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close this bookThe Courier N° 122 July - August 1990 - Dossier Tourism - Country Report: Mali (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)
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View the documentThe Caribbean - Far greater dependence on tourism likely
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The Caribbean - Far greater dependence on tourism likely

by Jean HOLDER

The greatest blessing is to live in a society where one is free to make the choice for onself. It is perhaps ironic that one of the results of the industrial revolution was to increase the physical stress which made a break from work necessary. Thomas Cook seized the opportunity for introducing the organised “ vacation “ away from the normal place of residence. And so tourism, the major industry in the Caribbean, was born.

The role of tourism in Caribbean development

The role of tourism in Caribbean development has to be seen not only in terms of its own contribution but in relationship to the performance of other sectors. Speaking of the CARCICOM region, the economic situation is serious, for not only intraregional but also extra - regional trade has declined. Intra - regional trade fell from US $ 587 million in 1981 to US$ 350 million in 1988. From 1978, the CARICOM has been experiencing a deficit on current account in its balance of trade. That situation worsened considerably between 1979 and 1988. Without tourism earnings, these deficits would have been unmanageable.

Against that background we see that in 1988 alone 10.25 million stayover visitors and 6.26 million cruise ship visitors came to the Caribbean region and spent US$ 7.3 billion. Of this over $ 3 billion was spent in the 12 CARICOM States alone.

The economic importance of tourism as a generator of foreign exchange has therefore grown dramatically as prices for export of agricultural produce, oil and bauxite have fallen greatly, reducing the foreign exchange earned by these sectors. For this region, as for all others, the creation of new jobs in a situation of chronically high unemployment, is the difference between social order and social chaos. Tourism created in 1988 some 325 000 jobs for the region and approximately 150000 for the Caricom countries. As a region that imports most of what it consumes, the Caribbean needs large amounts of foreign exchange, and, as has been pointed out, its foreign reserves are in a state of critical deficit. Should regional trade problems remain unresolved, should markets for sugar, bananas, and other export crops worsen, should oil and bauxite prices continue to fall, the projections are for far greater dependence on tourism in those countries that already have a major tourism industry, and the adoption by those that formerly ignored it or actually rejected it. This is a prophecy already fulfilled by the recent formal adoption of tourism policies in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

An over - dependence on tourism is, however, undersirable for several reasons, but for one in particular, this is, that in spite of the predominance of tourism in the Caribbean, there appears to be a deep - seated resentment of the industry at every level of the society - a resentment which probably stems from the historic socio - cultural associations of race, colonialism and slavery. This resentment which is probably not always recognised as such, is evidenced in the attitudes of all sectors of Caribbean communities.

At the level of Government, even in countries with economies that are almost totally dependent on tourism, ministerial priorities would suggest that visible trade and industry are the all - important concerns. It is possible that, were half the energies of the cabinet and public service spent on getting tourism right that is spent on trying to coerce unwilling and/or unable Caribbean partners to purchase their goods, or planning to break into the difficult markets of Europe and North America, there would be a positive revolution in Caribbean tourism. As it is, the tourism ministerial portfolio tends to be tacked on to several others. It is even possible to contest general elections in the Caribbean without either side dealing seriously with national tourism policy.

At the level of employees in tourism and tourism related activities, the aggressive attitudes that often emerge, in spite of several training courses and “tourism weeks”, have their basis, to some extent, in the fact that a significant number of the employees are not proud of what they do, and harbour resentments rooted in the inability to distinguish between service and servitude.

At the level of the wider society, the occasional social unhappiness frequently derived from the irritation felt in the competition for space and services between visitor and resident where physical areas are limited.

This situation presents the Caribbean with its first dilemma - a serious social dilemma. It is forced to choose between an industry it “deep down” does not really want, and the economic fruits of that industry which it needs and which. it seems, more and more only tourism will provide. This conflict explains why Caribbean people “ intellectually “ understand that tourism is economically important but act out, perhaps involuntarily, social attitudes hostile to the industry. The economic considerations will, however, force the Caribbean into more and more tourism.

This brings us to the second dilemma, and that is that the more tourism the Caribbean actually gets, the more potential this tourism success has, in the long term, to destroy the very tourism which the Caribbean currently needs for economic survival. The real debate here must be about whether tourism growth must lead inevitably to environmental disaster in both the social and ecological sense, or whether there is an opportunity to use it as a positive instrument of social and environmental development. I wish to turn therefore at this point to tourism growth in the Caribbean, its impact to date, and to raise questions about how much tourism is too much.

The growth of tourism and some of its impacts

The fears with respect to tourism are expressed largely in terms of its growth within the context of small islands with fragile social and environmental fabrics. I will use a number of indicators of growth which I hope will be accepted as relevant. In many case I will proceed by using selected countries. If we look at visitor expenditure for 1988 as a percentage of visible exports, we find that this is 51 % for the Bahamas, 31 % for Antigua and Barbuda, 73% for St. Kitts - Nevis, 48 % for St. Lucia, 30 % for Barbados, 38% for Grenada, 31 % for St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ and 13% for Dominica.

Table 1: Selected economic indicators

Tourism density

What do these increases mean in terms of tourism density in relation to the Caribbean geographical areas and its populations? The Bahamas, with an area of 13 940 sq. kms, and a resident population of 238 500, received in 1988 1 475 000 stay - over visitors, 178 000 excursionist (or day visitors) and 1 505 000 cruise ship passengers. Barbados with an area of 430 sq. kms and a resident population of 253 500 received in 1988, 451 485 stay - over visitors and 290 273 cruise ship passengers. St. Maarten with an area of only 41 sq. kms and a population of 19 000 received in 1958, 479 740 stay - over visitors and 450 926 cruise ship passengers.

To keep these rather impressive figures in perspective, it is important to recognise that the number of stay over visitors who can be accommodated in the country on any day is constrained by the number of available beds. In the Bahamas, Barbados and St. Maarten there are not more than 26 000, 14 000 and 7 000 visitors in tourist accommodations in each respective country, on any one day, during the periods of highest occupancy. In theory this number could be increased by visitors staying with family and friends. However, the reality is that there is never really total hotel occupancy, and near full occupancy relates to a very short season in a full year. The visitor arrival figures, however, mean that in the Bahamas there are two visitors per sq. km and 11 per 100 in the population, in Barbados 33 per sq. km and 6 per 100 in the population and in St. Maarten 170 per sq. km and 37 per 100 in the population. With respect to cruise ship passengers it is possible in the countries with large port facilities to receive, in any one day, from three to seven cruise ships, each with 700 passengers. In ports like St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands normal residential and tourism traffic could be increased by as many as 4 000 passengers, impacting on the urban facilities and tourism amenities on any one day. Even with respect to stay - over visitors it must be recognised that the tourist accommodation and tourism amenities tend to be crowded into very specific coastal areas suitable for tourism development, resulting in the tourist density there surpassing that of the local population. An example of this is the highly urbanised 24 - mile strip in Barbados, stretching from the town of Oistins on the South Coast to Heywoods, Speightstown, in the North - West, where there is an almost unbroken concentration of tourist accommodation and other amenities.

Table 2: International tourist arrivals in the world and Caribbean 1970 - 88

Growth of accommodation

Turning to growth in tourist accommodation, a review of rooms built in some 30 Caribbean countries for the period between 1975 and 1988, demonstrates quite spectacular percentage increases in the smaller islands of the Caribbean, whereas accommodation capacity in some of the large islands has remained relatively static and even declined.

Illustrative of this phenomenon is an increase in Anguilla from 77 rooms to 655 rooms, in the Cayman Islands from 840 to 2 579, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines from 498 to 985, in Antigua and Barbuda from 1 200 to 2 572. One is admittedly starting from a small base in 1975 in most of the smaller islands.

In contrast, the number of rooms available in the Bahamas rose only 6% from 11 395 to 12480, and actually fell in US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago. In absolute terms, the largest increase occurred in the Dominican Republic (plus 10 000 rooms).

Growth in activities

The growth in accommodation and in numbers of tourists inevitably led to an increase in the volume and category of the various activities pursued for fun and recreation. These induced the visitors to travel inland in search of such natural attractions as rain forests, wildlife, rivers, crater lakes, waterfalls, limestone caves, scenic areas and landscapes and man made edifices such as corte, historic churches and structures of architectural and archeological interest. They were also tempted out to sea by sailing and fishing and under the sea by scuba - diving, wrecked ships and coral reefs. The marine activity led to greatly increased utilisation of the sea adjacent to the islands. In the combined British and United States Virgin Islands, there are some 500 locally - based charter bareboats and over 200 crewed charter boats.

Table 3: Cruise passenger arrivals (thousands)

Evaluation of costs and benefits of tourism development to date

Given the considerable tourism growth it would have been surprising if there have been no social and environmental costs. It can, however, be demonstrated as well that there have been social and environmental gains (See the article on page 64). It is important that both costs and benefits be discussed, since only if we disentangle the myths from the facts can corrective action be taken where it is really needed.


Siting and nature of hotels and tourist facilities

With respect to the building of tourism facilities we must recognise that there are Caribbean tourism developments that are quite mature and go back to “ the environmental Dark Ages” of the 1960s when a great deal of the environmental impacts were not common knowledge. There are therefore quite outstanding examples of concrete hotel monstrosities sited often within less than 800 metres of the high water mark. These, together with structures such as groynes erected along the beaches and piers put out into the sea, where this has been done without proper advice, have in many cases caused coastal erosion, contributed to water problems including flooding of low - lying areas, blocked out the view of the sea and failed almost any reasonable aesthetic test. Natural erosion has at times, in some islands, been supplemented by man - made erosion caused by the removal of sand from the beaches for hotel and other construction. In many of the cases, trees and other plant life could have been saved, water courses respected, the height of buildings controlled, the architectural design made more relevant to the local climate, environment and energy needs, and windows to the sea preserved, had proper physical planning been done. There are, however, fine examples of resort hotel constructions in the Caribbean, which are totally at one with their environment.


With respect to marinas, it is highly unlikely that due regard was formerly paid in siting them to such factors as the destruction of mangrove and other lagoonal habitats. There are, however, other problems to be guarded against. Dense utilisation of marinas, as well as high concentrations of coastal constructions, can also pose a major threat to health and to the physical environment where there is unscientific disposal of waste. In many cases sewage and human waste from hotels and from boats anchored out to sea are still disposed of in the sea. This is sometimes done from land - based facilities by means of a long pipe. This can lead to in - shore pollution depending on the run of ocean currents and the steepness of the sea - bed and can be most destructive of coral reefs. Even where septic tanks are used for waste disposal and only the water spill - over from these tanks is piped out to sea, the high concentration in this water of nitrates and phosphates proves an excellent fertiliser for seaweeds which spoils beaches and smothers coral reefs. It must, however, be remembered that coral reefs provide excellent underwater vistas for scuba - divers and are the habitat for certain species of fish, sea urchins and other creatures. But most importantly they play a vital role in protecting the shores. To the waste from land - based operations and from marinas we must also be aware of possible pollution from the dumping of waste at sea and fuel spills from cruise ships which are likely to increase in size.

Utility services and infrastructure

With respect to such utilities as water, electricity and telephone and communications systems, it is clear that pressure is put on the systems by tourism in small islands when there are large number of tourists in relation to small resident populations. The tourist per capita utilisation of these resources, especially water and electricity, is much higher than that of resident populations because of such factors in hotels as swimming pools, bathing to remove sea water, toilet flushings, large and busy kitchens, air conditioning, wasteful use of electricity for lighting, a telephone in every room, etc. This can lead to strain and countrywide outrages in the peak tourist season. A major problem is that although tourism remains to date so seasonal, the country has to gear up utility systems to cope with the period of maximum utilisation, which may last for only 4 to 5 months of the year. The problems are less acute where countries are reasonably large and resident populations significant. All these factors have, however, to be balanced by the fact that it is earnings from tourism that often is meeting the cost of these services and much besides.

Land and manpower utilisation

A frequent complaint about tourism is that it causes a rise in the price of all land, it causes changes in land use, and it draws labour away from agriculture. An often repeated claim, that tourism has influenced land values to the point where land use patterns have been modified, seems to have been exaggerated. Arable land has in the past 30 years, been lost largely to residential middle - income housing, government lower - income housing and factory space, where there have been industrialisation programmes. This increased demand has pushed up land costs. Tourism has largely used up unproductive coastal strips unsuitable for agriculture that had little or no economic value prior to the arrival of tourism. With respect to tourism drawing labour away from agriculture, the drift from low paid and difficult work on the sugar and banana plantations in the Caribbean heat was inevitable. The shift from this type of employment to industry - whatever that industry - always takes place. People cannot be kept in agriculture as labourers by preaching to them about the virtues of agriculture or the country’s needs. People are kept in agriculture by revolutionising agriculture and creating conditions that can compete with other sectoral activities.


With respect to tourism’s impact on fisheries, experience shows that tourists coming to island resorts expect seafood to feature highly on the menu. Lobster, shrimp, conch and snapper are high on the list of things they hope to eat and disappointment is often expressed if they are not available or are extremely expensive. There is already a danger of over - exploiting existing fisheries coupled with inadequate knowledge of how stocks are to be conserved and increased. (See the article by Ivor Jackson on page 66 on links between tourism, agriculture and the environment). Several types of seafood are now exported from some Caribbean islands to others because of the high prices paid due to tourist demand. The result is that certain types of seafood, particularly lobster, are no longer available to the general population either because of scarcity or price, or both.

J. H.

Table 4: Key indicators of Caribbean tourism: 1988