The road to recovery: How the British Virgin Island’s tourism industry is reshaping the Caribbean
Devastation struck on September 6, 2017, when Hurricane Irma plowed through the British Virgin Islands. The most powerful Atlantic hurricane to ever strike land caused more damage than experts predicted and left most of the Caribbean islands to rebuild after it pummeled through.
The destruction affected entire structures, homes, agriculture and cell phone towers. And nearly a year later, most of the Caribbean is still working through the damage -- but all hope isn't lost. For parts of the Caribbean like the British Virgin Islands, the tragedy has encouraged the community to shift its focus to rebuilding its tourism and strengthening the economy.
With tourism being one of the biggest contributors to the British territory's economy it makes complete sense how swiftly and diligently the road to recovery has been for the Virgin Islands. In the 2017 economic impact research conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council, British Virgin Island's direct contribution of travel and tourism to the GDP was $332.6 million and the total contribution was $929.5 million.
One resident in particular, Sharon Flax-Brutus, the director of tourism, has big rehabilitation plans. "Being the director at this time, it forces you to be a bit more innovative. You have to think 'How do you go from having over 1 million visitors a year and having your numbers drop by over 300,000. How do you bring it back and continue to encourage the industry to move forward?'" says the director. "It's presented some opportunities for me in terms of career and looking at how we can keep the industry energized. In my estimation, it's going to be two years before we're fully back at pre-storm levels and how do we maintain for those two years and how do we keep BVI at top of mind in the Caribbean space," she continued.
Since assuming the coveted position, she has fought ambitiously against the devastation that shook the nation. "We like to tell the story that the BVI is being reborn. It takes nine months for a baby to gestate and we're in the rebirth stage of BVI," the director anecdotally described the road to BVI's recovery. Today, Flax-Brutus is working hard to rebuild all of BVI’s most prominent hotel resorts as well as introducing a few new vacation destinations on the island.
"Pre-storm we were a Rosewood or a Ritz-Carlton and I'd like us to come back at a Six Senses standard," the businesswoman said.
Currently, Flax-Brutus’ team at the Department of Tourism is putting a majority of their efforts in marketing and PR as well as product development and destination training -- meaning liaising with multiple government agencies in addition to working with the national parks.
The team also recently partnered with Seeds of Love, a campaign aimed at planting trees all across the British Virgin Islands in order to make the island “strong and green” by protecting against erosion and building a natural safe haven that will rebuild the entire ecosystem that relies on the vegetation. As of today, the organization has planted 3,000 fruit trees and among the thousands of trees were donations from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
While the road to recovery has not happened overnight, the Department of Tourism is optimistic the revamped British Virgin Islands will look better than it ever has before.