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After Dorian, Bahamas prepares for another hit — to its crucial tourism industry

Chabeli Herrera, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

COCOCAY, Bahamas -- As tourists zipped down water slides, zoomed along zip lines and zig zagged between bustling shops, crowded pools and cabanas, it would be difficult to say that things at Royal Caribbean International's private island, "Perfect Day at CocoCay," were anything other than the name advertised Sunday, only a week since the passage of Hurricane Dorian.

Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" was even blasting from the speakers at one point.

The island, just 30 miles from where the eye wall of Dorian carved a path of destruction across the northern Bahamas, welcomed its first cruise ships back over the weekend -- at least one of which, just last week, was offloading supplies in the ravaged city of Freeport and picking up evacuees heading to Nassau.

So is the case in the Bahamas now: In an archipelago that counts the $4.3 billion tourism industry as king -- it makes up more than 50% of its gross domestic product -- vacations exist alongside relief efforts.

In Nassau, tourists perused the shops by the port while on the other side of the city, ships ferried in hundreds of evacuees from the Abacos, where Dorian hit, many of them hungry, newly homeless and carrying with them only the shirts on their backs. Even in CocoCay, where all seems in regular order, hundreds of people worked tirelessly after the passage of the storm to clear the debris, bricks and sand that had washed in with Dorian so that by Saturday, travelers could do what they do best: spend money.

They were doing just that in a straw market run by Bahamians from the island next door, Great Harbour Cay, when Mariner of the Seas pulled into port Sunday.

 

"I really thought we weren't going to work for at least a month," said Denise Sawyer, one of the vendors.

But CocoCay got lucky. It just missed the worst of the storm, getting tropical storm-force winds. Royal brought in 40 contractors from Nassau and hired about another 50 people from the neighboring island to assist with the cleanup, in addition to its 300 employees, many of whom are local Bahamians. By Sunday, 70% of the cleanup was done.

Sawyer returned to work sooner than expected, but the ensuing months are more uncertain. Will people skip the Bahamas altogether because they think Dorian devastated the entire chain, when in reality it hit two out of the more than 700 islands in the archipelago? Geography suddenly becomes critically important.

"A lot of persons think all of the Bahamas is gone, the entire thing," Sawyer said. "You know, something like this, even around the world, when people see devastation like this they tend to hold back ... on what they plan on doing."

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