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What Travel Season Looks Like In The Caribbean This Summer

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's the typical travel season for many Americans right now, and the pandemic has limited many options for would be international travelers. But the Caribbean is hopeful some of the millions of Americans who usually travel to the region each year, will take the risk this year. The tourism industry is essential to many Caribbean nations' economies. So what's the shape of tourism in that beautiful part of the world right now? Well, to help answer that question, we're joined now by Vikkie Walker. She's a travel reporter for The Points Guy.

Welcome.

VICTORIA WALKER: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: OK. So just paint us a picture. I mean, how has the coronavirus affected the Caribbean region overall so far?

WALKER: The Caribbean has been able, so far, to avoid a lot of the destruction that we've seen in the United States and in countries like Great Britain and Italy. But it's important to note that as the Caribbean begins to reopen for international travel, these are developing countries that do not have the resources to support a surge in cases. And so as these countries begin to reopen to U.S. travelers in particular, it's going to be very important for travelers to practice social distancing.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about that and how that affects the tourism industry in the Caribbean. Can you just, first of all, explain how big the tourism industry is in the Caribbean, just so people have an idea of the kind of role it plays in the economy there.

WALKER: Tourism employs nearly 3 million people in the Caribbean, and it represents 14% of the Caribbean's total GDP. So it is very central to their way of life. Tourism is the way they feed their families. And so they're very reliant on tourism. They want tourists to come back, but they want tourists to be able to come back and not just keep themselves safe but keep local residents safe.

CHANG: OK. So both the Caribbean governments want visitors right now and the residents, because it means more jobs. It means, like, propping up the economy.

WALKER: Yes. Every tourism board I spoke to, they all said we want people to come back. Absolutely, please come back. But please come back safely. But just from my reporting, everyone that I spoke to urged travelers to understand that this won't be a normal vacation. This won't be the type of vacation that you are used to when you go to the Caribbean.

CHANG: Well, what will that look like? I mean, for American tourists who really want to visit the Caribbean this summer, what kind of rules or restrictions should they be prepared for?

WALKER: You should expect for your bags to be sanitized. They're scaling back on in-person check-ins, so you check in through an app on your phone. And you get to the hotel, and you're able to really just kind of walk straight to your room.

CHANG: So what if the tourism industry doesn't fully get revived, I mean, anytime soon? Can these governments in the Caribbean handle a down season?

WALKER: Some analysts predict that the travel industry won't go back to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022 or 2023.

CHANG: Wow.

WALKER: There is a world in which the Caribbean can have a healthy travel economy even in the pandemic, as long as American tourists are practicing social distancing.

CHANG: Vicky Walker is a travel reporter for The Points Guys. Thanks very much for talking with us today.

WALKER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.