In September 2017, Dominica was pummelled by Hurricane Maria during one of the most devastating hurricane seasons on record. The category 5 storm mercilessly tore through the country, killing 65 people, damaging up to 98% of Dominica’s buildings, and causing more than $1.3 billion worth of damages and losses.
This devastation had a significant effect on the island’s economic lifeblood—its tourism industry. Approximately 40% of Dominica’s hotel rooms were destroyed while many of the most popular visitor sites were ruined. The repercussions were immediately felt, with an 88.4% drop in visitors during the first half of 2018. With an economy so reliant on tourism, one of the island’s many priorities was to recover from the damage done to this industry and, miraculously, it seems to have managed. Dominica reported a strong 2018 fourth-quarter performance, welcoming 22,178 arrivals during this time, a massive 95% increase on the same period in 2017. Here’s how the tiny country made its recovery.
Investment programmes gave hospitality businesses a lifeline
With the country’s hospitality industry in tatters, the Dominican government moved quickly to try and get its hotels up and running again. One main contributor to this renewal has been the country’s citizenship by investment program, which significantly helped fund the hospitality industry’s campaign to rebuild. Run by the government’s Citizenship by Investment Unit, this scheme involves donations from foreign investors, in return for Dominican citizenship. These contributions are made either through various public sector projects, or by purchasing real estate, both of which help support the rebuilding, expansion, and reopening of hotels affected by the hurricane.
Just a few months on from the disaster, the Fort Young hotel partially reopened. This included 41 out of its 71 rooms, plus amenities like its pool, bar, and spa services. In the following three months, the hotel reported strong booking figures, showing a clear positive impact from the program. Many other hotels funded by citizenship by investment have re-opened or are set to, including the Secret Bay—with all-new private plunge pools and an eatery already available across six villas —and Soufriere-based Jungle Bay, which will re-open in June. Meanwhile, new resorts are also in the pipeline until full completion, thanks in no small part to money from international CBI participants.
Government funding and “voluntourists” helped tourist sites recover
The government pumped around $6 million into the reconstruction and repair of popular tourist attractions after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. In fact, 21 out of 23 of the top sites visited by tourists re-opened between January and September 2018. The Ministry of Tourism has also used the money to improve the country’s marketing, as a way to encourage tourists to keep coming back.
Besides funding rehabilitation projects with its own efforts, Dominica relied on the help of volunteers from around the world to clean up tourist sites. For these travellers, the situation represented the perfect opportunity to experience a beautiful Caribbean island while simultaneously helping it to bounce back from disaster. Called “voluntourism”, its impact on Dominica has been huge.
By clearing debris and overhang from forests, as well as removing garbage from the sea to protect wildlife, popular sites like Trafalgar Falls, the Syndicate Nature Trail, and Freshwater Lake were able to reopen. However, locations like the 114-mile Waitukubuli National Trail are still in need of further work, primarily due to its sheer scale. As the work requires no training, almost anyone can sign up, and hotels like Fort Young are even offering voluntourism holiday packages.