Should we go to Florida? The ethics of travel after a hurricane.

On Visit Floridaclick on the “South-West” region of the map and a link takes you to Barefoot Beach in Naples. In the photo, beachgoers are lounging on the white sand, a gentle breeze barely ruffling the umbrellas. Wavelets ripple in the Gulf of Mexico. You want to be there, but you’ll have to wait – weeks or even months, depending on Hurricane Ian recovery efforts and your own ethical calculations.

A responsible return of tourism “depends on the location and the level of devastation,” said Stephanie Murphy, vice president of preparedness, resilience and emergency management at Tidal pool, a disaster preparedness and recovery consulting firm. “Everyone’s moral code must also come into play.”

No two natural disasters are alike and no recovery timeline is the same. Some destinations will quickly snag the “Welcome Back” sign; others will keep it for an indefinite period.

If you find yourself conflicted with the idea of ​​vacationing in a destination that has experienced loss, here is balm for your soul: as soon as the infrastructure can accommodate tourists, your visit will support the local economy, fill the tax coffers and, above all, reassure the inhabitants that they are not alone.

“It’s reasonable to feel uncomfortable, but it’s not insensitive,” says Josh Dozor, managing director of the risk assessment company for the Americas. International SOS. “People want to get back to normal, and tourism is part of that normal. Seeing tourists is a sign that everything is going to be fine.

7 things to know about traveling during hurricane season

Puerto Rico tourism rebounds

Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona on September 18, rebounded quickly. Brad Dean, CEO of the Tourism Marketing Organization Discover Puerto Ricocalled the storm a “temporary disruption”.

With the exception of the southwest region of the island, the majority of hotels, attractions and beaches have reopened, if they had closed at all. Five days after Fiona made landfall, Journey performed in front of 18,000 spectators in San Juan. This week, El Yunque National Forest opened, although a few of its damaged trails remain closed.

“Fiona caused a setback but not a reset,” Dean said. “Visitors started coming back within two weeks of landing.”

Southwest Florida still in recovery mode

More than a thousand miles to the north, communities in southwest Florida are still assessing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian, which Puerto Rico knows all too well after Hurricane Maria hit the island a while ago. five years.

“We ask visitors to put their travel plans on hold for the time being,” said Tamara Pigott, executive director of Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureauwhich includes some of the hardest hit cities, such as Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel.

DT Minich, President and CEO of Discover Kissimmeeis no stranger to disasters: he was working in tourism when hurricanes Charley and Wilma (2004 and 2005, respectively) and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010) rocked Florida. He said local governments will not sugarcoat the situation and invite tourists to return prematurely.

“They’re trying to clean up and rebuild,” he said of his neighbors about 150 miles to the southwest. “They don’t want or need visitors at the moment.” He added that the Kissimmee area will be fully operational this weekend, when wild florida and Gator Land will fully reopen after experiencing flooding.

How Fiona was a different type of storm than Maria

How to know if it’s good to go

If the government or tourism officials ask tourists to postpone their trips, travelers should heed their request. But the question of whether to visit, and when, is murkier without such a clear guideline. Intelligence and introspection can lead you to the right answer.

“When is it more ethical not to go and when is it responsible to go?” said Claire Bennett, co-founder of learning service, a voluntourism company, who lived in Nepal during the 2015 earthquake. “The cruelty and trauma of natural disasters cannot be ignored. Before you go, you need to be sure of your goal. Are you going there to do volunteer work or for sightseeing? Are your interests appropriate in the current climate?

Recovery and restore operations occur in stages. Dozor said leisure travelers should avoid locations during the early response and immediate recovery phases, when critical services and utilities are still down. A “stabilized” environment, he said, “is achieved when essential lifelines are operational, but not yet fully restored or repaired.”

Obviously, travelers cannot visit if airports or major arteries are closed and critical bridges are down, such as the Sanibel Causeway. Even though commercial flights have resumed and cars are back on the road, Dozor advises travelers not to visit a destination struggling with widespread power outages, compromised road accessibility, inoperative cell towers, security advisories, boiling water or besieged hospitals.

“Those are good indicators not to go there,” he said.

Disney World reopens after Hurricane Ian

One of the consequences of travelers returning too soon is that they can put negative pressure on fragile or fractured infrastructure and drain already scarce resources.

Lodgings often house survivors, first responders and contractors, so room availability may be restricted. Short-term rentals may also be scarce: Last week, Airbnb announced that it would provide vouchers to displaced residents of Florida’s Lee and Charlotte counties. Power lines and fallen trees can block transportation routes, affecting food and fuel supplies.

“A general rule of thumb would be to expect your presence to be more of a benefit to the affected community than a hindrance,” said Tim Dean, lead philosopher of the Ethics Center In Sydney. “This means being aware of the needs and challenges of the community and making sure not to consume resources such as food, shelter or electricity that the community or essential workers may need during recovery.”

For the latest recovery updates, check the websites or social media accounts of local governments, tourist offices and emergency management services. Also contact your hotel for the condition of the accommodations. (Try emailing if the property’s landline isn’t working.) Many amenities may not be available: the pool may be filled with debris, the fitness center plunged into darkness , the lobby mini-market snack shelves are bare.

“You have to manage your expectations,” Dozor said.

What to expect when you arrive

Dozor encourages travelers to be prepared for disaster-related challenges. For example, renting a car could be difficult if the storm has wiped out inventory or aid organizations have broken down rental vehicles.

Bring a substantial amount of cash in case ATMs run out of bills and credit card machines break down due to power outages. Print or retrieve maps in case your navigation apps can’t connect. Dozor also advises against driving beyond a tank of gas to and from, in case you can’t find an open gas station.

When interacting with locals, be sensitive to what they have been through and are going through. Shower them with kindness and empathy. “The staff may be tired or new,” Murphy said. “Be more patient than usual.”

Recovery experts urge travelers to stick to commercial areas, which often rebound faster than residential neighborhoods, and leave the most devastated sections to heal on their own. “Don’t do disaster tourism. Do not try to find affected areas,” Murphy said. “Be respectful and go to tourist areas.”

How to help in the field

For travelers looking to volunteer, Murphy cautions against showing up to a nonprofit or charity out of the blue. Your sudden appearance could disrupt the flow and order. Also, don’t drop off items that aren’t on an organization’s wish list. “It overwhelms the system,” Murphy said.

Katie Wilkes, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, said a monetary donation is preferable to household items and other products, which she said “take away valuable resources like time, money and the energy of the response operation”.

To help point you in the right direction, before you leave, contact a local or national non-profit or non-governmental organization, such as American Red Cross, United Way, World Central Cuisine Where Crisis cleaning, an online platform that manages recovery events. You can also approach humane societies and animal shelters, which will have an influx of dogs and cats in need of food, blankets and comfort.

And, of course, spending money on local establishments can boost the destination’s economy and spirits.

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