As of August 3, 22 islands in the region have re-opened to tourism.
“To not have visitors arriving for any period of time, but particularly for an extended period of time, has brought immense hardship to a number of people throughout the Caribbean,” said Hugh Riley, the former head of the Caribbean Tourism Office, “Caribbean countries face an important dilemma: Try to hermetically seal their borders from visitors until there’s an effective vaccine, or tackle the risks of restarting tourism now. It is the classic risk/reward decision,” he said.
Last year, more than 31 million people visited the Caribbean, more than half of them from the United States. Tourism contributed to $59 billion to the region’s 2019 G.D.P., which is 50 to 90 percent of the G.D.P. for most of the countries, according to the IMF. As most of Caribbean islands are heavily reliant on tourism, they have opened the borders despite the risk of COVID-19.
After re-opening many countries faced the negative consequences of COVID-19. For instance, the Bahamas allowed Americans to visit beginning in July, but they shut the borders as the cases surged. Then they re-opened and shut down a week later. Similarly, Puerto Rico opened the borders on July 15, but had to postpone that date to August 15 after incoming visitors ignored mask and social distancing rules.
Mark Brantley, the premier of the island of Nevis, said the pandemic has taught the Caribbean that being solely reliant on tourism is not the best model and that post Covid-19 era there could be an end to cheap tourism and mega cruises. “Jurisdictions are going to pivot to more tourism pitched at the luxury market, with smaller numbers of people and arguably a better yield,” he said. “Countries will be trying to diversify, where tourism continues to be important, but not the only game in town anymore.”
“We really hope if one good thing happens from the pandemic, it will be that travel is more thoughtful, and travelers are more conscious about the environment,” said Mr. Mignott, the former deputy tourism director for Jamaica. “We don’t think people are just going to go back like Covid never happened. We really think it will be different.”