Countries around the world have been devastated by the spread of the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic. Caribbean nations have had to deal with complications that have arisen from the public health crisis. Despite low death rates and many patients seeing full recoveries in countries like St. Lucia and Barbados, many of these island nations have been hit hard economically due to the massive loss of revenue from the tourism sector.
While the U.S Virgin Islands has seen most patients see a full recovery and an extremely low death, the tourism market, which accounts for 60% of the islands’ GDP, has taken a huge loss. Prior to the shutdown in March, the tourism sector was seeing a significant increase in hotel occupancy and cruise line bookings.
“The fallout has] been tremendous,” says Commissioner Joseph Boschulte in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE. “It was difficult to truly gauge the economic impact because everybody was home and everything was closed, so you know you can’t really see how things are happening.” The commissioner went on to say that they are seeing more of the direct impact of the coronavirus this month from mandatory closings.
Most of the residents on the island have only just started receiving their stimulus checks this week, which Boschulte hopes will be injected back into the local economy. He went on to explain how the islands are preparing hotels and tourism vendors to welcome tourists again under new restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. As of right now, American and Delta Airlines are still continuing their routes from the states amid the pandemic but only citizens, airlines, and medical professionals are allowed entry; leisure travel has been shut down.
When asked about the recent news about Carnival Cruises seeing a 600% increase in bookings for August, Boschulte is confident that the island will be able to welcome them but will probably be denied through the CDC. “I believe that we will be prepared to accept cruises back in the territory. We are still working at our department of health and with the cruise lines directly in understanding protocols to test for COVID-19. Along with that we are still [gathering the] necessary inventory of testing supplies here on the island for people who may be in contact with people who may have the infection,” he said. “The concern I have as a tourism head is [that] we have to be able to protect or at least try to have [some protocol] in place to protect layers of people who may be impacted by travelers.”
As for the rest of the travel market, Boschulte says there are already plans in motion to reopen the islands for June just in time for the summer season—but not without restrictions. “Clearly for us, like most of our brethren in the Caribbean, the safety of our residents is paramount,” he explained. “We have done an excellent job under the leadership of our governor in flattening in the curve here in the territory … right now we have somewhere around 20 properties that are already open and prepared to take visitors based on the conditions today but the other hotels are preparing for a June 1 open date.”