Vacationer-starved Caribbean islands woo homebound staff

As soon as London, England’s first coronavirus lockdown, ended last summer, Abbie Sheppard, 24, took a short vacation to Bermuda. Four months later, the vacation is long gone, but it’s still there – one of the thousands of people lured to islands in the Caribbean and North Atlantic with programs aimed at catching distant workers.

“I just never went back,” Sheppard, the chief of staff at celebrity booking firm Cameo, said over the phone.

With traditional tourism plagued by the pandemic and many in Europe and North America working from home in the midst of shorter days and falling temperaturesIslands in the Caribbean try to attract longer-term visitors. It’s the sun-kissed version of the road driving and temporary rental trend seen in summer.

Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Puerto Rico, and St. Kitts and Nevis are among those soliciting local workers from overseas. This differs from the pandemic promotions of some islands for the sale of secondary passes at a discount.

Recruiting workers is a delicate balancing act.

Most of the Caribbean has been spared the worst of the pandemic. By closing borders early and closing cruise ships early, many islands have managed to keep the virus at bay. Only eight locations in the western hemisphere have not reported any COVID-19 deaths, and they are all small islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic.

Security has been a huge cost. Travel and hospitality make up 20% to 90% of the economy in the CaribbeanThis makes the region one of the most touristic areas on the planet. The International Monetary Fund expects GDP in large parts of the region to fall by 9.9% this year.

Now that the US and Europe are seeing a second surge, the islands are struggling to welcome visitors again without rolling out the red carpet for COVID-19.

Travelers entering Bermuda must present a negative coronavirus test when boarding the plane and will be retested four more times within two weeks before being allowed to move freely. The island of 64,000 has reported 222 cases and nine deaths.

That makes it one of the toughest testing programs in the world, a hassle for tourists but a perk for remote workers.

In addition to the proximity to the US east coast and the robust business infrastructure, “one of our unique selling points is clearly how well we were able to deal with the virus,” said Prime Minister David Burt.

Bermuda has received nearly 600 applications since the remote worker visa program started in July. It’s a drop in the ocean – but every drop counts.

Barbados has also gone to great lengths and has hosted nearly 3,000 remote workers since the Barbados Welcome Stamp was launched in July.

“We have no plans to end the program,” said Eusi Skeete, US director at Barbados Tourism Marketing. “It has extended the life cycle of visitors to our island.”

The competition is heating up. The Cayman Islands, which remain closed to general tourism, last month launched their Global Citizen Concierge program for remote workers who earn more than $ 100,000 a year and provide proof of employment and health insurance.

The crowded market means that travel destinations have to go beyond their usual boundaries of beach, beauty, rum and sun.

“Look, it’s the Caribbean, every place has beautiful beaches, and we have them in droves,” said Rod Miller, CEO of Invest Puerto Rico, the US Territory’s investment promotion agency. “But we also have a critical mass of business, opportunity and connectivity to the US mainland that we don’t have in these other markets.”

Part of Puerto Rico’s pitch is that it will be a seamless transition for continental US – a Caribbean island that doesn’t require a passport, offers multiple flights to the east coast every day, and where your mobile phone, Netflix account, and Your health insurance will work immediately.

Barbados has emphasized the speed of its internet and the quality of its health care and education – attributes not normally featured in its tourism brochures.

Even so, breaking down your laptop on a pristine beach and slamming the clock is not that easy. Far-away workers face high prices, health care, spotty internet, and distance from family in a region prone to hurricanes and tropical diseases.

It also means that taxes and time zones can be tricky. Some of the leading US and European banks in London recently warned wayward employees to drive home as their lengthy absences forced companies to pay taxes in foreign jurisdictions.

For many, the effort is worth it. Samantha McGue, who works with HigherMe, a recruiting and hiring platform, moved from a 700-square-foot home in Denver to a location three times the size in Puerto Rico.

“It’s pretty priceless to trade a 2½-hour shuttle to jump in the ocean every day and watch the sun go down,” she said.