I was excited to see an image of Crete open for business last weekend. Then I read that the Greek population were not yet fully vaccinated. If we were to travel there, fully vaccinated or not and carried the virus in with us, like a covid rucksack, or more controversially like a blanket infected with smallpox; perhaps some variant from our neck of the woods; could we cause the serious illness or even death of a local? This led me to thinking about a new kind of travel etiquette. It’s thorny. These places are all crying out for the tourist dollar but, what are the implications of our travel decisions?
Here in New Zealand we have opened up a quarantine free bubble with Australia and a few days ago with Rarotonga. Incidentally, the NZ vaccination team were on the first tourist flight to start the vaccination program for Rarotonga. It would make a more comforting order had the population been vaccinated first then the tourists come. We only have to look at another close neighbor, Fiji, to see how it can all go wrong really quickly, going from almost no covid to rapid spread in a short space of time. Pacifika people are vulnerable as their healthcare facilities are not equipped to cope with intensive care needs, often shipping high needs patients to New Zealand. They also have high rates of co-morbidities making them doubly at risk. Should we be going there on holiday to spend dollars in their communities or protect them by staying away?
And then, what of long haul travel? I went to Europe every year for six years, enduring the 27 hour flight from NZ via Dubai or some other Asian hub and then onto, Rome, sigh, or Paris, Madrid or Munich. Is that still a desirable endeavor, in a mask? My urge to go has dissolved like snow in summer. Not because I don’t love Italy, hilltop villages, Roman frescoes and gelato. Memories rise up of reading the church notice board in San Silvestro, the view of Palermo from Monreale, drinking Peroni in a restaurant over the sea in Chianalea like a dear friend calling to me but I know my friend is suffering. My friend is struggling for money, my friend is grieving his loses, my friend is brought to his knees. Even if I went, can he open his doors to me? Will he be as he was?
For me, it is not yet time. I need to let Italy heal and be ready to proceed, with a clear strategy of what mass tourism might look like now. Less people in St Marks Square, tourists moving more slowly, exploring off the beaten places allowing the flow of money to go directly into local grower’s pockets and to independent accommodation providers. I can wait. Local tourism here is pretty decent.
In the meantime, I’ll donate my travel fund to an international cause that helps in different ways and bide my time. I’ll know when it’s right. People won’t be dying in a global pandemic.