to reopen in December of January.

Hit by two hurricanes, the Old Bahama Bay hotel, the main hotel in Grand Bahamas' West End, expects to reopen in February, according to Jenniver Ehrnan, its vice president of marketing. The Abaco Beach Resort at Marsh Harbour never closed and returned to full operation earlier this month. Other Out Islands of the Bahamas were only minimally affected by the storms and are operating normally, Johnson said.

Source: Jay Clarke, The Miami Herald

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