Adina Eigen made her first trip to the British Virgin Islands in December 2020. At the time, it had one of the lowest Covid rates in the world among reopened islands.

The 42-year-old mother of four from Sands Point, New York has since returned twice and checked infection rates – and vaccination statistics – before traveling.

“The Oil Nut Bay staff is fully vaccinated,” she said of the luxury resort her family stayed at. “The property cannot be reached by land and is very closely monitored by sea.”

The British Virgin Islands are part of a growing number of Caribbean destinations that are attracting vaccinated travelers – while they are less attractive to unvaccinated people.

Travelers to the British Virgin Islands

Vaccinated Partly vaccinated Unvaccinated
June 2021 78% 6% 16%
July 2021 88% 2% 10%
Central Statistical Office of the BVI

Along with Barbados and St. Lucia, the British Virgin Islands only allow unvaccinated travelers to enter if they are quarantined for a week. The data shows that few are willing to do this, especially when they have other options in the Caribbean that don’t require quarantines or vaccination certificates.

The relative severity or mildness of entry requirements in the Caribbean is changing travel trends in the region. Unvaccinated travelers attract the islands they let in, while the vaccinated seek places to keep the nonimmunized away.

Vaccinated travelers only

At least seven Caribbean nations and territories have announced mandatory vaccination policies for incoming adult travelers – Anguilla, Grenada, St. Barts, St. Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Cayman Islands.

The Cayman Islands plan to accept vaccinated travelers during the third phase of their structured reopening from September 9th to October 13th. After that, the area can allow unvaccinated travelers to enter if they are quarantined for 14 days.

People have a greater interest in traveling to islands that have vaccination protocols.

Eric Bamberger

Zeta Global

Safety is cited as the main reason for the requirement, but such guidelines can also be good for business.

Marketing technology company Zeta Global analyzed site traffic to major tourism websites in several islands after announcing vaccination-only guidelines, said Eric Bamberger, senior vice president of hospitality at Zeta Global.

After the announcements, everyone’s interest in travel increased:

  • Grenada – up 25%
  • St. Kitts and Nevis – up 26%
  • Cayman Islands – up 44%
  • Anguilla – up 59%

The data showed two trends emerging in the Caribbean, Bamberger said.

“People are more interested in traveling to islands that have vaccination protocols,” he said. “And their interest in other islands without vaccination protocols is waning.”

Data from the travel marketing company Adara shows enthusiasm for the entry regulations only for vaccinated people. Searches and bookings spiked when Trinidad and Tobago announced it would reopen only to vaccinated travelers – and then again when the policy was implemented.

Adventure travel company Intrepid Travel sees a preference for destinations with more restrictions, said Matt Berna, the company’s general manager for North America.

“We have found that our customers are more interested in traveling to Caribbean destinations with stricter and more stringent policies and travel restrictions related to Covid-19,” he said.

For example, one of the most popular trips booked by North Americans is “none of our tours in Mexico are in the top 20,” he said. Mexico has lenient Covid protocols, but Intrepid Travel does not. As of September 1, all of the company’s travelers and tour guides must be vaccinated, Berna said.

Eigen told CNBC it was considering going to Mexico at some point, but found it “scary” to visit a country with few restrictions.

“I’m vaccinated and I would like to go to an island that only allows vaccinated people,” she said, a view repeated by several travelers who spoke to CNBC.

“I am vaccinated and would like to go to an island that only allows vaccinated people,” said Eigen and her family in Oil Nut Bay in the British Virgin Islands.

With the kind permission of Adina Eigen

The Caribbean authorities have expressed a positive response to the policy.

“Our arrival numbers have been consistent and the occupancy rate continues to improve,” said Petra Roach, CEO of the Grenada Tourism Authority.

Turks and Caicos Islands prepared for mixed feedback when their policy announced earlier this month, said Jamell R. Robinson, the islands minister for health and human services.

“However, we have received a very encouraging overall response from new and existing visitors,” he said. “We assume that this will have a positive effect on bookings in the long term.”

No vaccine required

Unlike islands with relatively strict guidelines, places like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the US Virgin Islands have entry guidelines based on testing rather than vaccines.

Data from Adara suggests that the Dominican Republic saw the greatest interest in travel before other Caribbean islands enacted vaccination regulations earlier this summer. Most travelers to the Dominican Republic are not required to present a negative test, but some will be given a Covid-19 breath test upon arrival.

As vaccination rates rose among the island’s top markets – namely the United States and Canada – interest in travel declined. Covid infection rates in the Dominican Republic declined from June to August, but interest and searches did not recover accordingly.

Website traffic on the major Jamaica and Bahamas tourism websites increased in June and July, but visitors spent less time searching and clicking fewer pages, said Bamberger of Zeta Global.

Vaccinated people want to vacation in places with stricter regulations so that they do not mix with unvaccinated people.

“These trends show that… travelers are still more cautious when traveling to areas with no vaccination guidelines,” he said.

The same applies to travelers’ flight requests. A study by finance website FinanceBuzz published this month shows that if airlines required vaccinations, more people would likely fly (48%) than such a policy is against (27%).

Line in the sand

These numbers suggest that islands with lenient protocols – that is, those with no quarantine or vaccination requirements – are likely to attract unvaccinated travelers while discouraging vaccinated ones.

“Vaccinated people want to vacation in places with more stringent requirements so they don’t mix with unvaccinated people,” said Carolyn Corda, Adara chief marketing officer.

CNBC asked the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Jamaica the percentage of arriving travelers who are not vaccinated. The Bahamas said they were unable to provide that number. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic did not respond to CNBC’s request.

Puerto Rico Tourism Authority, Discover Puerto Rico, has stated that the island has a mandate to vaccinate when it does not.

The Discover Puerto Rico website states that guests and employees at its hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants and bars are “vaccinated”. Discover Puerto Rico’s CEO separately confirmed the vaccine “mandate” to CNBC.

However, a closer look at Puerto Rico’s restrictions reveals that a negative Covid test on arrival and weekly negative tests afterwards without a vaccine are sufficient. Asked for clarification, a Discover Puerto Rico representative told CNBC that “the ‘mandate’ relates to the need for vaccination or more frequent negative tests”.

Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said vaccination rates for travelers to Puerto Rico rose from 9% in May to 58% in August.