Dear Hilton Head Tourists: You Can’t Take A Vacation From COVID | Opinion

What locals want tourists to know in this pandemic…

Hilton Head Island

I get it.

It’s been an extremely stressful year for everyone — y’all want a vacation and you see Hilton Head Island, South Carolina as a good place to get away. 

I was once a Hilton Head tourist too, just like most other residents here. 

But now as a journalist living in the Lowcountry for nearly five years, I’ve become protective of this place I call home. Even before COVID-19, I caught myself getting annoyed by tourists leaving trash on the beach, messing with our wildlife, and not being respectful of this beautiful island. 

In the last few months, I’ve received dozens of emails from tourists asking me, as both a Hilton Head resident and a reporter covering the island, whether or not they should cancel their Hilton Head vacation this summer. 

It’s a loaded question — especially as the situation on Hilton Head worsens and cases increase everyday. We’ve seen a sharp surge in cases ever since Memorial Day, when tourist season on the island officially began. Beaufort County is now among the top 3 percent of counties in the nation for new cases. Restaurants have been forced to shutter as COVID-19 spread quickly among hospitality workers in the last few weeks.

Ultimately we don’t know what next week or next month will bring. 

It’s a loaded question because Hilton Head’s unique population puts us in a lose-lose situation in this pandemic. 

More than one third of Hilton Head residents are over the age of 65. 

Among those under 65, a majority of Hilton Head’s workforce are in the hospitality industry where they are are exposed to contacting hundreds of people every day and heavily depend on the tourism industry for their livelihood, especially during the summer months.

So yes, we understand we need tourism.

We also have so few hospital beds. 

The Hilton Head Island region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the United States for hospitals being overwhelmed by a COVID-19 outbreak, according to a news analysis by Five Thirty Eight

There are approximately 3,900 high-risk individuals for every ICU bed in the Hilton Head region, the Five Thirty Eight news analysis found.

But do tourists care about this?

What’s also baffling to me is the way so many of these questions are worded in both personal emails and social media posts I see.

“Do you you think the beaches are going to close? Are restaurants closed? We’re trying to figure out whether or not we should cancel.

This way of thinking is troublesome to me. Too many tourists don’t seem worried about making a bad situation worse. They just care if they can come here and pretend a pandemic doesn’t exist. 

The situation is fragile. And so many of us are scared. Our stomachs churn when we see 100,000 tourists come over the bridge every Saturday — not because we hate tourists, but because we worry for our neighbors.

I know so many of you, too, care about Hilton Head. I know so many of you know how special a place it is and you desperately want to escape to your happy place on this island.

Hilton Head

So should you come here? 

If you are a careful, respectful person who can look at your vacation plans and adjust them with the safety of this community in mind, then yes.

  • Will you avoid crowded restaurants?
  • Will you stay inside and stay quarantined the second you feel sick?
  • Will you heed CDC recommendations while on our beaches?
  • Will you follow the law and wear masks any time you’re in an indoor public space? 
  • Will you tip our hospitality workers knowing what they’re risking to serve you in these times? 
  • Will you accept that this vacation probably won’t be like the others?

I believe the biggest problem we have on Hilton Head right now is the perception that COVID doesn’t exist here.

Up until last week, Hilton Head had virtually no laws to stop the spread of coronavirus (now you must wear a mask in public settings, details here). And a lot of restaurant and hotel owners profited off this — at the expense of residents who are now sick.

Preservation is built into our culture. The island was founded on Charles Fraser’s concept to build developments around nature instead of plowing through it. We love our locals — from the dolphins, to the sharks, to the sand dollars and our human residents too — we know the importance of protecting our own and keeping the magic of Hilton Head alive.

I love our island. In these times, I urge you to be kind, respectful, and treat this place like home.



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