Riselle Celestina is a Caribbean native and travel writer helping visitors plan trips to the region.
She lives in St. Maarten and has visited both popular and lesser-known Caribbean islands.
She's encountered tourists behaving badly by mocking accents and forgetting to cover up.
Riselle Celestina lights up whenever she has the chance to talk about the Caribbean.
Born on the island of Curaçao, Celestina has called St. Maarten home for more than two decades.
Including the region's welcoming people, diverse landscapes, historic sites, hidden destinations, and rich cultures, Celestina told Insider she'd seen and experienced many of the islands that make up the Caribbean.
She isn't afraid to share the highlights of her home on her travel blog, The Traveling Island Girl, or her podcast, "Paradise Perspectives." And while she's eager to broadcast the good, she doesn't hesitate to share the ugly, too.
Celestina told Insider that some tourist habits frustrate both her and other Caribbean natives. Whether it's a cruise passenger who prances around stores in St. Maarten wearing only a skimpy swimsuit or a visitor who forgets to say hello, Celestina said there are plenty of things tourists do that had annoyed both her and other islanders.
Before a trip to the Caribbean, Celestina urges travelers to research. And once you're there, don't be afraid to keep learning.
"It's your vacation destination, but it's our home," she said.
Celestina's biggest annoyance is when tourists don't say hello or start a conversation off with a greeting.
Celestina wears many hats. Beyond her travel blog, podcast, and travel consulting business, Celestina owns a bar in St. Maarten.
While Celestina is happy to welcome tourists into her business, she said they sometimes enter without even saying hello.
And this doesn't just happen inside the bar. She said there have been plenty of instances where tourists flagged her or another local to ask a question. Instead of greeting her or the other locals first, they immediately ask their questions.
Celestina said it's common courtesy across the Caribbean to start a conversation by saying good morning or asking how someone's day is going. Even a simple hello would suffice, she said.
"This is super important to us," she said. Not only does this create a friendly atmosphere, but it also opens up a dialogue so everyone can learn about one another.
While Celestina says she loves to see tourists around her island, she gets frustrated when they enter businesses in only their bathing suits.
Celestina said she wishes she could remind people visiting the Caribbean that a bathing suit isn't all they need to pack. Across many islands, businesses require tourists to wear a shirt, shoes, and pants.
"What you need to remember is that at the end of the day, it's still a functioning society," she said.
For example, in St. Maarten, tourist shops are next to government offices and other important buildings. Many of these business owners and professionals find it more appropriate when tourists are covered up while walking around town or shopping.
Celestina added that she's noticed the problem increasing in recent years and added that more and more businesses have started posting signs telling tourists they need to be clothed when they enter their shops.
Celestina acknowledged that visitors might not realize it at first.
"Everybody's really pushing the beach scene, and we're pushing the shopping on the front street, which is parallel to the beach. I can totally understand that," she said. "We have lost our way of actually communicating to the visitors that it's actually not exactly nice for you to be walking half-naked in the street."
While you might be excited to spend an hour sun tanning on the beach and the next shopping in the island town you're visiting, Celestina said it's respectful to throw on a coverup first.
All-inclusive resorts can be appealing, but visitors who never leave the property are missing out on other incredible parts of their destination, she says.
All-inclusive resorts are sprinkled across many of the Caribbean's most popular islands.
While it can be appealing to have restaurants, entertainment, drinks, a hotel room, and a beach all at one location, Celestina encourages travelers to think twice about booking an all-inclusive stay.
First, all-inclusive resorts often don't showcase all a destination has to offer. For example, tourists may miss historic sites, natural wonders, or local cuisines if they never leave the property, Celestina said.
"You haven't experienced the people of the island; you haven't experienced the atmosphere, the vibrancy, all of that. It's just that it's kind of lost," she said.
On top of that, Celestina added that all-inclusive resorts don't benefit the island as much as locally-owned businesses, restaurants, and hotels do.
When a tourist stays at an all-inclusive, which are often owned by major corporations, less money goes into locals' hands.
"I think I can speak for St. Maarten," she said. "Most of the money doesn't stay on the island. The whole point of an all-inclusive is to keep the visitors in that resort at all times."
Celestina said her advice for any incoming tourist is to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation. And if you do, make sure you leave the resort a few times throughout your trip to explore all the destination has to offer.
Celestina loves to remind tourists that every Caribbean island is different — they're not all beaches and palm trees.
The Caribbean has a reputation for its white sandy beaches, crystal-clear oceans, and palm trees.
While plenty of the region's islands have that, they have so much more to offer, she says, adding that it can be frustrating when visitors go to one island and think they've seen all the Caribbean has to offer.
"There's such a big variety when it comes to the different Caribbean islands," she said. For example, the island of Saba doesn't have any of the stereotypical beaches tourists expect, and Aibonito is filled with waterfalls and rainforests.
Instead of asking whether you should visit Aruba or St. Maarten — a common question Celestina said she gets asked — Celestina's advice is to figure out what type of vacation you want. Do you want to dine on a variety of cuisines? Lie in the sun all day? Go diving or explore rainforests?
From there, you can start researching and asking which of the hundreds of islands might be the right fit for your trip.
Celestina said tourists sometimes joke about stereotypes they've seen on screens.
Celestina said TV and Hollywood had created a handful of negative stereotypes when it comes to the Caribbean. The two immediate ones that popped up for Celestina were the concept of island time and accents.
Celestina says she dislikes the assumption that she and other Caribbeans are always late.
"I strive to be exactly on time every time," she said.
"We talk about island time in a very negative 'ha-ha' way. That's how it's perceived in television," she added. "But no, that's not who we are."
Along similar lines, Celestina said there have been multiple instances when tourists put on a Jamaican accent when they chatted with her.
"We don't talk like that, and I'm not in Jamaica," she said. "That is such Jamaican slang, and people don't understand there are so many different languages and different connotations and different accents across the Caribbean."
Celestina wants tourists to remember that when they're visiting, they're the ones with the accents and that it's rude to mimic another culture.
She encourages travelers to leave the stereotypes at home and come to the island with an open mind.
Finally, Celestina said tourists shouldn't assume all Caribbean natives are in the hospitality industry and there to serve tourists.
Celestina urged travelers to remember not every Caribbean local is Black, not every visitor is white, and not every local is there to serve tourists.
Celestina said plenty of promotional videos have showcased just that: "It's always white people being portrayed as the visitors. And whenever you portray someone from the Caribbean in those promotional videos, it's always someone in the hospitality industry assisting or helping the white person."
"That is something I think we need to start changing," she said.
Celestina said these promotional videos and stereotypes about race trickled into her daily life as a Black business owner. Plenty of times, she said, tourists had doubted that she was the owner because of her race.
"Their mouth drops to the floor when they learn I'm the owner," she said. "People assume that we are all in hospitality helping the visitor and not in a position of power or in a managerial position or owning a local business. That is always aggravating."
Instead of visiting the Caribbean with expectations of who you might encounter, Celestina said tourists can expect to see all sorts of people in all sorts of roles across all islands.
To Celestina, this is a beautiful thing and just one of the many reasons she loves her home.
Read the original article on Insider