On the glassy blue waters surrounding the U.S. Virgin Islands, catamarans and pleasure yachts have packed the shoreline for the past year — a scene so busy and crowded that it would have been notable even before the pandemic.
The business of charter yachts is booming, and is expected to pump at least $88 million into the local economy this season, almost double the figure from 2019, according to Marketplace Excellence, which represents the U.S. territory’s department of tourism.
Less than 12 miles away, the quiet waterways of the British Virgin Islands present a different story. Relatively few boats have harbored there since last spring, when Britain mostly shuttered the territory to international tourists. Strict Covid safety protocols have kept many away.
Before the pandemic, the Caribbean was the world’s most tourism-reliant region, according to recent calculations by the World Travel Tourism Council. Made up of dozens of sovereign nations, territories and dependencies that often reacted disparately to the virus, the region was struck unequally by the coronavirus.
Some islands were walloped by staggering caseloads, while infections on others sometimes dwindled to single digits.
Health care infrastructure across the region is limited, and many islands have endured border closures and stringent curfews. The result: Tourism has drastically declined, sinking the region’s economic output 58 percent last year.