Local vs. Tourist during COVID-19

We’ve been pretty transparent about our international trip in 2021. We were sold on the phrase “hot vax summer,” and we thought that the world was basically over the pandemic, but we were wrong.

We discussed the overview of our trip to Negril, Jamaica in our first post in this series. Then, we discussed our experience with international travel during the pandemic.

In this post, I want to dig into the difference between being a local in your community and being a tourist during the pandemic.

Many locations (New York included) are begging for tourists to return. And, the same was true for Jamaica, which is an entire nation dependent on the tourism industry. However, I would also argue that with the supply chain issues, global import/export regulations, and shipping problems that we’re seeing everywhere, tourism is putting a strain on the already fragile communities that are trying to simply survive in these troubled times.

If I had it to do over, I would check into some key issues before planning a trip. Tourism is a key and vital part of an economy, and I’ve always considered travel to be a “kind” thing to do for communities to help locals by spending my money with their products and services.

However, I think it would’ve been kinder to Jamaicans, this year, if I had stayed home…

Some questions that I would urge you to ask yourself when planning travel for leisure this year.

  • How is the economy?
    • As we discussed in full detail here, Jamaica suffered a run on the banks during our trip. People were traveling across the island to try and pull $10 from any and all ATMs. We were also strapped for cash. However, we felt extremely guilty that we were taking cash from the locals who clearly needed it more than we did. Further, there was a shortage of many food products and personal hygiene supplies. The locals needed them, the resorts were hoarding them… My presence was actively causing harm. And, that’s a terrible feeling.
  • How is small business?
    • In Negril, almost all small businesses had shuttered in 2020. Therefore, all of our money was going to our resort, other Sandals-style properties, major internationally-owned restaurants and establishments, and foreign-owned souvenir shops. I tried to reach out to some local business owners, and I received multiple stories of financial hardships, government lockdowns, policy and regulation changes forcing them out of their businesses, and illnesses. It was tragic, it was heartbreaking, it was the story of our time. However, if I would’ve known that all of my travel money was going to go to conglomerates and not local vendors, I wouldn’t have gone.
  • How is the healthcare system?
    • Just like in much of the United States, the Jamaican healthcare system was overloaded and strapped. When they have to take care of an onslaught of tourists on top of the local population, it’s impossible. Locals are dying, because they are choosing to take care of the tourists as a top priority.
  • What are the requirements to enter and exit the location?
    • PCR and Antigen tests seem simple enough. But, make sure that you trust the vendor and who is providing the results. It could be very convenient for resorts to “fake” a result. I’m planning to only travel to places that accept the vaccine as proof of entry and exit until this storm passes. The testing was simply too stressful.
  • Are there restricted zones?
    • Jamaica has set up “Safety Corridors” which include all of the primary (*note* big business) attractions. Small towns, and central Kingston are off limits for tourists. They claim that they want to separate the populations, which is understandable…. But, when I travel, I don’t want to be stuck with other tourists for the entire trip. I want to see the locale from the locals eyes. With restricted zoning, this isn’t possible.
  • What happens if you can’t leave or if you get sick while there?
    • Will you be able to receive adequate care? Will you be taking needed space from locals? Will you have to pay for quarantine nights at your resort? When will you be able to go home? These are all things to consider these days, unfortunately.
  • Does your presence affect the country and people in it?
    • Our drivers were telling us about the harsh restrictions placed on local taxis in Jamaica. And, many workers in the major resorts and restaurants rely on those taxi services and public transportation to get to work. However, with 7:00 p.m. curfews, closing out the restaurants and wrapping up with work meant that they were often running to make sure that they got home before the taxis were forced off the road after the “leniency hour” at 8:00 p.m. One of the girls we met didn’t make it. She had four taxi transfers in order to get home from her position in Negril. She ran out the door at 7:05 p.m., she made it to her third taxi transfer and because of the traffic, the clock struck 8:00, and she was stuck. She had to walk miles in the dark to get home, with the fear of being caught and fined heavily or put in jail. Just by working and trying to care for tourists. It might be costing the workers more to work than if the resorts would close completely.

Here’s one of our drives through Negril. I was shocked by the shuttered small businesses. Notice the businesses that are still open – Popeye’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken…it’s telling…

I’ll be staying near home for a while. And, if I decide to travel again during the pandemic, I will definitely be considering these points. I hope that you might, too…

Other Posts on Our Version of Paradise – NYC

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Majhon and Noah

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