In Defense of Caribbean Tourism

Travel Blog  •  Michael Yessis  •  01.03.07 | 8:20 AM ET

Few regions of the world are as dependent on tourism as the Caribbean. “Nonetheless, the literature on Caribbean tourism is surprisingly critical,” writes Orlando Patterson in an interesting opinion column in the New York Times. “Foreign anthropologists complain about the ‘tourist gaze’ and the distortion of local cultures; local chauvinists declaim that ‘tourism is whorism.’” Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, calls these charges “largely puerile.” Tourism, he suggests, “enhances residents’ awareness of indigenous cultures, and it supports large numbers of entertainers.”

Patterson continues:

The criticisms of economists seem more substantial. The two buzzwords are linkages and leakages. On most islands, most of the money spent by tourists leaks right back out of the country to pay for supplies for the tourists, or for the repatriation of profits and salaries. Thus there is little linkage, or integration, with the rest of the economy, leaving the islands solely dependent on a fickle industry. Leakage runs as high as 80 percent on the smaller islands.

Here is the critics’ problem: The islands with the highest leakage and tourist dependence are all doing better, per capita, than the larger islands with more integrated economies. The Bahamas and Antigua have almost no unemployment and per-capita incomes three times that of Jamaica. And these islands have substantially higher human development indexes, the gold standard of how well a country is meeting a broad range of basic needs. Barbados’s index of .864 approaches European levels.

Patterson’s piece, unfortunately, resides in the subscriber-only TimesSelect section.


6 Comments for In Defense of Caribbean Tourism

Olivia 01.03.07 | 3:01 PM ET

Patterson ignores the social context of countries with the highest leakages; Barbados, Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, etc… were never as stratified as islands like Jamaica where the land and lower classes continue to be exploited after hundreds of years of slavery, intensive agriculture and poverty.

I also find the constant ignorance of the ghettos of the Bahamas to be despicable.  The entire region is marked by lack of local sovereignty, and educational disparity is debilitating on Jamaica and Haiti.

Paul Smith 01.24.07 | 10:20 AM ET

“Hey… welcome!”

That was the first thing I heard when I got off the plane. The Costa Rican people were very friendly. Ohhh and their food… Mmmm… delicious, I have no words to describe it all, the Gallo Pinto (a typical rice and black beans dish), the chorreadas (thick sweet corn tortillas with sour cream), and there’s nothing like having a freshly brewed cup of Costa Rican coffee… in Costa Rica! There’s nothing like feeling at home and that’s exactly how they make you feel, as the “ticos” say “Pura Vida!”.

One hears the tales, but it is no until you go there that you truly appreciate their colorful sunrises, their warm sandy beaches, their homemade food and their friendly nature. Walking over trees is only possible in Costa Rica, a paradise waiting to be explored.

The foam at your feet as the waves crash into the sand, you have to feel it. The rainforests hold a breathtaking adventure ready to be explored. The food is unique and the people are filled with rhythm, they have so much life inside them. To be in Costa Rica is to be “Pura Vida” as they describe their easy going, pure life way of being.

Let the breeze hit your face as you explore the rivers and feel the sudden mist of the rainforest embrace you. You know your in Costa Rica when you taste the gallo pinto (a rice and beans typical dish), have a fresh cup of coffee, drink “agua dulce” (a very sweet refreshing drink), go to the edge of a volcano crater or stroll down the tropical sandy beaches. Costa Rica’s the place to go, it’s definitely as they like to call it “PURA VIDA”.

Ed 04.04.07 | 3:21 PM ET

I am overwhelmed to see the positive reactions to Costa Rica and and its people. Yet, in going back to the original article on defending the Caribbean, its interesting to note that while Costa Rica’s tourism is growing every day, the majority of tourists are flocking to the Pacific. As a home owner in Puerto Viejo (south Caribbean), I know personally about the beauty of the Caribbean. I would like to see more people traveling to see the Atlantic Coast and all it has to offer. I am proud to say that we will soon be one of the leaders in the boating world. In Limon, there is a project going up that will bring in boaters from all over the world to a marina where they can dock their boats and enjoy all of the wonders Costa Rica has to offer. I hope more projects like IslaMoin go into the Caribbean and help showcase its natural beauty.

peets tea coffee 04.21.08 | 2:20 PM ET

Books about foreign exotic places are the best thing I’ve encountered. As a child my family had no money to travel and that made me work harder as an adult. Now I have the money but I don’t spare the time.  I still pick up the books I read as a child and go trough the descriptive passages over and over again. I close my eyes and almost feel the breeze on my face, I see the clear blue water and feel the golden sand under my feet…thank God there are books…

Cuba 08.12.08 | 9:40 AM ET

I am surprised to see nobody mentions Cuba. This is one Caribbean destination with a lot to offer and its culture does not get spoiled by the inluence of tourism. In fact one of the main atributes of Cuba is its history, its people, its culture and of course its natural resources.

Royal Caribbean 08.21.08 | 9:47 AM ET

As far as I can see this is more of a problem with the economical system then a social one. I doubt Patterson has ever actually been on a cruise to the Caribbean etc, it sounds like he is only looking at a list of numbers. Tourism can only be a good thing as long as tourists take care of the environment.

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