Cyclone Winston was the most severe storm on record in the South Pacific and forced more than 56,000 residents from their homes. // © 2016 UNICEF/Sokhin
Feature image (above): Recovery in Fiji is ongoing after the cyclone, and tourism officials say that many businesses are back to receiving guests. // © 2016 Tourism Fiji/Chris McLennan
Late last month, 42 people were killed and more than 56,000 were forced from their homes and into evacuation shelters after Cyclone Winston lashed the islands of Fiji with record-breaking wind gusts of up to 184 miles per hour.
The Fijian government declared a 30-day state of natural disaster, effective Feb. 21, and has since been working to restore power and water to some of the South Pacific nation’s more remote islands.
“Unfortunately, the recovery process will take time — perhaps a long time,” said Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of Fiji, on Feb. 23. “Almost no part of our nation has been left unscarred. And many of our rural and maritime areas bore the brunt of Winston’s fury. But we are working around the clock to address the needs of our people.”
Despite the devastating impact on the Fijian nation’s people and infrastructure, officials say much of the destination’s tourism industry survived the storm reasonably well, and no visitors were killed during Winston, which has since been classified as the most severe storm on record in the South Pacific.
“Many tourist properties are back to business and receiving guests from all over the world,” said Ruth Daly, regional director for North America for Tourism Fiji. “Tourism operations are fully functional and open for business in most parts of Fiji. Those that need some work are working efficiently to have their properties ready in the coming weeks and months.”
One resort property likely to be shuttered the longest is Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, which won’t be welcoming guests again until at least the end of November this year, “due to severe damage,” according to resort officials.
On its website, the property says the November date is “subject to change and could eventually be extended,” and is offering guests booked at the resort in coming months either a full refund or the chance to relocate their vacation plans to two of Starwood’s other properties in Denarau: Sheraton Fiji Resort or The Westin Denarau Resort & Spa.
Laucala Island Resort, meanwhile, will likely remain closed until July to repair dramatic landscaping damage from the cyclone. Officials at Outrigger’s Castaway Island say they probably won’t be welcoming guests before June 1.
“Our hosts are doing a tremendous job working around the clock to get the island and resort back into tip-top shape,” said Steve Andrews, general manager for Castaway.
Koro Sun Resort is scheduled to partially reopen in mid-March, but a number of the property’s accommodations along the Edgewater Lagoon suffered major damage. According to resort officials, the “floating bures broke off their moorings and took a scenic trip down the coast, where they landed right-side-up on a beach.” Those accommodations won’t be available to guests again until at least June 1.
Nonetheless, Daly of Tourism Fiji is quick to encourage travelers to either maintain their vacation plans or book new trips to the destination.
“If Fiji is to get back on its feet post Cyclone Winston, then the tourism industry will make that happen,” Daly said. “We need visitors.”