Tourism dodges a major blow from Dean

In the wake of Hurricane Dean's Category 5 landfall on Mexico's southern Yucatan Peninsula this week, one of the loudest sounds was a collective sigh of relief from tourism marketers. Though tens of thousands of vacationers had been evacuated early or delayed their arrivals as Dean approached, the monster storm had little or no effect on most hotels and other tourist attractions in its path.

Dean, the first hurricane of what forecasters expect will be a busier-than-normal Atlantic season, brushed Martinique, St. Lucia and Dominica, hugged the south coast of Jamaica and skirted the Cayman Islands before coming ashore south of Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, a swath of beach resorts from Puerto Aventuras to Tulum.

Hardest hit was Mexico's 6-year-old Costa Maya, a popular cruise port that was built from the ground up in a lightly populated area about a five-hour drive south of Cancun, close to the Belize border. Dean's eye passed near Costa Maya and the village of Majahual with sustained winds of 165 mph, and reconstruction of Costa Maya's infrastructure and cruise pier is expected to take at least six months. Until then, cruise lines — which had scrambled their Western Caribbean itineraries this week to avoid Dean's path — will likely substitute calls at Belize City and Roatan, Honduras.

There was some damage in northern Belize, where Dean's southern edge brought local flooding and large waves. Tourist officials said resort islands Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, which were evacuated before the storm, had "limited structural damage, battered foliage, debris and some beach erosion," but most hotels have reopened. (For updates, visit belizeemergency.net.)

Jamaica was still restoring power and under a state of public emergency Thursday after Dean pummeled the island Sunday. But most hotels and attractions are open in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril and other areas on the touristed north shore. On the other side of the 7,500-foot Blue Mountains, along the less-developed south coast, Jake's Resort on Treasure Beach suffered some structural damage and will reopen Sept. 28. (For updates: visitjamaica.com.)

Meanwhile, if a recent TripAdvisor survey of more 1,200 travelers is any indication, vacationers are taking hurricane threats in stride. The poll, taken Aug. 15-20, showed that only 14% of respondents were considering a Caribbean trip this fall. But 95% said hurricanes weren't weighing on their fall travel choices — and one-third said they would cancel plans only if a hurricane were imminent.

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