THE BUSI­NESS

IN THE FACE OF DEV­AS­TA­TION AND DE­STRUC­TION, HOTELIERS LEAD THE CARIBBEAN’S RE­COV­ERY—AT A COST.

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When hur­ri­canes come crash­ing into the Caribbean is­lands—as we have seen too many times in the past few years—we are riv­eted and alarmed, but the news fades all too quickly. What hap­pens in the af­ter­math of the storms, once the spot­light has moved on to the next tragedy, isn’t what you ex­pect. A com­mon chain of events often oc­curs: Emer­gency re­spon­ders fall short of de­mand, op­pos­ing politi­cians take to ver­bal spar­ring, and char­i­ties strug­gle to en­sure do­na­tions end up in the right hands—all of which pro­tracts an al­ready dire sit­u­a­tion. But a new path is be­ing forged by busi­nesses—in par­tic­u­lar ho­tels and hos­pi­tal­ity groups—us­ing their vast net­works and on-the-ground knowl­edge to by­pass the red tape for quicker and more ef­fec­tive re­cov­ery.

HOS­PI­TAL­ITY HAS AVESTED IN­TER­EST IN RAPID RE­COV­ERY IF ITS BUSI­NESSES ARE TORE MAIN LU­CRA­TIVE EN­TER­PRISES.

It’s busi­ness lead­ers like Fed­erico “Friedel” Stubbe who are re­build­ing the is­lands and busi­ness. The Puerto Ri­can na­tive and owner and chair­man of Prisa Group—which has de­vel­oped many of the is­land’s high-end hos­pi­tal­ity and real es­tate prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing the lux­ury re­sort Do­rado Beach, a Ritz-Carl­ton Re­serve—quickly banded to­gether with a col­lec­tive of the is­land’s most con­nected en­trepreneurs and ex­perts to form what would be­come the Re­silient Puerto Rico Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion. While the U.S. govern­ment was still de­bat­ing sta­tis­tics and cost as­sess­ments, the in­de­pen­dent group was de­vis­ing a blue­print for the is­land’s fu­ture, out­lin­ing every­thing from how to over­haul the failed in­fra­struc­ture and power grid to how to im­prove the ed­u­ca­tion and health­care sys­tems. It pro­vided the kind of swift ac­tion the is­land needed dur­ing its dark­est days, sup­port­ing the in­stal­la­tion of re­li­able backup en­ergy sys­tems and so­lar pan­els at hos­pi­tals, schools, and emer­gency shel­ters, and help­ing small busi­nesses get back on their feet.

“In dis­as­ters like th­ese, how do democ­ra­cies work?” Stubbe asks. “You have the left and the right and the cen­ter just like any­thing else. But per­son­ally, I’m not in­ter­ested in the pol­i­tics; I’m just in­ter­ested in build­ing a bet­ter Puerto Rico.”

In the case of Re­silient Puerto Rico— which has di­rected mil­lions of dol­lars to re­cov­ery as well as new de­vel­op­ments aimed at pre­pared­ness for fu­ture storms— that bet­ter­ment comes as the re­sult of well-co­or­di­nated net­works with broad sup­port. In other cases through­out the Caribbean how­ever, it comes from boot­strap mis­sions like the one launched last year by Star­wood Cap­i­tal Group, the global in­vest­ment firm that owns the Four Sea­sons Re­sort and Res­i­dences Anguilla. As the largest pri­vate em­ployer on Anguilla, Star­wood took mat­ters into its own hands when Hur­ri­cane Irma dam­aged roughly 85 per­cent of all struc­tures on the 35-squaremile is­land. Within days of the Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane, the firm had formed a lo­cal com­mit­tee to de­ter­mine the is­land’s needs for re­cov­ery. Within weeks, it had launched Anguilla Stronger, an emer­gency re­lief ef­fort com­posed of ho­tels across the is­land, in­clud­ing the Bel­mond Cap Ju­luca and Mal­liouhana, Au­berge Re­sorts Col­lec­tion—both of which were se­verely dam­aged—as well as Zemi Beach House.

“Star­wood Cap­i­tal Group is a huge global com­pany, so we have a lot of pro­cure­ment ex­per­tise,” says Beth Shan­holtz, who has di­rected the nearly $1.5 mil­lion (com­pris­ing the cor­po­ra­tion’s own cap­i­tal as well as tax-de­ductible do­na­tions) that Anguilla Stronger has pro­vided for food dis­tri­bu­tion, build­ing ma­te­ri­als, and con­trac­tors to help re­build their em­ploy­ees’ homes. “Anguilla re­ceived a ton of do­na­tions, but there was no other or­ga­ni­za­tion that did what we did on this level—not even the govern­ment.”

The in­abil­ity of lo­cal gov­ern­ments to en­act fast change is as much a mat­ter of fi­nances as a func­tion of bu­reau­cracy. Puerto Rico was in the midst of an eco­nomic cri­sis long be­fore Maria hit, and even with­out a re­ces­sion, Anguilla’s mod­est trea­sury couldn’t cover the dam­ages of Irma. “Our an­nual bud­get is $200 mil­lion. The dam­age from Irma is more than that,” An­guil­lan par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary Cardi­gan Connor said last year when ques­tioned about the is­land’s re­cov­ery plan. Over­seas aid can’t al­ways be counted on, ei­ther: In the case of the Caribbean’s Bri­tish ter­ri­to­ries (in­clud­ing Anguilla, the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Bar­ba­dos, and Turks and Caicos—which suf­fered a

com­bined $3.6 bil­lion in dam­ages in last year’s hur­ri­canes), the ques­tion of which govern­ment en­tity would foot the bill led to de­layed and in­suf­fi­cient funds. Though Great Bri­tain even­tu­ally sent more than $70 mil­lion to its ter­ri­to­ries, a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of those monies came as loans that will no doubt leave the is­lands in debt for years to come.

Given that the de­vel­op­ment of a sin­gle ho­tel can ex­ceed the an­nual bud­get of an en­tire is­land, it’s no sur­prise that th­ese des­ti­na­tions are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try to get back on their feet. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Re­sort in Puerto Rico shelled out $60 mil­lion for its post-Maria ren­o­va­tions, and the Four Sea­sons in Anguilla paid roughly $20 mil­lion for its dam­ages. But ho­tels are also dipping into their pri­vate cof­fers to en­sure that the com­mu­nity that sus­tains their busi­nesses bounces back just as quickly. Stubbe, for in­stance, con­trib­uted $1 mil­lion di­rectly to his staff of 500 to help re­build their homes and re­coup other losses.

But it’s more than just money—it’s re­sources, too. In the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Richard Bran­son, who rode out Hur­ri­cane Irma in the wine cel­lar of his Necker Is­land re­sort, trans­ported aid via his fleet of Vir­gin At­lantic air­planes. And Royal Caribbean can­celed its cruises af­ter the hur­ri­canes in or­der to use its ships to de­liver sup­plies to the is­lands and evac­u­ate res­i­dents in need.

Of course, there’s no ar­gu­ing that th­ese ef­forts, well-in­ten­tioned as they may be, are wholly al­tru­is­tic. Hos­pi­tal­ity has a vested in­ter­est in rapid re­cov­ery if its busi­nesses are to re­main lu­cra­tive en­ter­prises. (Last year’s storms alone cost roughly $900 mil­lion just in lost rev­enue.) Whether that re­cov­ery ex­tends be­yond the im­mac­u­late walls of the ho­tels them­selves, how­ever, is an­other story.

A year af­ter Irma, a drive through the back roads of Anguilla, a few miles from the white­washed walls of the

Four Sea­sons, re­veals many homes still dam­aged, with roofs cov­ered in blue tarps and bro­ken win­dows ob­scured by wooden boards. Still, the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude is one of op­ti­mism. Anguilla Stronger con­tin­ues to de­liver aid—in­clud­ing build­ing sup­plies and con­trac­tor ser­vices—even as the is­land’s ho­tels are once again up and run­ning. “If we didn’t do this, what would have hap­pened?” Shan­holtz asks. “This is not just about as­sets; it’s about peo­ple. When the ho­tels aren’t open, it im­pacts the en­tire eco­nomic sys­tem— the taxis, the boat op­er­a­tors, the res­tau­rant own­ers. We’ve been able to prove that our model works: We’ve stim­u­lated the econ­omy.”

Dev­as­ta­tion wrought by Hur­ri­cane Irma in Jost VanDyke, Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, in Septem­ber 2017.

The Four Sea­sons Anguilla comes back bet­ter than ever.

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