Last week, when we were having fun at the expense of those who expect North Caicos to be what it isn’t, one of your reader comments stuck with me. It was the one about visitors who don’t do their homework before coming to a place like North or Middle.
I think it’s true that many travelers do little research before packing their bags for anywhere, but I wonder if their lack of information is entirely their fault. I decided to look into what’s out there.
My own experience is inapplicable. Our first trip to North happened before the world was so connected, and our “research” was a mention in a travel magazine and a brochure that Susie Gardiner sent to me after I wrote to her. Yes, “wrote” and “sent,” as in the U.S. Postal Service and the Royal Mail.
Everything is different today, when all you have to do is Google a name or ask a question on your social media platform. But what kind of information are potential visitors getting when they just ask Siri or Alexa? I decided to find out, and opened up a world of misinformation.
When I search for “North Caicos vacation rentals,” I got a lot of hits. But tcvillas.com, near the top of the list, specializes in Provo only, and turksandcaicosvillarental.com has nothing on North or Middle. I had better luck finding places to stay by visiting Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner), but the Q&A section of vrbo.com had my jaw dropping in disbelief. Some examples:
Listed among “the most popular destinations to visit in North Caicos” is Parrot Cay. Yes, folks, a different island entirely is “in” North Caicos!
More: In the list under “the cities [!] with the largest selection of vacation rentals for a holiday trip or just for a weekend in North Caicos” are Parrot Cay, with 215 rentals, and Grace Bay, with 865 rentals. And there in answer to “Can I find easy-access vacation rentals when traveling by plane to North Caicos?” is North Caicos Airport. Finally, among the points of interest in North Caicos are, I kid you not, Fort George Cay, Sapodilla Bay and Turtle Cove. No wonder people arrive and have no idea where they are!
If people stumble their way to visittci.com, which is under the wing of the government tourist board, they will get better information, but some areas of the site are outdated and some info contradictory. The airports on North and Middle are on a list in one place, for example, while another place tells you there are no flights. The site tells you the Middle Caicos Co-op store is still in Conch Bar, beside Daniel’s Café. And stores and restaurants that have been around for years simply don’t show up.
These sites are eye-openers for anyone who lives or North or Middle, runs a business there or has regular contact with visitors to the islands. It’s hard to “keep it real” when there so much bad info out there. It seems the burden is on us to better manage tourist expectations.
There are some things we can do to improve the information offered to those who are trying to do their homework. First, let’s make sure our own websites and platforms are accurate and up to date. If you list hours, make sure you keep them. If you open and close your place only when you feel like it, be honest!
Once you clean up your own yard, badger your neighbors about theirs. If a site you use to get business has misinformation, tell them! And know that you’ll have to keep at it. For years after I took down my Aloe House website, it was still showing up in TCI information as a rental. It took many phone calls and a sharp comment in a public meeting to correct; meanwhile, the government still lists my former business license as in arrears!
It may not seem fair that we have to take on this job. But if we want tourists to do their homework, let’s give them some proper textbooks.