Priscilla Alexander, editor-at-large for Luxury Travel Advisor, shares her insights from a recent trip to Anguilla, which she says is showing very little signs of enduring a devastating hurricane just three months ago, and how now is the perfect time to plan a warm-weather getaway.
It’s tough enough to return to reality the first week of 2018 from a family vacation on the island of Anguilla after a glorious week of sunny days and balmy nights with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Then, to fly into a deep freeze in the northeast strangely named a Bomb Cyclone is enough to wonder if our flight home actually took us to another planet.
I shudder at the thought that this is a harbinger of what to expect through the winter months. But wait; before you bundle up and hunker down there may be a ray of sunshine. Bad weather coming early in the season fires up vacation sales to hot spots. Here is a moment in time to hone your marketing skills to promote an island in the sun and escape those long winter’s nights. Winter vacations, either in the sun or on the slopes, are pretty easy to book and take less planning with the potential to yield rich rewards for travel advisors. So, Polar Vortex, bring it on!
Back to Anguilla: It’s an island in the Caribbean I know intimately, having promoted, sold and personally experienced it for many years. In early September, Anguilla, along with its neighboring islands, found itself smack in the path of one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Because most of the structures on this island are concrete, they survived Irma, albeit with one fatality. While Irma did not wipe out a significant number of properties, it certainly left a trail of havoc and fear compounded by the inaccessibility of help from the outside and a total lack of power, which continued for months.
I heard harrowing tales of how the islanders huddled for hours through the deafening fury and rage of this storm, unsure if they would ever see the light of day again. These Anguillians are tough, loving people in spite of losing their incomes, having no water or power and no insurance to build or repair. They are grateful to be alive, waiting with open arms for tourists to return.
Fast forward: Three months later, I can now say there is no better time to vacation on Anguilla.
Go now before the regulars take over the island. Go now to experience different accommodations rather than the tried and true with all those marketing dollars to promote them. There is a large portfolio of villas and charming small hotels, all fully operational. Your customers will love the authentic character of many of them, not necessarily felt in the larger well known five star resorts. I saw and traveled the island for myself—it’s just 17 miles long and three miles wide at its widest points—to examine its condition. You would not know that a historic storm had swept through this tiny piece of land just months ago. Anguilla would never be described as a highly manicured island except on the resort grounds and some of the magnificent villas. To the casual visitors it looks pretty much the same with some noticeable exceptions of roofs still not repaired on some of the historic stone churches. All power has been restored and the roads are in perfect condition. I have never seen the foliage at this time of year so lush and green. Flowers are blooming, birds are soaring above in the skies and the butterflies are flitting through the branches.
Most important—and why Anguilla is so alluring to tourists—are the beaches. They are as heavenly as ever. We visited many of our favorites walking for miles, digging our toes into the warm white sands, only stopping to take a quick dip in the crystal-clear aqua waters. Many of the ocean-front restaurants and beach food shacks are fully operational. There's nothing better than having a delicious, fairly priced lunch while listening to the great live island musicians. Who can resist a Sunday afternoon eating at Da'Vida with Omarie Banks and his band entertaining for hours? Many of our favorite restaurants are now open throughout the island. What is the difference? Right now you really do not need to fight for reservations. It is also a chance to try some new ones.
Four Seasons Resort and Residences Anguilla
The only giveaway that Hurricane Irma had roared through the island is the slow recovery of the well-known five-star hotels. The good news is that it is finally drawing to a conclusion with Zemi Beach opening in the middle of February, followed by the Four Seasons at the end of March. Dates have been announced for other re-openings sprinkled through the months ahead.
All that is good news but should not stop you from selling and visiting the island now. I like to rely on the Ricketts (264-235-8878) for the latest updates and booking arrangements. They are the most reliable insider information source on the island, having lived there for over 30 years. With 70 percent of the villas and smaller hotels operational, Ricketts will steer you to the properties that pass their personal inspection. They also can make any ground arrangements you might need from the general to even the outlandish.
During our stay, we had the pleasure of hosting the newly appointed British Governor, The Honorable Timothy Foy. Tim (as he prefers to be called) is a most charming, highly motivated representative of the British government anxious to hear both positive and negative comments about the tourism of Anguilla. High on his list of immediate challenges is facing the problem of increasing accessibility to the island by both air and sea. That is certainly important and must be addressed if Anguilla is going to continue to grow and thrive. Along with the Governor came Cardigan Connor, a native Anguillian and British cricket player who many Americans know from his years in the hospitality business. Cardi (as handsome as ever) is now in the Government as Parliamentary Secretary with a portfolio that includes tourism, culture and of course sports.
Let us hope that these fine gentlemen bring a new energy to jump start opportunities for the kind and warm-hearted people of Anguilla who rely 100 percent on tourism.