The first two weeks of 2021 have not been easy.
It began with the stunning news of the death of a legendary man of the Caribbean, Butch Stewart, whose brands, the all-inclusive Sandals and Beaches resorts, have impacted the way many travelers now vacation in these islands.
Stewart’s passing was marked by many condolence messages from across the region that reflected noted only his achievements and contributions as an entrepreneur and shrewd businessman but also his personality and his love of family, the sea and his heritage.
Here are samplings:
Prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, wrote: “Butch was the quintessential Jamaican, from his accent to his antics, and in everything he did, he represented his country well, always wearing the motto of Jamaica with pride: ‘Out of many, one people.’ It was impossible to share a space with him and not be drawn to his infectious laughter and warm personality, no doubt products of his Jamaica heritage.”
Charles Fernandez, minister of tourism and investments of Antigua and Barbuda, said: “He was a Jamaican — a land to which he was deeply committed — but he regarded the Caribbean as his wider fraternal community.
“Despite his humble beginnings, he competed against the biggest names in tourism to build a successful and respected network of hotels across the Caribbean. That undertaking was not easy. It required a special person with unique skills and committed drive to successfully overcome the challenges from established institutions and to carve a universally known brand name. Butch Stewart was all that and more.”
Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas’ minister of tourism and aviation, described Stewart as a “global trailblazer, a game changer in the delivery of the globally coveted Caribbean vacation product, a key partner in our tourism enterprise who left an indelible mark on the Bahamas’s hospitality sector.”
The most touching tributes were several from his son Adam Stewart, now chairman of Sandals Resorts International, who described his father as a superhero “and a dreamer who could dream bigger and better than anyone.”
Perhaps the most moving of all was his message on social media platforms on Jan. 6, accompanied by photos of the plane bringing Stewart’s body back to Jamaica, the land of his birth. “Welcome back home dad,” he wrote.
“For his final flight home, our pilots flew low along the north coast of Jamaica. From the shores, our incredible team members got to salute their leader from our beaches this one last time. We are so happy to have you home with us, dad.
“Go disrupt heaven and make it even better than it was before your arrival, just like you changed the world.”
And from that sad event, the week moved to the violent events that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers were certifying the election results. The Trump-incited siege by thousands who breached the building’s security and rampaged the House and Senate chambers was viewed the world over.
The Virgin Islands Daily News reported that the islands’ delegate to Congress, Stacey Plaskett, who was sequestered inside her Washington, D.C. office as the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building, called the riots an act of “domestic terrorism”, adding that “this is not what our country should be.”
Almost forgotten in the sadness and chaos of last week was the ongoing pandemic and the threat of the coronavirus variant discovered in the U.K. that reportedly has found its way into the U.S.
Several Caribbean islands are revamping entry protocols in the wake of rising cases. St. Maarten is set to roll out its SXM Protection Plan on Jan. 11, a mandatory health plan that would cover visitors if they test positive while on the island. The cost is $30 for visitors 15 years and older, $10 for kids under 15, for stays not exceeding 180 days.
Pedro Pierluisi, the new governor of Puerto Rico, recently issued an executive order to ease some of the on-island Covid-19 restrictions, but the order is primarily aimed at residents; the island still is encouraging only essential travel at this time.
The British Virgin Islands has pushed back the reopening of its seaports, including the Road Town Ferry, to March 1.