While St. Vincent focuses on cleanup, the Grenadines are ready for tourists

Tobago Cays Marine Park in the Grenadines is a top attraction for yachters and daytrippers on charter boats.
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Massive cleanup operations are continuing on St. Vincent following the eruption of La Soufriere on April 9.

Although the volcano known to locals as LaLa has been quiet for several weeks now, it continues to be in a state of unrest, according to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Center. Scientists say that explosions with accompanying ashfall could take place with little or no warning.

The rehabilitation there will take some time, according to Carlos James, St. Vincent & the Grenadines' minister of tourism. "Covid has been an economic hemorrhage for us. Visitor and cruise numbers plummeted, and then we had another setback with the eruptions. And now hurricane season is coming," he said.

"Until we can move further toward recovery, our tourism emphasis will be focused on the Grenadines, where the sailing is perfect, the waters clear and the diving fantastic," James said during a recent webinar.

What's open in the Caribbean?

The Grenadines, a necklace of small islands that stretch 45 miles on a line between the larger islands of St. Vincent and Grenada, remain pristine and relatively untouched by the catastrophic impact of LaLa.

The northern two-thirds of the chain, including about 32 small islands and cays, are part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), while the southern end of 10 islands are part of Grenada.

The small islands of the Grenadines are known for their yacht-filled harbors, luxurious resorts and sailing routes. weathered the volcanic storm "with minimal damage," according to Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and Grenadines Tourism Authority, with water-based activities, including charter yacht companies, back in operation.

"The waters are still beautiful," Beache said.

The yachting sector is expected to be the niche that gets things going in the Grenadines. A Sail Grenadines promotional campaign is expected to launch in the next few weeks.

A mountain of ash and lava poured down hillsides following the eruption of La Soufriere on St. Vincent on April 9.
A mountain of ash and lava poured down hillsides following the eruption of La Soufriere on St. Vincent on April 9. Photo Credit: Niko Spencer

"We want to take advantage of the Grenadines to rebuild awareness that we have much to offer as a destination and to build awareness that our tourism industry, which has suffered so badly from Covid and the eruptions, welcomes those who want to charter a yacht or a sailboat through these waters, drop anchor on a secluded island, dive under the waters to explore a reef or take a day cruise to Tobago Cays Marine Park, one of our top marine attractions," James said.

The Grenadines have long been a favorite of yachters who arrive by sea on their own vessels or fly into St. Vincent's Argyle Airport and then pick up a yacht charter on the south coast and set off to explore the waters, cays and marine life of the nearby islands.

• Related: Caribbean neighbors offer aid to St. Vincent

"We want to take advantage of the Grenadines. Boosting numbers in the yachting sector will help rebuild our visitor numbers and add revenues that have decimated as a result of Covid and the eruptions," said Beache.

During the pandemic, visitors who arrive by air and pick up a boat charter in St. Vincent must quarantine for 48 hours onboard their vessel.

Away from the water, SVG counts destination weddings, adventure tourism and ecotourism as some of its main tourism attractions.

Tourism will play an important part in the recovery of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Beache said.

"That's a huge goal for us, getting back to where we need to be," Beache said. "This is not an overnight recovery, but I guarantee that we will come back stronger than ever. We may be down, but we are not out."

Argyle Airport is again welcoming American's Saturday flight from Miami, and its Wednesday flight is set to resume soon. Liat has service from neighboring islands, and Air Canada plans to operate a schedule from Toronto in mid-September as does Virgin Atlantic from the U.K.

The destination has issued entry protocols for vaccinated visitors that include a pre-arrival form, results of a negative PCR test done 72 hours before arrival, proof of vaccination, a fully paid reservation for accommodations, retest upon arrival and quarantine for 48 hours.

Unvaccinated travelers must quarantine for 14 days in a tourism-approved hotel and be retested on Day 4 and Day 7.

Beache acknowledged that the destination "has suffered massive destruction, but we will improve on what we had. We will remain competitive. We have serious strength in our tourism product with our hiking and outdoor adventures, our focus on sustainability and our appeal to the kind of traveler who is seeking different Caribbean experiences."

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not a mass-tourism destination, and "that sets us apart," Beache said. "We are authentic. As our slogan and tagline say, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is 'The Caribbean You're Looking For.'"

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