Anguilla’s COVID Tourism Bubble is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong with the Industry

It is obvious to anyone that the economy in Anguilla is suffering. In fact, the economy anywhere that relies heavily on travel to warm, sandy shores is teetering perilously on the edge of collapse. Forums are atwitter. Government and health officials are in and out of discussions. Decisions are made from the fabric of necessary evils.

We need to bring tourists back to our island, but we literally can’t afford to let the virus in. The healthcare systems in large, booming economies are overrun by the pandemic– what does that mean for our hospital outfitted to service an island of 14,000 people who are never all in need of medical attention simultaneously?

Shutting our borders in March meant that Anguilla could safely observe what happened in other places and tailor the plan accordingly. Spring went by, Summer arrived, beaches were empty, hurricanes whispered to us but never raised their voices, no tourists toed the waterline or picked up shells. We were safe, a colony of Anguillians in a sort of hermetic zone stuck in the regular way of life. We had parties, we gave hugs. Children blew out birthday candles and held hands. Anxiety ebbed away.

Money ebbed away, too. The multimillion dollar industry that is tourism was dark. At night, areas that used to be bathed in a wash of luxury lighting were vast acres of murky bleakness representing not only the forgotten properties, but the abandoned idea of a season. It was only a matter of time before a plan would be put in place to welcome back strangers from the outside.

The plan came first in the form of long-term guests. This went across to the local community with little upset– people would come, quarantine for two weeks in a government facility, and then be free to go and do as they pleased. We felt safe, still, because the probability of coming into contact with any germs or viral individuals was slim. The hermetic capsule of life was unbroken. This plan, however, was not a real resuscitation of the industry as it was only financially feasible to those whose bank accounts could withstand a US$1,500 application fee plus the costs of living and staying in Anguilla beyond fourteen days.

Phase 2 came first as a rumour. Then a press conference. Then a web presence. Then a bubble.

The bubble was created as a way to offer some sort of metaphorical protection. In literature, the term “in a bubble” is used to mean sheltered or naive. Growing up, I remember watching a documentary about Bubble Boy, a child born with such a severe immune system disorder that he spent his life inside a literal bubble. Things in a bubble are protected from things outside of a bubble. But, for some reason, we are supposed to now believe that we, on the outside, are protected from those on the inside.

I write to outline some flaws in this logic:

  1. The concept of the bubble, as I stated above, is metaphoric. There is to exist a tourism bubble in which individuals in quarantine can move between their original bubble (the hotel) and others participating in the bubble (restaurants or excursions). This means multiple overlapping bubbles are occurring.
  2. Picture when you are a child playing with a bubble wand and you create a bubble inside of another bubble. This is now the conundrum of Day 1 quarantine members coexisting with Day 9 and 10. Further still we have the concept of those who have completed their 10 or 14 day quarantine and continue to reside at the same hotel, but in the “out of quarantine” section. Bubbles in bubbles in bubbles.
  3. Establishments which have chosen to participate in the bubble on some days and reserve other days for outside of the bubble. While those in the bubble will feel fine about this, those outside of it might not.

Like I said, bubbles are metaphorically thought of as protecting those inside, not outside.

How, then, does this new approach to tourism in Anguilla exemplify what is wrong with the tourism industry? Well, firstly it relies too heavily on human self-governance. It is well known by many islanders the common mentality that runs among tourists: I’m on vacation so I can do what I want. People behave differently on holiday. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is not. Being on holiday means you are eating out daily, basking in the sun and (in general) living the life you wish you lived all the time. This creates an atmosphere of fiction.

Sometimes, we who live here like to joke that “Anguilla is not a real place”. Often, to tourists, it isn’t. Anguilla is imagined as a tropical, utopic oasis made for relaxation and the wearing of flip flops and linen. It isn’t thought of as a functioning society with a government, social ills, pant suits, and political problems. People in the forums have remarked negatively regarding restaurants that decide not to participate in the bubble. “How are residents affording to buy food?“. This question is based on some justification– there is much publicity surrounding food banks and financial assistance for hospitality workers. Tourism is our main economic driver, but it is not the only source of employment that exists in Anguilla. For now, others in the private and public sector can still afford to eat out and support local establishments, enough so that these establishments have chosen to negate the need to enter the bubble.

To expect someone that’s come to a “fictional place” to behave normally or follow rules is a far reach. Tourists often drink and drive, allow their children to ride without carseats, wear bathing suits or go barefoot in grocery stores and exhibit an array of other behaviours that are outside the governed norm. Why, then, would we be able to expect them to “stay in the bubble”?

Another industry problem that has come to light– the concept of “white people”. The majority of tourists that visit Anguilla are of the caucasoid persuasion. In Anguilla, when the term “white people” is used, it is synonymous with “tourists”. We have white Anguillians. We have white residents. Sometimes they even use the term “white people” in a joking way to refer to “tourists” because living in Anguilla as a white person removes some of your “white personness”. You learn to wuk up and you may mutter ayuh lawd from time to time.

It is not a vast social leap to make the connection that Anguillians may begin to see “white people” as potential bearers of COVID-19. Being white in Anguilla is a calling card– there are only so many white people here. So, being white and unrecognised leaves the interpretation for a resident to presume you may be or have been in quarantine.

Racism in the tourism industry has been an issue for generations. Any black person on Anguilla can share an experience (whether theirs or overheard) where a white tourist assumed a black person in an establishment to be a worker, not a guest. We open up an interesting can of xenophobia here because in other parts of the world, where COVID-19 has been fluttering its wings for almost a year, the feathers of germs are indiscriminate. Anyone from any race could have COVID. But, in COVID-free Anguilla, where the majority of the 14,000 people is black and where the percentage of resident whites is known, the only people who could have that germ are statistically white.

Such an occurrence happened to which I was witness. I was at lunch at Ocean Echo on Meads Bay with my boyfriend. There were two other tables: one a large group celebrating a birthday and the other a family of four. We felt comfortable selecting Ocean Echo for lunch because it had advertised as not participating in the tourism bubble. Shortly after finishing our appetiser, we noticed a pair of white men making their way up the beach. They appeared, for every intent and purpose, entirely unthreatening. One man wore a navy blue mask and the other had a red one hanging down around his neck. The men trudged closer and it became obvious that they were intending on entering the restaurant.

We quietly discussed the men. I didn’t recognise them. Neither did my boyfriend.

The men mounted the deck and all conversation in the restaurant stopped. The large birthday table, previously boisterous and gleeful, fell silent. I watched the two men and one chanced a wave. Quickly, I looked down at my plate and immediately felt ashamed because I could feel it creeping in on me. I was afraid of these two men because they were white and they were strangers. They could have the virus. At this moment, the man who had been wearing his mask took it off and, probably at the general sense of negativity that perforated the air, the two men rethought their choice to enter Ocean Echo through the deck and instead began to make their way up the sidewalk to the bar area.

My boyfriend beckoned to the waitress and asked her if Ocean Echo was in the bubble. No. I told her that I believed the two men did not live in Anguilla. I actually made a joke that “I know all the white people here” (which might sound ridiculous, but in a small island like this with the social circles being distinct at times, the possibility exists). At our urging, she went to halt them at the bar area and engaged them in a brief conversation. When she returned, she thanked us.

“You were right,” she said. “They don’t live here. They said they just got here two days ago.”

The two men walked back down the beach, masks on, in the direction they came.

I have questions. Why did they think they could leave their property? Why was there not adequate security to prevent this? Why have we not implemented a system where those in quarantine wear one coloured band and those outside of quarantine wear another?

At the time, I was too shocked by the whole ordeal to think about reporting it. I also wasn’t aware of the protocol for doing such. I doubt the waitress did either, because when I mentioned the occurrence on a Facebook thread, I was contacted by those in authority for more details on the matter. As such, I have given those in authority the relevant information and they have done with it what they need to.

We need to be vigilant. Not to the point of xenophobic bias, but to the point that we do not operate on “if” we get a case but “when”. I also urge that more stringent protocols be put in place to govern those in quarantine because it is apparent that breaches are possible and will happen. It goes against the regular “Hello, Tourist” washing of ensuring the guest has a good time to say “I’m sorry, sir, you can’t leave the property” but it needs to be done. This is not the time for us to activate a neo-colonial please-the-tourists mentality.

4 thoughts on “Anguilla’s COVID Tourism Bubble is a Perfect Example of What is Wrong with the Industry

  1. Great article Vanessa. Thankfully you were there to point out the offenders. But, I fear this will become more common as Phase 2 transpires. I have seen the rule breakers and am always amazed that they would carry on this way in another country, when they would not think of doing this at home. Hopefully Anguilla can stay safe, my thoughts are with my beloved island.

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  2. thank you vanessa nad ellenlv: really good smart insight. sadly, my wife and i (and friends) will not return to anguilla until it returns to a normal. we will not quarantine. we will not live in a bubble we respect anguilla right to enforce these rules; we will simply not play the game.

    people who act poorly or inappropriately should be pointed out…..but my strong guess is that this is a small minority. anguilla is too beautiful and filled with too many wonderful people to have abusers running rampant,

    we do plan to go elsewhere in the caribbean this winter sad we will miss our second home and our friends

    please do let us know when you will be able to greet well paying nice respectful honest guests back in a fair way.

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  3. No matter how much of a bubble we create, sooner or later it’s bound to happen. What then? When we fail to plan we plan to fail. No one could have seen this coming, but our governments, all of them continued to act in a vaccum. The 700 thousand spent on car rentals after Hurricane Irma could come in handy right about now. The 17 mil that was given to the Hickoxes in the Cap Jaluca deal woul be a god send right now. You get my point. Right now we have to put the health of our people on the line because we have had over fifty years to get this right and we have failed miserably. That is damned unacceptable.

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  4. Great article and thank you. The idea of the bubble was a great one, but a moving bubble is scarey These guests were not supposed to leave their properties. We do not have an island wide plan. For me personally, with some of the hotels now reopened and reopening, mass gatherings and events should mandate masks.

    We need to be more vigilant and careful, or we lose the battle.

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