Hurricane policies ease fears

Tourists who have booked or are contemplating booking their vacation this hurricane season can have a portion of their fears eased by the hurricane policies provided by some resorts on Grand Cayman.

Some visitors travelling to the Caribbean this summer booked with apprehension following last year’s active hurricane season and earlier this summer some resorts reported that tourism on Grand Cayman was going through a hurricane hangover following Hurricane Ivan’s destructive path near the island last September.

So it must be reassuring and encouraging for tourists or potential tourists that a range of policies allow for a free stay at a later date or a refund on their accommodation in the event of a hurricane affecting the island.

Courtyard by Marriott General Manager Steven Schwartz outlined how his resort’s hurricane policy works.

‘If there is a category three or more hurricane in our general area then we have a full refund cancellation policy,’ he said. However, if a hurricane is not heading towards Grand Cayman or is below a category three then a zero cost re-booking is allowed within 12 months for guests wishing to leave the island.

‘I guess it’s like an insurance policy,’ explained Mr. Schwartz. ‘I guess it gives guests some peace of mind.’ The resort’s hurricane policy had been in place before Hurricane Ivan, Mr. Schwartz affirmed. He added that the smart traveller takes out travel insurance to cover all types of events or catastrophes. ‘I would generally recommend it,’ he said.

The Westin Hotel in Grand Cayman has its hurricane guarantee outlined on its website which says that in the event of a hurricane on Grand Cayman, The Westin Casuarina Resort will replace a guest’s vacation for the entire duration of the reservation. This guarantee applies to room and applicable taxes. Some of the stipulations that apply include taking replacement vacation at the resort within a calendar year and reservations must be made on a space available basis. It also says that guests holding confirmed and fully deposited reservations (and are within the non-refundable deposit window) that are unable to travel to the resort due to a hurricane closing Grand Cayman’s airport or the resort will be given the option of a full refund or a one room category upgrade, based on space availability on their next visit, within one calendar year.

Comfort Suites does not charge cancellation fees in the event of a hurricane.

‘We only charge people for the amount of days they’ve stayed with us. Most people don’t pay until they are leaving anyway, so we very rarely need to give refunds,’ said Mr. Brian Shiels, General Manager.

The Reef Resort’s website reads, ‘In the unlikely event that hurricane force winds directly hit The Reef while you are a guest, we will offer a free replacement stay for the same duration as the one originally booked, regardless of how many days were affected by hurricane force winds’.

Guests holding a confirmed reservation who are unable to travel to The Reef because of the closing of the Grand Cayman airport or the resort due to implementation of a National Hurricane Plan have the option of a full refund or a one-category room upgrade on the next visit taken within the next 12 months. In the event any diving is affected by the implementation of a National Hurricane Plan, a full refund on any missed diving will be given.

Although hurricane guarantees were not strictly part of their policy, other resorts found workable ways to restore days to guests following Hurricane Ivan. Operating, as it does, as a 100 per cent timeshare business, the Grand Caymanian is making up to its clients who lost time because of Hurricane Ivan, and although it is not obliged to do so in the case of an act of God, the resort has found a workable way to give members their weeks back.

The Department of Tourism believes that offering a ‘hurricane guarantee’ where guests know upfront what their options are to re-book in the event a hurricane threatens during their scheduled vacation time, is a good way to bolster business during Hurricane season. The DoT has said it encourages properties to consider developing their own hurricane guarantee policies and get this message out to travel partners, saying that many times a full refund is not necessary – instead giving the consumer the ability to rebook without a penalty is sufficient.

A posting on (Fodor’s Travel Guides) from June 2005 centres on a young man’s concerns about booking a honeymoon in the Caribbean this August. He outlines how his fiancé wants to pick a destination that she sees as low risk for hurricanes, but he wants the Bahamas or Cayman style beaches ‘as far as the eye can see’.

‘We’re closing ourselves off from the islands with the best beaches, allegedly because we want lower risk of hurricanes, but I’m seriously wondering if we’ve really lowered that risk at all,’ he says.

Another posting advises the man to visit Cayman. ‘If you want Grand Cayman, go there. Buy the insurance and hope for the best. If it gets cancelled, you can always go a month later. Not ideal, but you get to go where you want. I believe the Westin Hotel offers a hurricane guarantee.’