Late 2017 saw an unprecedented increase in hurricane activity around the Caribbean, with the Atlantic Hurricane Season being one of the most active seasons on record. With 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes (category 3 or higher) happening almost consecutively, many islands were left with a trail of destruction. Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma produced more than a quarter trillion dollars in insured and uninsured losses.
Dominica was one of the islands hit hardest by Hurricane Maria. The category 5 storm ripped through the tiny country in mid-September, and living conditions have been tough ever since. However, the government has been working hard to bring normality back to the population, and a number of programmes have been launched to raise money to fund the regeneration of the island.
Before Hurricane Maria, Dominica had a burgeoning tourism sector largely fuelled by ecotourism and cruise liner visitors. However, the natural disaster saw 40% of the island’s 909 hotel rooms destroyed. To help the island generate much needed funds, the hospitality sector needs to recover as soon as possible to attract tourists once more. Whether this is in the form of hotels, restaurants, or even the upkeep of the country’s beautiful sandy beaches, the government is working hard to rebuild and restore the stunning country with various investments.
One of the biggest streams of investment in the hospitality industry comes from the country’s booming citizenship by investment programme. By contributing a significant amount of money to the Dominican economy, or buying a piece of pre-approved real estate on the island, investors are able to help rebuild the country, and gain Dominican citizenship in exchange.
Funds raised through the programme have helped to rebuild, expand, and reopen some of the hotels. In February 2018, the Fort Young hotel partially reopened, following its initial phase of renovations and expansion. The hotel started with 41 of its 72 rooms, as well as core hotel amenities, such as the pool, waterfront bar, room service, and spa services. Now, new experiences are opening for guests, including a poolside bar, thanks to the funding to the hospitality service.
Six months on from the hurricane, Dominica had already made major progress in restoring its tourist infrastructure for tourists and other guests. As of March 2018, many essential services and amenities were fully operational, as well as transportation in and around the island, and almost 50% of the developing hotel rooms around the island were open. The majority of the sights and attractions were also up and running, ready for the tourists during the summer season.
Tree-planting initiatives are helping to solve the food crisis
Following the hurricane, transport into the island was severely affected, leaving the population stranded. It was estimated that around 24,000 people were left severe or borderline food insecure as a result. The government launched a tree-planting initiative, encouraging families all around Dominica to plant a fruit-bearing tree, stating “it is important that we continue to feed ourselves as a nation”.
The Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit shared a photo to his Facebook, encouraging the scheme, claiming that he and a team of volunteers spent time planting over 80 trees, including avocado, soursop, carambolas, cashews, cocoa, coffee, mangoes, guavas, and cherries.
Being able to rely on its own food resources ensures that the island depends less on importing food, which may not be as affordable following natural disasters such as hurricanes. This also helps farmers get back on their feet by tending to the new plants, and offering the chance to sell the fruit in order to generate an income.
Voluntourism is helping the island find its feet again
In order to bounce back as quickly as possible following the hurricane season, Dominica needed help. For many people around the world, this was a great opportunity to go travelling while simultaneously helping out those in need. This type of travelling has been coined “voluntourism”, and includes special holiday packages where tourists can stay on the island, help to clean up roads and tourist sites, and then return back home.
The country has benefited from voluntourism scheme massively. Sites like the Indian River, the Waitukubuli National Trail, and dive sites have all been almost cleaned up thanks to the work of volunteers. Travel agency MotMot are offering conscientious travellers the chance to help clear up the 114-mile Waitukubuli National Trail, which is still not completely clear, and therefore not open to hikers. The trip includes seven days on the island, four of which include working to clear debris and overhang from the forest to help get the trail back up and running. Thanks to voluntourists, locals, international investors and productive government initiatives, Dominica is now fully back on track and making impressive strides to further develop.
Dominica is working to become a climate-resilient nation
Following the devastating hurricane season, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit pledged to rebuild Dominica into the world’s first fully climate-resilient nation. The PM managed to get the attention of investors and donors around the world, with support coming from the Clinton Foundation, the World Bank, Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, and various aid groups. The concept is simple enough — replace the damaged buildings and bridges with hurricane-resistant versions. This includes having steeper roof angles to better withstand wind, and using durable engineering to strengthen inner frames.
The government conceived the Climate Resilient Execution Agency for Dominica (CREAD) to handle these changes, and the group has already made plans with the World Bank to promote the use of renewable and resilient energy. This includes constructing geothermal power plants in order to displace diesel generation and reduce electricity costs. CREAD has also made plans to build more, and higher seawalls, create sheltered harbors, higher riverbanks, and bury electrical wires to further protect them from adverse weather. In some extreme cases, entire towns have had to be relocated in order to better accommodate for these changes. While this is increasing the cost of rebuilding the country, these changes could help drastically reduce the time Dominica needs to recover from further hurricanes, ultimately making the island hurricane-proof.
Despite the challenges, the people of Dominica have been working hard to rebuild the nation, and protect houses and businesses against any future hurricane damage. Whether this is in the form of encouraging investors and volunteers, or through smarter rebuilding, Dominica has recovered impressively fast from the devastating hurricane season of 2017. PM Skerrit recently announced that the country’s Citizenship by Investment alone is currently funding the construction of 5000 new, durable homes, creating 1000+ jobs, contributed to the National Health Insurance pilot, saving 16 children in the past year, and further developing four world-class hotels, which, in turn boost the tourism sector and the country’s economy. Investors worldwide that opted to become citizens of Dominica have something to be proud of.