Courier December Courier - Page 42

COMPASS Gulf Coast COMPILED BY BOB ROUSE Caring for Gulf Coast neighbors As we pointed out in last month’s focus on Caribbean members, the 2017 hurricane season was a difficult one. While many destinations along the U.S. Gulf Coast were spared the ravages of Harvey, Irma and Nate, others suffered damage—from slight to significant. As usual, Tourism Cares, NTA’s official philanthropy, is providing help for communities in need. Along with establishing a recovery fund, Tourism Cares is organizing volunteer work projects for 2018 in South Florida and New Orleans. For more infor- mation, see the article on page 8 or visit tourismcares.org. Recovering, relaxing and reveling in the Keys Anyone who has ever enjoyed fishing, snorkeling, dining or sunning in the Florida Keys was likely watching weather forecasts in early September with dread. Their concerns were justified, says Judy Hull, executive director of the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce. “Most of our luxury resorts are located on the ocean, and Irma was definitely an ocean event,” she says. “Our resorts suffered major wind and water damage.” While some of the resorts might take up to a year to reopen, Hull anticipates about half the island’s lodging rooms being online when the calendar turns to 2018. “By January we should be back to normal. Every day we are making progress towards cleaning up the Keys.” That means groups will be able to enjoy sightseeing excur- sions, dining, shopping, fishing and water sports. “All of these will be back to normal and just fine for 2018,” she says. 38 December 2017 A special group of residents is already looking for visitors. “The dolphins at Theater of the Sea are missing the interac- tion with their fans,” Hull says. The marine mammal park, an Islamorada mainstay for more than 75 years, suffered storm damage to the landscaping but reopened in October. Hull says that most tour groups visit Islamorada while exploring the entire chain of islands, from Key Largo to Key West. “They are typically doing one week with their final destination being Key West,” she says. “Fall is always the best bargain for visiting the Keys, and groups often schedule their tours in conjunction with an event like Fantasy Fest.” That annual event, set for Oct. 19–28 in 2018, attracts up to 75,000 people in celebration of the Key West culture. For further updates and information, email Hull at director@ islamoradachamber.com or visit islamoradachamber.com.