As Tropical Storm Erika's exact path stayed a stubborn question mark late Thursday, tourism officials throughout South Florida started preparing just in case the storm ends a longtime lucky streak.
“Obviously tropical storms, hurricanes, weather, is something that we’ve dealt with in the history of Miami and history of tourism,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have been blessed that we’ve had relative quiet years for many, many years.”
And major cruise lines, all based in Miami-Dade, were making changes Thursday to port calls or sailing times to keep their ships in storm-free waters.
The Norwegian Getaway, which is based in Miami, will sail a Western Caribbean itinerary instead of Eastern Caribbean for the voyage that leaves Saturday. Royal Caribbean asked guests to arrive at Port Everglades between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday so Independence of the Seas could depart early. And Carnival Conquest, which left Port Everglades Sunday, was shifting dates of port calls or visiting alternate destinations throughout the trip that ends Monday.
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“We are closely monitoring not only in terms of ships that are presently operating Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries but also as it relates to home port operations as the storm moves closer to the U.S. coast,” Carnival Cruise Line spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said in an email. “Our teams are considering various scenarios depending on what the storm ultimately does. The great thing about ships is that they can easily move around.”
Back on land, officials whose typical job is bringing visitors to the area said they were working on the plans that would help those tourists move out of hotels in evacuation zones and into safer havens.
Aedo said the tourism bureau had already held several meetings on storm preparations by Thursday afternoon and would activate a hotline as well as post weather alerts, evacuation information and other tips for visitors online if the storm comes this way.
“We tell them to communicate with their airlines or hotel, but also put resource information about other hotel options that may be available,” he said. “If the decision is made to evacuate, it really changes the dynamics dramatically.”
Broward was hosting a couple of visiting groups — about 2,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1,000 people involved in the 2015 GEICO ESPN High School Football Kickoff.
“If there’s going to be bad weather associated with this storm, it has not yet triggered any cancellations,” said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
She said the bureau was already in prep mode on Thursday.
“We’ve already communicated with all of our hotels and our email list urging everyone to go over their plans, make sure they’ve got everything or can get everything they need — and urging them to blow east,” Grossman said.
Andy Newman, spokesman for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, said he had sent two advisories to hotels and other tourism concerns in the Florida Keys by Thursday afternoon urging them to closely monitor the storm’s progress. He said the council had not heard of widespread cancellations.
“The frustrating issue with Erika is the uncertainty,” he wrote in an email.
Still, the one silver lining was the storm’s timing.
“This is traditionally not a very busy time period anyway,” Newman said. “We're between when school went back into session and Labor Day weekend. If you have to deal with an Erika or Danny, it's a much better time frame then in June or July or early August.”