Tommy Gaunt, owner of Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing on Anegada, displays equipment to attendees interested in staycations during an information session on Friday at Tola Brewery. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

With borders tightly restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, now is a perfect time for a “staycation,” according to tourism-based businesses that have been promoting a variety of packages to residents.

“We’ve found a lot of people who live in the BVI who’ve never even been on a boat,” Christalen Ambrose-Thomas, office manager at Horizon Yacht Charters, said on Friday.

The company is offering a variety of packages for day and overnight charters at discounted rates. Normally, she explained, guests must stay for a minimum of five days, but now residents can spend as little as a weekend exploring Virgin Islands waters.

“Whether you’re feeling trapped or just wanting something to do on the beautiful waters, we figured, why not just start offering some vacation packages for persons who want something different?” she said.

To spread the word, Horizon teamed up with Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing and Blue Water Divers on Friday at Tola Brewery to hold an informational session about staycations with other tourism businesses.

Mr. Gaunt unveiled a kiteboard to demonstrate to potential customers.

Although times have been tough since the border closure, he said, he’s been delighted to see more and more residents appearing each weekend at Anegada Beach Club, where his business is based.

“We’re trying to get residents out of their homes, and it’s the perfect time to do it,” he said. “It’s quiet, there’s not that many people around. It’s what you want really. If you live here, you can have the experience of a lifetime.”

The BVI Tourist Board has gotten in on the action, launching a staycation programme and website at the beginning of summer that featured deals and discounts from hotels, restaurants, spas and tour operators across the territory.

Financial implications

Mike “Muffy” Royle, owner of Blue Water Divers, said divers in the community have continued to be supportive through the pandemic and closures.

“We’ve seen huge interest [from residents],” he said. “What we’ve seen on the island is that so many people are buying snorkeling gear, diving, going to the beach every weekend, swimming. It’s going great.”

Financially, he said, this business boost has allowed him to get by.

“I thought I would be in far worse shape than I am right now,” he said. “I thought I would be bleeding money everywhere, and I’ve been able to do far better than we anticipated, and that’s through locals. I am optimistic over a short period of time, but come November, December, it could get a lot more serious.”

Getting creative

Others said they’ve had to be creative to find ways to stay afloat and keep their employees busy. Ms. Ambrose-Thomas said that even though July is already the low season for the charter business, it normally would be much busier.

“We do have quite a number of [visitors] who focus on this time of year to go through,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the pandemic and closure.”

But she hopes that staycations will create new customers going forward.
“We want to remind them we are in the sailing capital of the world, so let’s take advantage of it,” she said.