The images of successive hurricanes slamming the Caribbean have scared off tourists in droves, forcing even resorts not remotely touched to offer deals.
The devastation in Grenada, Haiti, Grand Cayman and two islands in the Bahamas has been well-documented. What's missing from the reports is the non-news: the rest of the Caribbean islands, which either escaped altogether or suffered only scattered or minimal damage.
"Anytime something of this magnitude hits any part of the Caribbean, it has an impact on the whole region because people don't have the perspective of how huge the area is, or how localized storm damage can be," said Richard Kahn, head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
The islands of the Caribbean are spread out over more than a thousand miles, the same distance between Florida and Maine, Kahn notes. Even so, misperceptions have so affected bookings that resorts throughout the region are offering deals.
"Sales and promotions are coming out of the woodwork," says Kahn. Although deals are common for the soft shoulder season of October and November, the deals are bigger and more numerous than usual, he said, and many of them remain good until mid-December or so, the start of peak season.
When the CTO asked its members to e-mail The Washington Post with examples, we were overwhelmed with responses. Typically, hotels and resorts offering deals are discounting rates by at least 20 percent; adding free nights to a stay; or tacking on benefits, such as a free car rental, spa treatments or activities.
The Caribbean area was first hit in late August with Hurricane Charley, and in the following September weeks was slammed in quick succession by Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. The islands that escaped all four monsters unscathed include: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Bart's, St. Martin/St. Maarten, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the CTO. Bermuda, which is not in the Caribbean, was also unaffected.
Most are trying to counter the hurricane fallout with deals. With few exceptions, deals are good until Dec. 15 or 20, before the Christmas holiday rush. Kahn said only time will tell if resorts will be forced to extend discounts into the height of winter season.
If you don't care about which island you visit, the best way to find a pre-Christmas deal is to ask a travel agent. If you already have an island in mind, contact that island's tourism department for a list of deals. If you are partial to a particular property, call it directly and ask about special breaks.
Meanwhile, here is a brief sampling of deals on islands not hit by hurricanes. Some restrictions may apply.
* The Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club in Nevis is offering four nights free after a four-night stay in a two-bedroom suite with kitchen. That breaks down to $187.50 per night for a family of four. Info: 800-756-3847, www.mountnevishotel.com.
* Arawak Beach Inn in Anguilla is extending its lowest summer rates, beginning at $99 a night for a double, through Dec. 21 -- a savings of 27 percent over usual fall rates. Info: 877-427-2925, www.arawakbeach.com.
* Most resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands -- St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John -- are offering a fifth night free, a $50 American Express check , a coupon booklet and, when available, a free room upgrade. Rooms must be booked through a travel agent. Details: 800-372-USVI, www.usvitourism.vi.
* Rambutan Villa in Virgin Gorda is offering a free SUV rental for seven days and two in-villa massage or yoga sessions with a seven-day luxury villa booking. A villa for up to four people rents for $4,550 a week. Info: 284-496-7203, www.rambutanvilla.com.
* Deals in Turks & Caicos are numerous, including junior suites at Comfort Suites (877-424-6423 or 649-946-8888, www.choicehotels.com) for $99 a night -- a 25 percent discount. In addition, you get an extra night if you stay a week and up to $100 in food and beverage credits, good through Dec. 19. The Alexandria Resort & Spa is offering a fourth night free after paying daily rates beginning at $225, plus tax. Info: 649-946-5807.
* Resorts in St. Kitts are also jumping into the discount fray. For example, pay for five nights (rates from $69 per night) and get seven at the Angelus Resort (800-621-1270, www.angelusstkitts.com). Or grab a $69-a-night special at the Frigate Bay Resort (800-266-2185, www.frigatebay.com), with stays of at least five nights.
Among the deals being offered on islands hit by one hurricane or more:
* The Westin and Sheraton at Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort on Grand Bahama Island is offering a 25 percent discount and $50 spa certificate. Doubles at the Sheraton begin at $109, and $129 at the Westin. At both properties, kids stay and eat for free. Info: 877-OUR-LUCAYA, www.ourlucaya.com.
* Air Jamaica has put together several special post-hurricane packages. For example, fly from BWI to Negril and stay three nights midweek, all-inclusive, at the ClubHotel Riu Negril for $539, plus tax. An even better deal at a fancier property: three nights at the all-inclusive Wyndham Rose Hall for $519, plus tax. Info: 800-LOVEBIRD, www.airjamaicavacations.com.
For those considering a visit to an island that was damaged by the storms, here's the lowdown on where things stand.
* Grenada. Although 90 percent of the island's homes and public buildings were devastated, the airport is open to regional and international flights, as is the port. If witnessing the damage or helping the island's recovery is part of your vacation dream, there are a number of hotels that suffered minimal damage and have already reopened, including Bel Air Plantation, True Blue Bay Resort, Monmot Hotel and Mariposa Hotel. A few others hope to reopen next month. One major property, the Blue Horizons GardenResort, hopes to reopen in a few months. The Spice Island Beach Resort won't be ready for tourists for a year. Details: www.grenadaemergency.com.
* Haiti. The island has a limited tourist infrastructure and is currently struggling to rescue its indigenous population from disaster, including post-hurricane riots. The U.S. State Department warns that the situation is dangerous and recommends that Americans avoid non-emergency travel until further notice.
* Cayman Islands. Although Little Cayman and Cayman Brac escaped major damage and are currently open for business, Grand Cayman -- which draws the most tourists -- was hit hard. Nearly 5,000 visitors were evacuated before Hurricane Ivan hit, and many major hotels and resorts remain closed. The hotel sector on Grand Cayman "is tentatively looking at reopening a cross-section of accommodations in time for the American Thanksgiving," said Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush. Yet for now, Grand Cayman is not allowing visitors on the island for another four to six weeks. Details: 212-889-9009, www.caymanislands.ky.
* Bahamas. Given that the archipelago stretches 760 miles, it's not surprising that one island could be hit and another escapes. Of the 700 islands and keys, two suffered major damage: Grand Bahama Island in the northern Bahamas and the small Out Island of Abaco. Although the U.S. State Department advises postponing visits to Grand Bahama until public services are restored, a number of resorts have already reopened. Some are hoping to do so Nov. 1; others, including the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach, the Crowne Plaza Golf Resort and Casino at the Royal Oasis and the Old Bahama Bay Resort, plan to resume operations in December. Several properties in Abaco are open; repair work continues on the remainder. Details: www.bahamas.com.
* Dominican Republic. The majority of hotels and resorts suffered no or minimal damage. Ninety percent of them were fully operational within days of Hurricane Jeanne. Those properties that did close were mostly working on repairing flood damage to gardens and ground-floor rooms. In Punta Cana, for example, seven of 40 hotels had to clean up flooded gardens and water in some rooms, said Susana Rosa, a spokeswoman with the Ministry of Tourism. Of those seven resorts, five remain closed and plan to reopen on or about Nov. 1. Details: www.dominicanrepublic.com.
* Jamaica. Although some private homes, farmland and a few hotels in one part of Negril sustained significant damage, most of the tourist infrastructure was untouched, reports Paul Pennicook, Jamaica's director of tourism. "If you land in Montego Bay, you'd have no idea a hurricane had recently occurred," said Kahn, of the CTO. "You'd have to travel 11/2 hours to the beginning of Negril, then another half-hour into Negril to see the area that sustained significant damage." Daily updates on how work is proceeding are posted on the tourism office's Web site: www.visitjamaica.com.