International destinations at risk: How to be considerate travelers during COVID-19


Illustration by Joshua Sun

There is so much doubt that it’s a “risk with almost no reward” situation for those in countries dependent on tourism.

By Shannon Garrido, Editor-in-chief

Several countries around the world are highly reliant on tourism for generating foreign exchange, attracting international investments, increasing tax revenue, and providing job opportunities. Many have had to slow down or completely shut down these sectors in order to control the spread of COVID-19. 

In May of this year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated that global international tourist arrivals could decrease anywhere from 58 to 78 percent in 2020, leading to a potential loss of $0.9 to 1.2 trillion in international tourism. Last year, more than 31 million people visited the Caribbean, where tourism is their lifeblood. 53 percent of those people came from the United States. They contributed $59 billion to the region’s 2019 gross domestic product and account for 50 to 90 percent of the GDP for most countries, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Knowing that tourism is a major contributor to these economies, tourists have an obligation to be wary of the impact they have when traveling to these countries. But clearly, the behavior hasn’t seeped through to many travelers looking to escape to warmer climates during the pandemic. In the travel industry publication Skift, journalist Pam Mandel makes the case that “it’s unethical to require a worker to put herself repeatedly in a high-risk situation” just because someone wants a vacation. Considering how much tourism contributes to the rise in COVID cases for many of these countries, she’s not completely wrong. 

So for those still planning on taking a trip, travel with empathy. If you’re thinking about traveling, ask yourself if what you’re doing is worth the risk. Think about the people who need to travel out of necessity or in the millions of people who haven’t seen their family members in months because of travel restrictions. Knowing this information, let’s create a new attitude to tourism that respects the lives of those whose sunny beaches we love and enjoy. 

This mentality doesn’t just apply to tourists in the Caribbean. Vietnam had no reported infections or deaths between April and July. But over the weekend of July 25, nine cases emerged in the beach town Da Nang, where thousands of tourists were evacuated and at least 81,000 of residents are now in quarantine. This led to six recorded COVID-19 deaths as of August 3rd. 

On July 1, The Bahamas also reopened its borders to international tourism. Just a few weeks later, COVID-19 cases tripled from 50 on July 1 to 174 on July 21. As of August 3, the total has risen to 648 cases.

Many of these spikes in cases are directly linked to opening up borders to tourists, especially U.S. tourists. 

As aforementioned, the Caribbean has “a long history of being seen as a playground for visitors from the mainland United States.” Just as well, for a region where tourism contributes to on average 5.5 percent of employment, it’s very difficult for residents to simply avoid tourists who carry the virus. More specifically, this makes it much more difficult to avoid American tourists, even when the U.S. has some of the highest COVID mortality rates amongst affected countries. 

Puerto Rico opened their borders to Americans from the mainland on July 15, but they were forced to push back that date after viral videos emerged showing incoming visitors ignoring masks and social distancing rules. 

Curaçao is one of the few countries that has reopened its borders to Canada and other nations, but not the U.S. This strategy seems to be working in controlling the spread of the virus. The country oversaw only four active cases on August 3rd. 

Because people from the U.S. have created a negative reputation by ignoring health guidelines, many countries are wary of keeping them as visitors. Canada and Ireland have placed strict lockdown measures and fines for any tourist that refuses to comply. But many countries whose residents rely on tourism don’t have the luxury of finning tourists who benefit from “quarantine loopholes.”

Countries that are highly dependent on tourism, especially small island developing states (SIDS), are much more vulnerable and any shock of such magnitude is difficult to manage. This calls for tough decisions where developing countries have to risk public health in order to keep their economies afloat. 

Many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) lack the adequate hospital and emergency transportation infrastructure to care for their residents suffering from this deadly pandemic. According to Brett Walton’s reporting from non-profit organization Circle of Blue, underfunded and neglected clinics frequently see doctors tending to ill patients without minimum protections against disease transmission. Because of these barriers, COVID-19 disproportionally affects the poor, minorities, and a broad range of vulnerable populations and people with poor access to healthcare who experience COVID-19 related symptoms may delay or even forgo being tested. This causes them to turn to medical care only in advanced stages, resulting in poorer outcomes. 

Additionally, the global economic downturn combined with limited international support puts millions of people in LMICs at risk. This lack of adequate control of additional outbreaks has pushed the World Health Organization to increase support to these countries to improve resilience and reduce the health and social impact of future health emergencies. 

There is so much doubt that it’s a “risk with almost no reward” situation for those in countries dependent on tourism. With this in mind, let’s practice empathy when we travel, and think about how our actions might impact others. 

Shannon Garrido is a journalism major from the class of 2024. If you would like to respond to this thought piece in the form of a letter to the editor, email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for style and clarity.