Tourism is one of the fastest growing and most heterogeneous industries in the world. It is vital to the survival of many Caribbean islands as it is the pillar of their economy because it provides a vast amount of employment opportunities for locals as well as constantly pumps foreign investment and expenditure into the region, among other benefits which will be highlighted. However, like most actions in life, there are pros and cons, tourism is no different. It is a very controversial topic because on one hand it helps sustain economies but, on another it negatively impacts on the natural environment and culture of the region.
This leads to the big question that has been asked many times, “Is tourism worth it? ” This essay seeks to answer that question by critically analyzing a statement made by King, LeBlanc and Lowe (2000) in which they stated that, “critics believe the benefits of tourism are outweighed by the negative impacts the industry on the Caribbean. ” Tourism is a very complex issue and before we can begin to analyze the varying impacts it as on the region, we must first understand exactly what tourism is.
Tourism has many definitions, according to Goeldner & Ritchie, “tourism is the processes, activities and outcomes arising from the relationships and the interactions among tourists, tourism suppliers, host government, host communities and surrounding environments that are involved in the attracting and hosting of visitors. ” It can be classified into three types; domestic, that is, within the boundaries of one country. Regional, which refers to travel within a set geographical location or international which is travel from one country to another in a different geographical location.
Contrary to popular believe, domestic tourism is the most dominant of the three forms as it accounts for about 80% of tourist trips worldwide, but with regards to the Caribbean, it is international tourism that is dominant and most beneficial to the region. The Caribbean is a natural paradise, a nature lover’s dream with its lush greenery, tropical weather and exotic and peaceful atmosphere. It attracts millions of visitors from across the globe in search of tranquility and the natural wonders of the world such as the many creatures, birds, caves, plants, waterfalls and mountainous landscape.
The Caribbean is unmatched in its diversity and natural beauty making it and tourism a perfect match; however with tourism come positive and negative impacts. The impacts of tourism can be placed into three broad categories, there are economic, environmental and socio-cultural. Firstly, let’s analyze the economic impacts as a result of tourism in the region. The tourism industry is the largest earner of foreign exchange for the Caribbean and is one of the top ten largest contributors for most, if not all the islands’ gross domestic product.
It generates what is referred to as the ‘multiplier effect’ on the region’s economies and for this reason tourism appeals to developing countries hoping to improve their economic situation. The industry began in the Caribbean in the late 1970’s and since then it as grown and developed tremendously. Evidence of its growth and economic benefit can be seen throughout the last four decades. From generating an annual earnings of $4,000,000 in 1970 to a whopping $23,000,000 in 2010 and the cruise sector also had a significant growth from 1. 3 million to 20 million in the same period.
The region earns around 12 billion annually from foreign visitors. In an article by Ronald Sanders in The Island Sun Newspaper, he stated, “In 2004, travel and tourism contributed 14. 8 per cent of the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product and 2. 4 million jobs, representing 15. 5 per cent of total employment. ” This projection was seven years ago indicating that the number has probably increased today. These figures clearly indicate why tourism is essential to the Caribbean’s economy as it pumps large amounts of foreign expenditure in the region therefore generating revenue for further government development.
Investment and development is another positive that comes from tourism. As a result of tourism, Caribbean governments invest sufficiently in the infrastructure necessary to keep tourism afloat such as the large international airports, roads, sewage treatment plants and electricity and telecommunication facilities etc. This development is beneficial to both tourists and locals alike. Foreign investment is another aspect that is essential to the development and maintenance of tourism facilities in the region as the government can only do so much.
Tourism requires a lot of capital and investment because of this Caribbean governments gratefully accept foreign direct investment into the region as they do not have the monetary capacity of doing it alone. Large world class franchises such as Hilton, Marriott and Ritz Carlton have invested into the regions’ hospitality sector bringing with them not only the highest quality product but also their world-renowned brand which in its self is beneficial to the region’s tourism industry.
Caribbean governments also gain revenue from the corporation and council taxes that foreign investors are required to pay. Tourism also provides a vast amount of employment opportunities for locals, research has shown that tourism related jobs whether direct, indirect or induced account for more than 25% of jobs for the Caribbean. The many jobs created by tourism helps in reducing the unemployment rate and in turn increase the Gross Domestic Product and helps in further development of the region.
There is no doubt that it is beneficial to the economy, however, employment is a controversial topic as some argue that jobs obtained by Caribbean natives in this industry are mediocre and low-class while the top positions are held by foreign investors, referring to the industry as racial biased. An article on Tourism in the Caribbean from The Island Sun Newspaper reiterates this by stating, “giving the size of financial investments that will be required for resorts in the Caribbean, it will be principally white expatriate companies with access to capital that will build and own the resorts and other aspects of the tourism business.
Tourism may in fact become a plantation industry not dissimilar to the old sugar plantations, with absentee owners, expatriate managers, profits sent abroad and locals relegated to wage earners only. ” This is an aspect of the industry that reinvigorates the very unpleasant past of slavery as well as deal to racial and gender bias, hence when some critics refer to the industry as a form of “modern-day slavery”. But, regardless of the negativity generated by tourism in the region it is still the number one employment generator and will remain that way as it is closely linked to several other major industries in the Caribbean and by xtension, the world. On the other hand, tourism can negatively affect Caribbean economies through leakages such as the importation of goods to sustain the industry. This basically means the region losses millions while another country’s economy gains revenue for their goods. Another negative economic impact is opportunity cost also known as ‘the displacement effect’ which according to Page and Connell (2006) is the development of tourism at the expense of other activities or areas of investment. This occurs because all the attention and money is pumped into tourism resulting in very limited development in other industries in the region.
Finally, tourism dependence can also negatively affect the economy because Caribbean countries depend so heavily on tourism to sustain their economy this can be problematic as the tourism industry is prone to declines or can be affected by natural disasters and terrorists attacks, as we have seen before with the drastic decline in travel after 9/11 and current figures still indicate that the industry as not yet fully recovered from that tragedy. If the tourism industry suffers another major decline such as 9/11, tourists arrivals will drop again and the region’s economies will suffer as a result.
Tourism and the environment have a very complex yet interdependent relationship. The environment in the Caribbean is a vital component to the success of the industry as it is what attracts the tourist therefore it should be protected and preserved, but unfortunately this is not always the case. There have been a lot of arguments on whether tourism is beneficial or harmful to the environment. The environment does gain some benefits from tourism such as conservation and preservation, restrictions and monetary entry can be used to assist in protecting the natural or man-made attraction and funding for its upkeep.
Environment enhancement is another positive aspect; this refers to the beautification of an area for both locals and tourists to enjoy. It involves the cleaning of areas, reforestation, and installation of public areas such as parks, gardens and public art galleries just to name a few. Environmental enhancement leads to another benefit, that is, financial contribution which refers to the money given directly to the environment. It can be directly from government or generated from entrance, fishing and rental fees. Monies generated through the environment are used to fund its conservation and preservation.
Another very important benefit to the environment that stems from tourism is the general awareness of the importance of sustaining the natural beauty of the region and the issues that will arise if the environment is not protected. Locals become informed via advertisements on radio and television and tourists learn from example by locals and are also taught of ways to save energy and water by the hotel. The environment is already at risk with the tarnishing effects of global warming as a result many hotels across the region are playing their part in the fight and becoming Green Globe Certified.
Although the environment receives some benefits from tourism the negative impacts it brings with it are very severe, long-lasting, and costly as well as detrimental to the local population and the natural habitat. Pollution is a one of the negative impacts tourism has on the environment, regardless of how environmentally conscious the locals and tourists are pollution is inevitable. It can affect the quality of the air, the beauty of the land, the water supply and also come in the form of excess noise.
Tourism would not be possible without the use of a mode of transportation whether by air (planes), sea (cruises) or land (cars), all of which run on large amounts of fuel and produce exhaust or emissions. Research from the Climate Lab in USA has shown that the airline industry alone, contributes approximately 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to that of the entire African continent. With the level of tourism that occurs in the region, the air is constantly exposed to pollution of CO2 emissions (carbon dioxide).
The depletion of the region’s natural resources is yet another negative that occurs as a result of tourism. Tourism development can put severe pressure on natural resources when it increases consumption in areas where resources are already scarce, such as water. Water is one of the most critical natural resources. The tourism industry generally overuses water resources for hotels, swimming pools, golf courses and personal use of water by tourists which result in water shortages and degradation of water supplies, as well as generating a greater volume of waste water.
Pollution from heavy coastal development as a result of tourism is also a major contributor to the degradation of water resources and contributes to the destruction of coral reefs; one of the most endangered ecosystems on the earth. Marine pollution caused by cruise ships threatens fish populations and marine life; also contribute to public health concerns ashore. Cruise ships also actively contribute to the unsightly and hazardous tourism pollution that occurs in the Caribbean. The worsening of water pollution in the Caribbean can partially be attributed to increased cruise ship traffic.
The following extract from Our Planet Magazine clearly indicates the mass volume of waste generated by cruise tourism. The Wider Caribbean Region, stretching from Florida to French Guiana, receives 63,000 port calls from ships each year, and they generate 82,000 tons of garbage. About 77% of all ship waste comes from cruise vessels. The average cruise ship carries 600 crew members and 1,400 passengers. On average, passengers on a cruise ship each account for 3. 5 kilograms of garbage daily – compared with the 0. 8 kilograms each generated by the less well-endowed folk on shore.
Source: Our Planet, UNEP magazine for environmentally sustainable development, volume 10, no. 3, 1999 Environmental concerns stemming from cruise ship waste disposal already pose an economic drain to the region as increasing pollution levels discourage exploitation of the islands’ comparative advantage, which is its natural beauty both underwater and on land. Pollution also affects the visual beauty of the region, this occurs in the form of litter which eventually ends up in the sea, lakes and rivers causing further problems for the natural habitat.
Barren land for the construction of tourism infrastructure and as well the many construction sites of tourism facilities are also considered a form of pollution as they destroy the natural beauty of their surroundings and become an eyesore. Tourism is a very busy industry therefore it generates a lot of noise from all forms of transportation as well as the nightlife and entertainment that is associated it can be considered noise pollution. Finally, let us analyze the impacts of tourism on the social culture of the Caribbean. On a positive note, tourism provides education and training opportunities for locals.
Working in the tourism industry is a skill that has to be acquired with practice and with tourism being the dominant industry in the region many classes are readily available for locals to learn and become involved in the industry. Increased pride in local culture, socio-cultural awareness and peace are more benefits derived from tourism. The rich culture of the Caribbean is one of the many reason tourists flock to the region. Tourism instills the pride back into the hearts of the locals when they observe how fascinated the tourists are at their dialect, folk dancing, music, arts and craft and of course, the food.
It also allows people to understand and learn about new cultures and traditions as both tourists and locals get the first hand experience of a new culture. The negative impacts on the Caribbean’s social culture include; crime, loss of identity, displacement and exploitation. A high level of tourism encourages high levels of crime and this not only refers to crime that occurs to tourists by locals but also tourists who engage in illegal activities such as drugs and prostitution while in the region.
The younger generation tends to emulate tourists behavior, way of dress and food which result in loss of identity and culture, this is referred to as ‘Westernization’. Displacement of locals occurs because of the rapid development of tourism facilities which causes land and rent prices to increase being too expensive for them to continue living there. Large-scale tourism also can lead to exploitation of locals as mentioned before in the controversial topic of tourism employment. Unfortunately, some large companies set out to abuse local population from their own benefit.
In conclusion, with tourism as the region’s main economic development many challenges will occur, this is evitable. But, when one compares and contrasts the positives and negatives that arise as a result of tourism, the statement made in King, LeBlanc and Lowe appears to be accurate as the industry has a tendency to lean more to the negative side than the positive. Even though tourism’s economic impact is so significant and important to the region’s development the negativity that arises from its environmental and socio-cultural impacts is mind-boggling leaving one to wonder whether tourism is the best thing for the Caribbean.