Adina Eigen made her first visit to the British Virgin Islands in December 2020. At that time, she had one of the lowest COVID rates in the world among the islands to be reopened.
The 42-year-old mother-of-four from Sands Point in New York has returned twice, checking infection rates and vaccination data before her travels.
“Oil Nut Bay employees have been fully vaccinated,” she said of the luxury resort where her family lived. “The property is not accessible by land and is very closely guarded by the sea.
The British Virgin Islands are among a growing number of Caribbean destinations that attract vaccinated travelers – while proving less attractive to others.
Along with Barbados and Saint Lucia, the British Virgin Islands only allow unvaccinated travelers to enter if they are in quarantine for a week. Data shows some are willing to do it, especially when they have other options in the Caribbean that don’t require a quarantine certificate or vaccine.
The relative harshness or liberality of entry requirements to the Caribbean is redefining travel trends in the region. Unvaccinated travelers move to islands that will let them in, while vaccinated travelers want places that remain unimmunized.
Vaccinated passengers only
At least seven Caribbean countries and territories have announced mandatory vaccination policies for arriving adult travelers – Anguilla, Grenada, St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, as well as Cayman Islands.
The Cayman Islands plan to accept vaccinated travelers from September 9 to October 13 in the third phase of its structured reopening. Subsequently, unvaccinated travelers may be allowed to enter the area if they self-quarantine for 14 days.
Security is cited as the main reason behind the requirement, but such policies can also be good for the business.
Eric Bamberger, senior vice president of hospitality at Zeta Global, said marketing technology firm Zeta Global analyzed traffic at several of the island’s major tourist sites as they only announced policies of vaccination.
Following the announcements, there has been an increase in interest in travel for all:
- Granada – 25% more
- Saint Kitts and Nevis – up 26%
- Cayman Islands – up 44%
- Anguilla – up 59%
The data showed two emerging trends in the Caribbean, Baumberger said.
“People are more interested in traveling to islands that have vaccination protocols,” he said. “And their interest among other islands without vaccination protocols is waning.”
Data from travel marketing firm Adaira indicates enthusiasm for vaccine-only admission policies. Searches and bookings exploded when Trinidad and Tobago announced it would reopen only to immunosuppressed passengers – and again when the policy was put in place.
The company’s chief executive for North America, Matt Berna, said adventure travel company Intrepid Travel sees a preference for destinations with more restrictions.
“We have found that our customers are more interested in traveling to Caribbean destinations with tighter and firmer travel policies and restrictions related to COVID-19,” he said.
For example, among the most popular trips booked by North Americans, “none of our tours to Mexico are in the top 20,” he said. Mexico has liberal COVID protocols, but not fearless travel. From September 1, all company travelers and attendants must be vaccinated, Berna said.
Eigen told CNBC that she was considering moving to Mexico at some point, but found it “scary” to travel to a country with certain restrictions.
“I have been vaccinated and would love to go to an island that only allows people who have been vaccinated,” said a view echoed by several travelers who spoke to CNBC.
“I have been vaccinated and would like to go to an island that only allows people who have been vaccinated,” Eigen said with her family in Oil Nut Bay in the British Virgin Islands.
Courtesy of Edina Eigen
Caribbean officials are responding positively to policies.
“Our arrival numbers are constant and the load factor continues to improve,” said Petra Roach, CEO of the Granada Tourism Authority.
The Turks and Caicos Islands braced for a mixed reaction when announcing their policy earlier this month, Islands Minister of Health and Human Services Jamel R. Robinson said.
However, “we have received an extremely encouraging overall response from new and existing visitors,” he said. “We expect this to have a positive long-term impact on bookings. “
no vaccine needed
Unlike islands with relatively strict policies, places like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the US Virgin Islands have entry policies that rely on testing rather than vaccines.
Data from Adara shows interest in travel was highest in the Dominican Republic before vaccinations were ordered in other Caribbean islands earlier this summer. Most travelers to the Dominican Republic are not required to test negative, but some are given a COVID-19 breath test upon arrival.
As vaccination rates increased in the island’s main markets – the United States and Canada – interest in travel declined. The COVID infection rate in the Dominican Republic declined from June to August, but interest and research have not improved as a result.
Site traffic increased at major tourist spots in Jamaica and the Bahamas in June and July, but visitors spent less time searching and clicking on fewer pages, Zeta Global’s Bamberger said.
“These trends suggest that… travelers still have more timid feelings about traveling to areas without a vaccination policy,” he said.
Similar feelings can apply to the desire of passengers to fly. A study by financial site FinanceBuzz, released this month, found that if airlines were to require vaccinations, more people would be more likely to fly (48%) than such a policy (27%).
line in the sand
These data suggest that islands with liberal protocols – that is, those without a quarantine or vaccine warrant – attract unvaccinated travelers while banning those vaccinated.
“Vaccinated people want to vacation in places that have more stringent requirements, so they don’t mix without vaccinations,” said Carolyn Corda, Marketing Director of Adara.
CNBC asked the percentage of travelers arriving from the Dominican Republic, Bahamas and Jamaica who were not vaccinated. The Bahamas said they were unable to provide this figure. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic did not respond to CNBC’s request.
Puerto Rico’s tourism authority, Discover Puerto Rico, said the island has a vaccination mandate, although it does not.
Discover Puerto Rico’s website states that “vaccines are mandatory” for customers and employees of its hotels, rental homes, restaurants and bars. The CEO of Discover Puerto Rico confirmed the vaccine’s “mandate” separately to CNBC.
But a closer look at Puerto Rico’s restrictions shows that a negative COVID test on arrival, and negative weekly tests thereafter, will suffice without a vaccine. When asked for clarification, a representative from Discover Puerto Rico told CNBC that the “warrant” referred to the need for frequent vaccinations or negative tests.
Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean said the vaccination rate among travelers to Puerto Rico rose from 9% in May to 58% in August.