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Nov 2, 2001

Tourists on hurricanes: how much do they know?

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When the red flag went up on Thursday, every Belizean who saw it twisting in the wind knew what it meant. But what about visitors to the country? Do they even understand the risks associated with a hurricane? News 5′s Brent Toombs visited popular tourist destination Caye Caulker today, and the answers he got to those very questions might surprise you.

Brent Toombs, Reporting

Following the massive devastation caused by Hurricanes Keith and Iris; plus close calls with Chantal and Michelle; not to mention a brush from Mitch, hurricane awareness is at an all time high. As far as most Belizeans are concerned, hurricanes have now been re-classified from rarities to certainties.

But is our newfound acceptance of mother nature’s destructive power shared by the people who choose to visit Belize during the most active portion of the Hurricane season? In fact, do tourists know anything about what the weather could have in store for them in this region at this time of year?

Brent Toombs

“When is the hurricane season in the Caribbean?”

New Zealand Man

“About now. We realise now it happens in the October month.”

Brent Toombs

“When is hurricane season?”

Dutch Woman

(Laughs) Right now?”

Barbara MacIntyre, Manager, Seaside Cabanas

“I think the majority of people that come to Caye Caulker this time of year are totally unaware that this is the highest point for hurricanes in this area.”

As manager of one of the most popular hotels on Caye Caulker, Barbara MacIntyre answers around three hundred email inquiries per month from potential visitors. Most deal with lodging and recreation options. Very few ever mention hurricanes.

Barbara MacIntyre

“I think people that come to stay in Caye Caulker or come to stay in Belize are poorly educated on when the hurricane season is at its greatest. I don’t think it’s really an issue for when they come to Belize.

People who have come to Belize have no idea about Hurricane Keith. Many of them have no idea about Placencia’s damage from Iris. They have just been ill-informed and are still planning on going to Placencia and staying in the hotel they had wanted to book.”

For those tourists who have been on Caye Caulker the past few days, Hurricane Michelle should have provided a crash course on hurricane awareness. Yet while a few people were paying attention to weather updates, most visitors seemed to be more concerned with typical holiday activities such as making new friends over cocktails, frolicking in the sea, or working on the perfect tan. And whether or not they knew much about hurricane season before this week, most tourists agree that the potential for extreme weather did not factor into their travel plans.

Brent Toombs

“Did you guys give any consideration for the timing of your trip?”

Colorado Couple

“Yeah. This is when the kids get fall break.”

New Zealand Man

“This is the only time we could get off and we always wanted to come here, so we had to run a bit of a risk in coming here during hurricane season.”

Dutch Woman

“I heard about it, I thought about it, but you’re travelling so you just hope you’ll be okay.”

New Zealand Woman

“I think we’re reasonably safe here because you get thirty-six hours warning, so I think we’re alright.”

Tracy Taegar, the director of the Belize Tourism board, says she is not surprised that hurricanes are not much of a consideration for people planning a trip to our region this time of year.

Tracy Taegar, Director of Tourism

“Certainly their awareness is not as great as ours, they are here on vacation, to forget the cares of the world and to forget their troubles and just have a good time.”

But with a perceived increase in hurricane activity, coupled with the Wave Dancer tragedy during Iris, the BTB understands the need to reassure potential visitors.

Tracy Taegar

“It is a fact that we live in a hurricane belt and that we’ve had three hurricanes in four years. We don’t steer away from that truth. The reality though, is that before this experience we didn’t have a hurricane for thirty years. So I think Belize is relatively safe and we say that. But we also say that there is a National Emergency Plan and visitors are included in that plan.

Barbara MacIntyre

“And when there is the least little bit of threat to Caye Caulker we warn our guests that there might be an evacuation. Certainly, anybody that wants to go, we would never penalise for their booking plans. Their money would be refunded and they are encouraged to go early, so as not to have a lot of tourists leaving at the last minute.

With tourism showing a steady growth of three to four percent during the so-called “slow season”, it seems as even an increase in nasty weather will not deter visitors from enjoying the jewel.

Barbara MacIntyre

“Traditionall, you look at people going to Miami, people are going to Jamaica, and all of them have a certain amount of threats. Even when you’re living in the states, there is a threat of something wherever you live. So people are willing to overlook it and enjoy their holiday. Belize has a lot to offer and people don’t seem to be discouraged.”

Reporting for News 5, Brent Toombs.

According to Taegar, interest in Placencia is still strong and a number of foreigners want to know just how soon they can visit. Hotel owners and tour operators in the coastal community say they hope to begin to receive a limited number of tourists by the end of November.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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