Stuck tourists in Caribbean provide economic boost

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — An ash-spewing volcano in Iceland has given the Caribbean an unexpected economic boost, causing some hotels to fill up with stranded travelers and increasing demand for tourist activities.

Hotel managers have called in extra staff and hiked purchases of food, helping earnings in a region struggling with a tourism downturn. Adventure tour operators also have benefited as hotels hire them to keep guests entertained.

Not everyone is seeing an increase in revenue — especially islands like Barbados and Antigua that depend largely on British vacationers stuck at home by airline flight cancellations.

But stranded tourists are helping make up for that loss, said Johnson JohnRose, spokesman for the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

"Some of them may be running out of money, but they still have to stay here and find something to eat and do things," JohnRose said.

At Tobago's Coco Reef resort, Geoff Andrews and his wife are hoping to make it back to London in time for their 50th wedding anniversary party Saturday, which 75 people are expected to attend.

While awaiting word from a tour operator, Andrews, 72, has been exploring the island, surfing the Internet and playing golf and tennis with 11 other relatives traveling with him.

"There's no point sitting around moping is there?" he said in a telephone interview.

European airports began allowing airline flights against Tuesday nearly a week after Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted, spewing out a huge dust cloud that forced the cancellation of more than 95,000 flights.

It could be weeks before airlines get back to normal and can get everyone back home again.

"It really comes at a good time," said Jamaica Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett.

More than 2,500 tourists, most of them British, are stuck on Jamaica and everyone from taxi drivers to farmers to telecommunication companies are benefiting, Bartlett said.

The disruption in international air traffic has led to some overbooked hotels, which proved a boon to bed and breakfast inns, Bartlett added.

The Grenadian, one of Grenada's top hotels, saw its occupancy rate rise from 35 percent to 80 percent, said Colman Redhead, events and group manager at the facility.

About 77 tourists — most of them British — are stuck at the hotel. Some have booked sunset boat trips while others opted for tours of the outdoor market, he said.

"They're making themselves happy," said Redhead, who had to call in additional employees and buy more fruits and vegetables.