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Hurricane Gilbert Puts Caribbean Vacation Plans On Hold

September 16, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Television commercials still were inviting viewers to ″come back to Jamaica″ on Tuesday when a Madison Avenue advertising executive managed to get a telex from Kingston to his home office.

″Emergency conditions. Total devastation. ... Cancel all TV and print advertising. Appeal as a national disaster,″ account supervisor Edward Daley cabled to Young & Rubicam Inc.

Daley’s dramatic cable was one of the first attempts by the tourism industry to deal with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Gilbert, the century’s worst storm.

There were few attempts at boosterism Thursday as tourism authorities attempted to assess the damage and help stranded tourists make their way home.

Travel agents, tour operators and airline spokesmen said they were offering rebookings or refunds to anyone who had booked trips for this week or this weekend. For trips farther into the future, policies varied.

A surprising number of tourists did not want to reschedule.

″It’s amazing. People think the storm just came and went and not much really happened,″ said Sisi Gulmez, president of Magnatours Inc., which specializes in Mexico’s Cancun. ″Our future bookings may have slowed down but they have not stopped by any means.″

In Beverly Hills, Calif., travel agency employee Bradley Jones said he was hanging onto his plane reservations for Cancun this coming Tuesday, at least for now.

″I’m thinking of just landing and see what it’s like,″ Jones said. ″I was thinking of doing some camping anyway.″

In New York, ″There’s this man who’s got his vacation and he wants to go (to Jamaica) this Saturday,″ said Dinaz Boga, a spokeswoman for Air Jamaica in New York.

″We don’t want to put these people off because we’d love to have tourism but we want to do it sensibly,″ she said.

In spite of the proliferation of television and newspaper reports from Jamaica, tourism officials said the island remained largely cut off from the outside world.

″We have been answering questions, but it’s very perplexing for us - the frustration because we don’t know what’s going on,″ said Louise Munsch, director of operations and reservations for Sunburst Holidays, one of the major bookers of trips to Jamaica.

Sunburst was offering refunds to anyone who had bookings for the next 10 days. Munsch said most customers with later bookings seemed to be waiting for more information before deciding whether to cancel.

Still, she said, ″I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t concerned.″

Most of the damage was confined to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, raising the possibility that other Caribbean resorts could benefit from the spillover.

On Thursday, for example, two cruise ships docked unexpectedly in Puerto Rico’s San Juan harbor. But Lauren Yankus, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico Tourist Co., said the organization did not want to seem to encourage such detours for fear of seeming to take advantage of others’ misery.

One consolation was that tourism is relatively light in September, largely because people don’t like to visit the islands during hurricane season, said Jack Bloch, owner of JB’s World Travel Consultants in New York.

Commercial flights out of Jamaica resumed Thursday on a limited basis. Only daytime flights were possible because electricity was not fully restored at either airport, said Air Jamaica’s Boga said.

There were plans for about seven flights today, she said.

In Mexico, Mexicana Airlines spokeswoman Ruth Shari reported late Thursday she had received word there were no deaths and no major damage to the hotel and tourism industry.

Club Med Inc. had planes standing by waiting to carry home guests from its Cancun resort as soon as airports reopened, said Jean-Luc Oizan-Chapon, the chief operating officer.

Ms. Shari said there was a chance the airport in Merida, about four hours by car from Cancun, could open by today.

Hurricane Gilbert did not seem to upset Continental Airlines, which chose Wednesday to announce its first expansion into the Caribbean, including daily flights to Jamaica. The service begins Dec. 16.

One man still stranded in Jamaica on Thursday was Daley, the ad man. The roof blew off Daley’s hotel Monday night and the phones were dead, but associates at Young & Rubicam said he managed to find a Japanese employee of the Mitsui & Co. trading company who cabled his message to York on Tuesday.

After taking care of business, Daley wrote, ″Tell family father is OK. Home this weekend (hope).″

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