Pummelled by Zika, hurricanes and now Covid-19, the Caribbean is desperate to reenergise tourism. Here’s what that means for you
By BRANDON PRESSER
ALLEN Chastanet, St Lucia’s prime minister (PM), thought he was lucky — his island was deemed a “non-outbreak” zone when the Zika virus swept through the Caribbean in 2016, and it was similarly spared from the hurricanes that pummelled its neighbours in 2017. But then came Covid-19.
“It’s had a devastating effect on our economy and the livelihood of our citizens,” Chastanet says.
Indeed, 65% of the island’s GDP is garnered through tourism and the island saw a dramatic 89% drop in arrivals from March to July. That has reduced the government’s total revenue by almost 60% so far this year and attempts to curb the island’s already high 25% unemployment rate have spiralled in the opposite direction.
In other parts of the Caribbean, tourism officials started 2020 optimistic that this would be the year to rebound from billions of dollars in hurricane-related losses. But no matter where you look, that’s not the way the story went.
St Lucia lifted its ban on visitors on June 4, after 20 long weeks of prioritising health concerns; it was the first Caribbean nation, along with Antigua and Barbuda, to reopen. By the beginning of July, that list had expanded to include only a handful of other islands, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, plus a couple of start-and-stop efforts that fizzled when new coronavirus cases flooded in.
Now, the waiting game is reaching its apex.
Roughly half of the Caribbean’s 28 island nations have moved to reopen borders.
“Festive” season — the peak holiday period at the end of the year, when warm-weather destinations make an outsize proportion of their tourism profits — is on the horizon and Caribbean islands are making plans to recapture some of the US$44 billion (RM182.77 billion) of estimated losses that will be sustained regionwide as a result of Covid-19.
With St Lucia and its Caribbean neighbours ranking among the most tourism- reliant nations in the world, Chastenet is feeling the pressure. “Our tourism industry must coexist with Covid in order to recover,” he says.
The playbook shifts, depending on the destination.
“While places like the Cayman Islands can more easily remain closed, since they rely on other industries such as offshore banking, the majority of Caribbean destinations simply must let visitors in to survive,” explains Daniel Marmontello, director of strategy at Apple Leisure Group, whose subsidiaries include CheapCaribbean.com.
While all islands are enacting safety protocols to limit cases of Covid-19, the amount of hoops they ask travellers to jump through differ, not just from country to country, but sometimes from week to week. Hotel discounts, hovering around 30% to 40%, are more of a constant.
For travellers keen on a tropical holiday at record-low prices this winter, here are the islands making the strongest cases for visitors to return — and all the fine print to think about.
The big sell: Ease of entry. The country opened borders in July, but in September it eliminated the requirement of a negative Covid-19 test upon entry. Instead, it’s offering all visitors free health insurance as part of its Responsible Tourism Recovery Plan.
Opening status: Yes, you can fly in, but two-thirds of the country’s hotels (mostly all-inclusive properties) have yet to reopen, targeting a November relaunch date.
The fine print: Straightforward policies require you to fill out a health affidavit before arriving and airports are conducting randomised rapid testing.
Where to stay: With limited Covid-19 restrictions at the governmental level, the onus is now on individual properties to ensure safe practices. For that, Casa de Campo is appealing: The 7,000-acre (2,833ha) property is its own secluded haven, with a private airport, marina and on-site hospital.
The big sell: A haven for private flyers. Since no major commercial airlines land on its frightfully short, single runway, there are fewer visitors and threats of Covid-19 washing up on its shores. “This summer we flew 400% more charters than normal,” says David Zipkin, founder of Tradewind Avation, “and 40-50% of [those] private charters were for new clients”.
Opening status: The island reopened its international borders on June 22.
The fine print: Arriving guests must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test taken within three days before they land, and all travellers staying longer than a week must take a second test on the seventh day of their visit (expect it to cost upwards of US$150).
Where to stay: The beloved Eden Rock — with its central, cliffside location — is finally reopening on Oct 22, after a years-long rebuilding effort that followed hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Turks and Caicos Islands
The big sell: Continue your seclusion in style. Turks and Caicos Islands is currently this winter’s top destination for villa bookings, according to Amanda Dyjecinski, the chief marketing officer of luxury rental site Onefinestay. The ability to book homes with nannies and private chefs, she says, has made it especially attractive to cautious and long- term travellers.
Opening status: Borders reopened on July 22.
The fine print: A Covid-19 PCR test with negative results must be taken less than five days before arrival and all travellers must provide proof of traveller’s insurance upon landing.
Where to stay: Private island Como Parrot Cay reopened on Oct 1, with 1,000 acres along a white-sand beach for socially distant biking, hiking and private outdoor dinners.
The big sell: A time machine that gets you out of the year 2020. The most stringent public health policies in the Caribbean have helped maintain Anguilla’s pristine Covid-19 track record: It’s had only three confirmed cases (and zero deaths) throughout the pandemic’s duration.
The application to visit includes a fee, roughly US$250 per person, and covers two PCR tests — one administered before arrival and another taken while under a strict quarantine on the island. After that, no masks are required, and life will be like 2019 all over again.
Opening status: Anguilla reopened in August, but only for stays in villas. Hotels and resorts are currently greenlighted for November.
The fine print: Until “phase two” begins in November, a villa will be your only choice of accommodation and travellers staying five or fewer days must pay additional fees for relevant Covid-19 monitoring; this costs US$500 per couple. Those staying from six to 90 days must also pay fees to cover contact tracing and other containment efforts on the island — around US$600 per couple.
Where to stay: ÀNI Private Resorts offer an appealing hybrid of villa living with hotel amenities; once it opens on Nov 1, Belmond’s Cap Juluca offers plenty of room to roam around, plus such special little luxuries as chilled towels and chaise-side meal service.
The big sell: Move right in. With the creation of the yearlong Work From Bermuda certificate, which lets visitors bypass the traditional bureaucratic hurdles of a temporary relocation, the Atlantic island is hoping to entice long-stay guests to take their Zoom meetings with real ocean backdrops.
Opening status: International flights resumed on July 1, with service from the East Coast, Toronto and London.
The fine print: Travellers must complete a pre-arrival authorisation form and have a negative Covid-19 result from a test taken within seven days of flying. A US$75 fee will cover an additional test performed upon arrival, plus three further tests for travellers staying two weeks or longer; visitors are asked to bring their own thermometers and report their temperatures as well.
Where to stay: Harbour view suites at the Rosewood Bermuda start at 1,200 sq ft and have proper living and dining rooms — perfect for long-term island living.
The big sell: Accessibility. While hotels across the Caribbean have dropped their rates, PM Chastenet is working with the airlines to offer lower airfare through 2021 as well.
Opening status: International flights resumed in June on all four major American carriers.
The fine print: Travellers must complete a pre-arrival registration form and obtain a negative Covid-19 PCR result within seven days of travel; only approved taxis may be used upon arrival and guests are relegated to their Covid-19-compliant hotels for the entirety of their stay.
Where to stay: Jade Mountain remains a perennial favourite; its rooms, most with their own infinity pools, are open to the elements and face the majestic Piton mountains. — Bloomberg