As Caribbean nations start to loosen their border restrictions, the allure of near empty beaches and low hotel occupancy is calling to (masked) travellers. For some, it’s a return visit to a beloved home away from home – perhaps an island destination they have been coming to for years. For others, they are happy to visit new destinations that have been on their bucket lists.
One magical day not so long ago, our Island nation opened its doors to visitors again. It felt exciting. We went to the airport to watch the first plane welcomed back with water canon fanfare and were unexpectedly emotional. After months of feeling stagnant and sitting still this little bit of forward motion felt healing, like something to celebrate and we embraced it.
But that doesn’t mean our anxiety has disappeared. We know it will be slow start, that visitor numbers will be low and that uncertainty is still the name of the game. There is also a new anxiety about welcoming tourists back as we know we are opening the island up to more exposure to the virus. It’s inevitable. We hope that the protocols we have in place will help mitigate risk, but we know that risk is still very real. It’s one we have to take to try to restart the economy. We hope visitors, and residents, continue to adhere to protocols to help protect the health of the island and the economy itself.
From the perspective of an owner/operator of a small business, economic concerns are still paramount despite the island now being ‘open’. As we reopen, we contemplate new realities like reduced business, that the borders could close again, and concerns about the virus itself, all set against the backdrop of having had no income during what is traditionally some of the busiest months of our season. Needless to say, (and while i’ve come to abhor this term), these ‘uncertain times’ will be with us for some time to come. Anxiety is still very real and present, and the way forward isn’t yet clear.
But with all of that said, we continue looking forward with hope. There is sense that things are beginning to heal and as incomes start to trickle in to island workers, it’s a step in the right direction.
Which brings me to the original point of writing: How to travel gracefully during a pandemic.
As island nations start to reopen, they will receive visitors with a grateful heart. Your arrival as a tourist is a sign that we are beginning to herald in an era that at least somewhat resembles the sense of normalcy we had 6 months ago. You represent hope, and we are happy to host you and offer some tips on how you can best support your favorite island vacation spot.
Please respect protocols at your destination. Recognize that none of us love having to wear masks, not hug our returning friends, hand sanitize 76 times a day and so on. But remember that you will get on a plane in a week or so and return to your home and medical facilities. If Covid hits the fan here, most island residents don’t have that option.
If you’re able to, consider budgeting some of your vacation dollars to see where you can help. No amount is too small. Maybe its tipping your cab driver/wait staff/guides a little extra than you normally would, recognizing they are not only trying to make a living, they are trying to catch up on 4 months of not being able to. Perhaps it’s finding out how to support local NGO’s that are helping to meet the needs of those that are food insecure during this time.
If you can’t help out monetarily as above, that’s totally fine. Know that the island residents are happy to see you and grateful for your business. Tourism dollars being injected again into the economy are exactly what is needed. We all appreciate your business and being here. Just please don’t be the tourist that looks for ‘deals and discounts’ from small business owners during these times. I understand that everyone loves to save money where they can but please recognize that while you may have been working at least somewhat over the past few months, most people on a tourism-driven island have literally had zero income. Asking a small business operator to discount their product or service in order for you to choose them over another operator is disheartening.
This is just a general, non-Covid related PSA: Please interact with your island destination with courtesy and the respect that you are a welcomed guest in their home. While there is a sense of freedom in wearing just a swimsuit, please notice that you will likely not see an island resident walking through town or shopping in simply a bathing suit. Run around all day long in a swimsuit at the beach or pool, but if you’re putting on a mask, put on a shirt or cover up too.
Please take the same generosity of spirit home with you. Support local small businesses where you can. Respect protocols. Help where and as you are able. You’ll feel better for it and the world will hopefully heal more quickly. At some point we will all look back on ‘these uncertain times’ and know that it’s a storm we weathered together, helping each other ride it out as best we could.