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Avoid risks in destinations touched by the hurricanes

NEW YORK — Here are some tips to help you plan a trip to an area that may have suffered hurricane damage.

— Call hotels and resorts directly; don't use toll-free reservations numbers, which may be located in another state or country. "Ask questions and be as specific as possible," says Deborah Dunn, a Conde Nast Traveler editor who just returned from the Bahamas. "What kinds of damage did you sustain, will you be doing construction while I'm there, is my room close to the construction, what facilities will be closed? If you want to go to the casino or shopping or the spa, ask about that. How's the golf course? Is the beach open? Is there sand at the beach?"

— Get information from a variety of sources. Paris Permenter, who wrote the Jamaica chapter for Fodor's Caribbean guide and operates a honeymoon-travel Web site www.lovetripper.com), recommends that travelers headed to Jamaica "check with the Jamaica Tourist Board's Web site www.jamaicatravel.com), then follow up with the specific hotel, checking both its Web site and giving the front desk a call. Ask if the hotel has any post-hurricane photos on their site or if they can e-mail some to you. Also, ask if they have had any travel agents in-house since the hurricane. Ask for a phone number or e-mail address of any visiting travel agents and follow up for their estimation of the hurricane damage and how it will impact your vacation."

— Consider using a travel agent. "More and more people are going to the Internet to plan vacations, but a good agent will follow up and make sure everything is back in place. They'll also have backup plans if there is a problem," said Richard Kahn, spokesman for the Caribbean Tourism Organization. "If someone is using the Internet, they may not get that type of assurance or service." American Express, for example, has product managers flying down to visit the sites they recommend.

— Most officials say they "are not going to embark on a massive discounting campaign" to lure tourists back, as Paul Pennicook of the Jamaica Tourist Board put it. But do look for "value-added" deals, such as "stay two nights, get a third night free," or freebies like meals, golfing or boating excursions thrown in when you book a hotel. Discounts in Florida, the Caribbean and other warm places abound now anyway because it is the offseason, between summer and winter getaways. But because of the drop-off in visitors due to the hurricanes, many hotels are offering even more incentives than usual.

Tourism Web sites such as www.visitflorida.com and www.doitcaribbean.org can link you to the latest offers. American Express deals right now include Disney vacations, 40 percent off if you book between Oct. 21 and Dec. 1 for travel between Jan. 2 and April 16, and for the Caribbean, 35 percent off trips booked between now and Nov. 15 for travel between now and Feb. 16. Dunn, the Conde Nast editor, notes that Grand Bahama's Westin and Sheraton hotels at Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort are also offering discounted rates (www.ourlucaya.com or 877-OURLUCAYA).

— Convention and visitors' bureau Web sites don't always update their standard, glowing descriptions of various attractions to reflect storm damage. Instead, they'll typically add a new "update" feature on their home page offering post-hurricane information. A spot check of Web sites promoting areas affected by the storms turned up phone numbers that when called, were out of service, and visiting hours for attractions that in reality are closed because of hurricane damage. So don't assume something is open just because you located a pretty picture with a phone number on the Internet. Call and talk to a real person.

— If you're traveling before December, check the National Weather Service's hurricane prediction Web page at www.nhc.noaa.gov/. The risk for major storms is considered low after Oct. 15, but technically hurricane season is not over until Nov. 30.

— If your heart is set on a destination where there was extensive damage, postpone your trip until after Jan. 1. Kahn, of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, had planned to go to Grenada's Spice Island Beach later this year with his wife. "We consider it the quintessential Caribbean destination — very lush, tropical, laid-back, not overrun with tourists," he said. But the resort is closed for renovation due to hurricane damage. So, instead, "we'll stay at Blue Horizons, which is owned by the same people, and we're just going to delay our visit until January," he said.