Many of the world’s most popular vacation spots are officially welcoming international visitors again—and Americans are heading to the Caribbean, for a tropical paradise right in their backyard. When the islands reopened their borders last summer, after suffering economically from low visitation amid a global pandemic, the region’s tourism numbers saw an uptick. If you’re planning your first post-lockdown getaway, there are many reasons why a trip to the Caribbean could be a good fit—starting with safety.
The small but mighty isles have been doing the work of putting protocols in place. They require pre-entry proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test, to protect visitors and residents against spread of the virus—plus travel insurance to cover any medical costs that might come up. Several islands have begun updating entry regulations for travelers. Countries such as Dominica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands have even created new work visas to attract remote workers, as a way to promote long- and short-term stays.
Following a year that saw an abundance of trauma, what travelers need most is solace. That’s what sets the Caribbean apart from other destinations. Come for the sun, but stay for the territory’s most therapeutic qualities. “The real appeal of the Caribbean is in its beauty, nature and exploration experiences—and in the diversity of our region,” says Frank Comito, special advisor and former CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. “It’s ideal for a wellness escape, even if you’re not coming for spa-type experiences. Our region just creates an immediate sense of calm and wellness, and that’s what people need.”
Thankfully, some islands have recently begun to see an increase in travel, and the hope is that this trend will continue. The U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, has always been regarded as one of the most sought-after destinations in the Caribbean, primarily due to its accessibility to American travelers. A global pandemic hasn’t changed that. “The territory’s performance, from a tourism and hospitality perspective, has been impressive despite COVID-19 challenges,” says USVI commissioner of tourism Joseph Boschulte. “At the end of April, our positivity rate was less than 2 percent. We’ve been averaging 90-plus percent occupancy in our hotels in St. Thomas and St. John, and mid-80s in St. Croix.” The goal, he adds, is to ensure that the islands maintain momentum.
While you don’t need a passport to visit and may not need a negative COVID-19 test result to return home to the U.S., safety is still the top priority in the USVI. “It’s a combination of the fact that we’re very aware of the virus and [of the] robust COVID-management policies and protocols in place, including our Travel Screening Portal,” Boschulte explains. “We understand that there will be some people testing positive as long as we stay open. But we have a strong system in place to screen, quarantine, isolate and contact-trace, if necessary.”
As the island countries welcome more guests to their shores, they are continually adjusting to whatever their “new normal” for summer tourism might be. “In the Caribbean, we have weathered storms,” says Patrice Simon, executive director of Antigua Barbuda Hotels & Tourism Association. “Knowing that we are in the hurricane belt, we’ve had to adapt, by building stronger structures and putting hurricane plans in place. And even though we may not have previously been prepared from a pandemic standpoint, just knowing that there is vulnerability for something like this to happen ensures that, just as we have created plans for a storm, we have now created better linkages to the ministry of health.”
Antigua, like its neighbors, is seeking love and support as borders begin to open up worldwide. And in a trying year, optimism remains. “Every Caribbean island has beaches, but we in Antigua boast one for every day of the year,” notes Simon. “We are so spread out that people can enjoy the sun and sea—and have enough space to feel safe.”
This article originally appears in the July/August 2021 issue of ESSENCE