By Thomas Christopher Famous
‘Sun’, ‘sea’ and ‘sand’ are words synonymous with life in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions and their people.
Waking up daily, being able to absorb vitamin D from the sun, frolicking in crystal clear waters and walking on sands of various textures and hues, have been a part of our lives since infancy.
We have been born into what the world knows as ‘natural paradises’ – so much so, that our region has, over the last 30 years, become one of the most popular destinations on the globe. Millions of tourists from around the world visit our shores by cruise ship or aeroplane.
We have subsequently become very successful, building our individual and collective economies around those precious visitors.
Those whose foreparents once toiled under the sun for pittance of pay were able to transition into taxi drivers, hotel staff, hotel owners, hospitality specialists, rental car owners, tour bus drivers and a host of other supporting industries.
Year after year, our numbers of visitors grew. In some places, the numbers even grew beyond our capacity.
Last year, stay-over arrivals topped 31.5 million, the highest total in the region’s history.
Everything was looking good for continued growth and prosperity … until the spring of 2020.
The words sun, sea and sand, have now been replaced.
The three Cs
‘Corona’, ‘COVID’ and ‘curfew’ are the new words that dominate our daily lives and have decimated our Caribbean tourism industry.
Commencing with the closing of both air and sea borders; then progressing to the shuttering of Airbnbs, hotels, bars, restaurants; and, finally, morphing into island-wide lock-downs; the impact has led to the lives and economies in our natural paradises being forever changed.
Across the region, millions have been laid off with no known date of going back to work.
Tour buses and taxis, in islands such as Anguilla, Cayman Brac, Montserrat and Tortola now sit empty and idle in their owners’ yards.
Once-bustling restaurants like Peppers in Grand Cayman, Lobster Pot in Bermuda, and Pussers in Tortola, are now vacant.
The L.F. Wade International Airport in Bermuda, the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman, and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport in the Virgin Islands, now only service cargo or medevac flights.
Almost overnight, the economic life to which we have become accustomed, has rapidly changed.
The new norms
Forty million Caribbean residents are now faced with the following stark realities:
Significant drops or loss of income
Less money for groceries
Depleted savings accounts
Deferred retirement plans
Closures of small businesses
The list of negative economic realities is limitless, with each of the people affected having a sad story.
Yet, through it all, over the past five centuries, we, as Caribbean people, have weathered slavery, classism, racism and hundreds of hurricanes. Now, as then, we will do what we do best.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
In the next column, we will discuss ways in which the governments and people of the Caribbean region and the overseas territories, in particular, are coping and overcoming the three Cs.
Until that time, my people, stay safe, stay united, and #stayathome.
- Thomas Christopher Famous is a government Member of Parliament in Bermuda. He is the Bermuda government representative for Caribbean Relations and Caricom and writes weekly columns for various Caribbean news sites. This is part one of a two-part series for the Cayman Compass. Famous can be reached via WhatsApp at (441)-599-0901 or via email at [email protected]