Calling the Caribbean “the most tourism-dependent region in the world” isn’t hyperbole. In the Bahamas, for instance, tourism represents an astonishing 70% of national GDP. Although, Belize has also been compared as one of the most impacted in the region; tourism accounts for more than 40% of national GDP. Most developed island states in the Caribbean were accustomed to welcoming up to six cruise ships per day, packed with thousands of tourists. In 2019, the region at large reeled in US$59 billion in revenue from tourism alone, according to Inside Hook. That was up from US$49 billion in 2014, as competitive low-cost carriers and an increase in overnight options made travel easier than ever in the back half of the 2010s. Nonetheless as the Caribbean slows reopens to tourism once again, there’s a few things to expect across the region.
After a crippling year in which cruises and flights ground to a halt and hotels were either closed or vacant for months on end, tropical destinations in the Caribbean are slowly coming back to life. Instead, they’re looking for new ways to attract would-be visitors from their primary market: North America. But as has become typical with travel infrastructure in the age of COVID-19, the new rules and regulations vary from country to country.
At the least, testing is a big theme. In order to travel to the Bahamas, any visitor over the age of 10 needs to submit negative test results from a coronavirus test taken in five days of arrival, plus apply for a health visa from the government. Depending on the length of your stay, the Bahamas will test you again while you’re there. Belize offers testing inside its airport health clinic for US$50, although those arriving with a negative test in 72 hours of travel is “fast tracked” through the airport. In Costa Rica, travelers must complete an online form proving they’re healthy to fly, and then buy local travel insurance in case they contract coronavirus while visiting. To visit Jamaica or Panama, meanwhile, travelers must fill out affidavits ahead of time confirming negative tests.
Certain airlines — like American — have tried to streamline this whole process, offering “preflight COVID-19 testing” for international travelers. After the health questionnaires and tests are completed, countries rely on usual public health protocols like social distancing, mask-wearing, sanitation of hotels and restaurants, and limited capacity on boats or in bars. But they’re also counting on the great outdoors and wild open spaces.
While American cities are currently buying space heaters while parks shut down for the long winter ahead, the Caribbean and Central America are stressing their status as a year-round outdoor option. The concept checks out: head down here for the beaches, jungles and waterfalls, where social distancing comes naturally. It’s an attractive pitch, and favorable rates from resorts will only make it more enticing. But a monster second wave in the States could stand in the way of that vision. Many Americans have written off traveling this year while the country set a new record for daily coronavirus cases last Friday.
Ensuring safe, responsible behavior is a shared responsibility between visitors, residents, business owners and employees. For those who do expect to travel to the Caribbean for tourism, please do so safely. After all, respect is the key to keeping each other and Belize safe, for today and tomorrow. Until then, Belize awaits.