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Hard Choices in the Tourism-Reliant Caribbean

TravelPulse logo TravelPulse 8/20/2020 Brian Major
a crowded beach next to a body of water: Aerial view over Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic © cristianlE+ Aerial view over Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

It’s been a tough time for Caribbean destinations that reopened their borders to international visitors, as government and tourism officials have struggled to contend with the unprecedented challenge posed by COVID-19.

Late last week the U.S. Virgin Islands reversed an earlier reopening of its borders to leisure travelers as the territory issued local “stay-at-home” orders to counter recent coronavirus spikes. The Bahamas endured a similar scenario earlier this month, locking down local activity to curb COPVID-19’s spread. One week earlier the country reopened its borders to visitors including U.S. residents, albeit with a mandatory 14-day stay required.

In Jamaica, hoteliers complained after what they said was a reversal in the Disaster Risk Management order that would effectively restrict tourists to hotel grounds rather than allowing the guests to utilize approved transportation from certified hotels to visit specified “resilient corridor” attractions.

COVID-19 travel shutdowns are also focusing attention on the importance of the cruise segment in several Caribbean countries. Although land-based tourism has resumed, Jamaica tourism minister Edmund Bartlett said recently the country is “distressed” without cruise ship traffic.

The Cayman Islands hosted two million cruise ship visitors last year and the absence of that business was “the biggest hit” to the local economy, said Moses Kirkconnell, the country’s tourism minister, in a recent TravelPulse interview. Cayman officials nevertheless barred cruise calls for the remainder of 2020 and is “working to re-skill cruise industry workers and look for opportunities in the stayover industry” according to Kirkconnell.

Travelers can expect more such fits and starts as the resumption of travel forces hard choices across the region. The pandemic has placed tourism-reliant Caribbean nations in the problematic position of balancing public health with critical tourism activity. There are simply no easy answers when it comes to a global pandemic that is unprecedented in this generation.

As a travel journalist who covers the Caribbean, I’ve increasingly thought about my own role in the big picture. I’m anxious to return to the region as soon as possible but in a safe manner.

In other words, I don’t feel an urge to rush back, but instead a responsibility to carefully weigh each nation’s specific COVID-19 situation, the protocols in place to safeguard residents’ and visitors’ health, and the level of threat that I myself pose coming from a high-risk country, namely the United States.

However, the reality is there are Caribbean destinations that are now accepting visitors, and it’s important that travel professionals, including all-important travel advisors and certainly we travel journalists, reflect the situation on the ground in each Caribbean destination fully and accurately so travelers can make their own tough choices.

I’ll be out there again, I just can’t say exactly when.

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