Hurricane season – the experts speak

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The hurricane season is a bit like a letter from the nasty chap at HMRC – you know that each year it’s inevitable that it will show up but there isn’t much you can do about it. Catchy names for the 2009 season include Gonzalo, Isaias and Paulette while Gustav, Ike and Paloma, all the rage in 2008, are out of the rotating list for the foreseeable future. NASA has even got in on the hurricane act with a particularly nice graphic of the 2008 season set to a nice island beat.

We’ve asked some clients who are experts on the region for their thoughts on hurricanes and what it means to them:

Paul Bondsfield, PR Manager at Explore:

“Official figures suggest that the numbers and intensities of hurricanes have decreased (sharply in some areas) over the past 150 years – so hurricane season in the Caribbean is perhaps not as big a problem as common perception has it.

“Most of our itineraries in Central America that are in the ‘hurricane zone’ (Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and, to a lesser extent, Panama) spend more time inland than they do by the coast, so if a hurricane does hit, our itineraries are often unaffected or need only small changes. Once a hurricane hits land it quickly looses strength and becomes a storm.

“The exceptions are Cuba and the Windward Isles, where hurricanes will rage across the islands and are not dissipated by the land. We only operate one tour to the Windward Isles during the hurricane season and this is in July (the peak of the hurricane season tends to be in September), so it’s not normally affected. If a hurricane did hit during the tour, we would follow local evacuation procedures or keep the group in the hotel until the storm had passed.

“Sometimes the authorities will shut a place down – e.g. Havana – and then our groups may have to spend a few days there while the storm passes. If this is the case then we make the best of it, and a kind of ‘wartime’ atmosphere can develop, with everyone helping each other out. In the past we have also upgraded our groups to a higher standard hotel with more facilities to keep them occupied while the hurricane passes.

“Our local agents and Explore have years of experience in dealing with hurricanes, which is why we are happy to operate tours during hurricane season. Group safety is our top priority: we closely monitor the hurricane warning websites and FCO advice, while also doing our best to ensure minimal disruption to itineraries. That said, sometimes a change of itinerary can lead to ‘unexpected adventures’, which turn out to be the most memorable bit of the holiday!”

Steve Diederich, MD at Captivating Cuba:
“Hurricane Season in Cuba is June to October, although tropical storms continue into November. Cuba in general is rarely affected by Caribbean hurricanes and tropical storms, as they generally pass by the island – Hurricane Ike being an unfortunate exception last year. On the occasions when hurricanes do strike, Cuba is far and away the most prepared Caribbean country: it mass-mobilises its army, and quickly transfers those in affected areas to incredibly-nice bunkers, complete with catering, schools, the usual high level of Cuban healthcare, and other facilities. This is typical Cuba: a sleepy, dreamy, timelost paradise in many ways, but wonderfully efficient in many others.”

“November’s the start of high-season, so if you wanted to risk inclement weather in the interest of a better price and fewer tourists, early to mid October is the time to visit.”

Lloyd Boutcher, Director of Sunvil Traveller’s “real Latin America” range:
“We warn all our clients about the hazards of the hurricane season, although patterns have become much less predictable, which makes it far trickier. We have local agents spread across the whole country who feed back any relevant information. If necessary we will take the precaution of moving clients to the interior in the case of an advancing hurricane which mainly strikes the coastal resorts. If it does strike, then we will have people on the ground immediately to deal with the situation. If deemed necessary, a senior member of Sunvil’s management team will fly out to assist the operation.”

Derek Moore, AITO Chairman, says:
“Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean and it makes sense to take precautions when travelling to the region. The best advice I can offer is to ensure you have booked with a reputable tour operator or travel agent, should you encounter a hurricane during your holiday then it’s the responsibility of the tour operator to sort out your arrangements. That could be getting you home on another airline, moving hotels or adding additional dates – if you booked independently then you could be tossed out of your hotel should they decide to close or if you’re unable to get to the airport for your flight you could find yourself having to rebook another flight at your own expense. There are some great deals to be had in the Caribbean at the moment with tour operators so don’t be put off by hurricanes, just be sensible when booking your holiday.” Ian Bradley.


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