Buongiorno Bella! Cappuccino? “Come, sit down” urged the proprietor of the lovely cafe in Capri, “We are open.” And that is how the entire Italian holiday went. Restaurant owner after restaurant owner planted firmly on the doorstep of their establishments, smiling broadly and warmly beckoning us inside. I was struck at the enthusiasm of their salesmanship. And why not? This is their livelihood. Capri, like Bermuda is a beautiful small island with a tourist season that spans from the late Spring to early Fall. That’s it. They have less than five months to make a killing. And they do. The island sees an estimated 10,000 tourists a day which is just about the size of its population. Travel is different today than it was 30 years ago when airfares were prohibitive and only the wealthy came to charming islands.
Now, with enough planning anyone can get a cheap airline ticket destined for an exotic locale almost anywhere in the world. So for someone to choose your destination, especially if it is an expensive one, you’d better make it worth their while. And the Caprisians do. Unlike Bermuda, Capri does not have international banking and insurance companies to make it rich. It has tourism. And they do it right. They work at it. In addition to the fabulous food, the shops are all gorgeous and the staff embarrassingly helpful. When you buy something they say, “Oh you do not want to carry that bag, we will send it over to your hotel. Go, have lunch. We’ll take care of it.” And they do. The hotel valets continually ask. “Is everything alright? Can I do anything for you?” And every waiter approaches his task as if it were a virtuoso performance with a flourish of calculated movements resulting in a petite table laid with real cloth napkins and tablecloth, and metal, not plastic cutlery. Indulging in a simple coffee and sweet becomes an event followed by the inevitable inquiry “You enjoy, Yes?” You feel welcomed by the Caprisians. Like they are actually glad you are there on their island. And why wouldn’t they feel that way? We’re spending thousands of dollars for their hotel rooms, restaurants, and their transportation by taxi and boat, as well as emptying our pockets in the most gorgeous international shops and appreciating all their efforts to boot. It’s a fine bargain.
What’s more, all the cab drivers try to speak English. They are engaging and ask a million questions. The ferry operators are always ready with a bag (which I, along with 12 others sorely needed) when we made the rough crossing from Naples to Capri. Even the pharmacist was efficient with the right medicine when I told her I could never leave the island again if I did not have a proper dosage of dramamine for the journey home. It’s pricey in Capri and hard to get to. It’s pricey in Bermuda but easy to get to. Capri has restaurants and shops. Bermuda has all of that and more, including golf courses and sports fishing, bridge tournaments and international business conferences which if marketed properly could garner a tourism trade that might last 12 months a year rather than just 5. But as our tourism numbers seem to have quieted down by 3 percent last year according to government statistics, Capri’s soar. It wasn’t even the season yet and the crowds were pouring in.
The only difference that I could discern to explain the difference between the two islands is that Capri is welcoming and works hard to make you love its island. Bermuda can be a little standoffish. Like the pretty girl who figures her looks alone are enough to snare a suitor and seduction be damned. The Caprisians know their island is beautiful, but they also accept that you have many other options, so they charm you and woo you and count service among the vital vacation commodities you will willingly pay for. I have a Bermudian friend who described it to me this way. “Many Bermudians cannot differentiate between service and servitude.” The result may then be a room that is just shelter, and meal that is just nourishment. For those who feel differently though, even a tour of the island becomes a joyful experience rather than an expensive cab ride if the driver is a delight. Enjoying a vacation is as much about the place as the people who inhabit it and bring it to life. The Caprisians are not ashamed to say, “Welcome to our home. Enjoy it. Spend your money. We will make it worth your while. You will want to come back.” And I have to admit, we do.