#TourismResponds

The news is hardly ever uplifting, but lately, even more so. For a naturally anxious person like myself, it’s best to strategize news consumption and find the light that seeps in through the cracks of it all. Lately, I’ve seen the light creep through in one of the most unlikely of places—my inbox. My main role at Tourism Cares is to tell our story—and to tell stories from the #TCCommunity. Recently, we’ve been gathering your stories on how #TourismResponds to the recovery of destinations affected by Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey. You have offered to help us in many ways and sent inspiring stories and bits of hope between the descriptions of hardship, like in this email we received from Sue Schmidt, Volunteer Coordinator at the Pacific Battle Center at the Battleship IOWA Museum:

We’ve got family headed down to St. Thomas on the 10th to do an assessment and see what they can arrange for tools and equipment. It’s really a wreck.  We have elderly family down there as well, and a house in the mangroves that got completely thrashed. It’s hard to get information. The power will probably be out for at least six months and cell service is very spotty. Fuel is in short supply, so even if you have a generator, you may not be able to run it. Most of the supplies that make their way to the Virgin Islands either come from Puerto Rico or Florida . . . no need to explain that one. There’s one guy in the area with a working back hoe who’s in such high demand, he’s charging through the roof. We talked to another close friend down there a couple days ago who said that the toughest part is that it’s so relentless. There’s no power or water and it’s all so damned depressing, especially with all the denuded trees and muck and debris everywhere, what everyone needs is a vacation to recharge their spirits. I guess that’s part of why we’re trying to get the restaurant back online.

Sue frequents St. Thomas and as a result, built a close connection to S.O.S Coffee & Bar owned and run by “a couple of young spark-plugs with tremendous talent, passion and drive.” Sue has put out her own SOS for the restaurant with a GoFundMe Campaign. Every little bit helps.

The ways in which people are helping range from tiny to huge. They are being done by large companies, medium sized ones, start-ups, and individuals—all over the world. There are families who have emailed us asking how they can spend their winter vacation helping areas rebuild. (Pro tip: Use a Good Travels Advisor, a travel agent specialist who can help find reputable volunteer travel options.) Travel businesses in the Caribbean are pooling their resources and helping each other through the One Caribbean Family Initiative, a cause-related marketing campaign exemplifying how we #GiveBetterTogether.

If you want to do something to help tourism recover in hurricane affected places, our list is just a sample of ideas, but the best and most helpful way to help is still to donate and to visit. More than 70% of the Caribbean was not damaged and places in Texas that are ready to receive visitors include Galveston and Houston.

OUR WEDDING PLANNER ANNE TELLING MY DAD AND I SOMETHING IMPORTANT BEFORE THE CEREMONY.

OUR WEDDING PLANNER ANNE TELLING MY DAD AND I SOMETHING IMPORTANT BEFORE THE CEREMONY.

Many of us can relate to Sue. Many of us have connections to the Caribbean, Texas or Florida in one way or another. If you don’t, you may have family or friends who work in the travel industry whose job may be an unfortunate casualty of the next disaster. You know somebody, or somebody who knows somebody or that some body was you at one point after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

My own connection to the Caribbean isn’t uncommon. I’ve been to a few islands on vacation, and I got married in Aruba in 2009. It was a magical celebration in a destination I had never been to, at a venue I only saw pictures of, with the help of a travel agent and event planner I had never met. Their help and service were extraordinary. I could not have done it without the incredible people who went so far as to build wheelchair ramps on the beach to the dance floor so that two of our guests in wheelchairs could celebrate with us. They did not charge extra. They did not laugh in my face when I asked them for this favor on top of my other requests. That’s the mentality of the Caribbean people; they will push the limits to help you (all while smiling! How?!)—and now it’s up to us to do the same.

Please keep sharing your stories with us on social media using #TourismResponds and email me at ellaine.deeken@tourismcares.org. We will update our list periodically, and hope you find a bit of respite, hope and inspiration going through them as I do.