Tourism is the commercial organisation and operation of vacations and visits to places of interest. Tourism is an important economic activity in many Caribbean territories. Many of them invest a great deal of time, effort and of course money in order to attract tourists to their shores. The World Tourism Organisation defines tourists as “people travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes”.
Tourism in the Caribbean
Every year millions of tourists visit the Caribbean, which is viewed by many as a tropical paradise. Most of these tourists come from the U.S.A, Canada and Europe, our main markets. Tourists come to the Caribbean islands mainly via aircraft and cruise ships. Those who come via aircraft stay mainly at hotels or guest houses. Cruise passengers remain aboard cruise ships and disembark at the various ports on the islands mainly to go sightseeing and shopping. Cruise passengers are less valuable in a sense to the various Caribbean territories as they do not spend money on accommodation in the islands they visit.
Why do tourists visit the Caribbean?
- Geographical location: The Caribbean region is located in the tropics, near enough to the equator to experience high temperatures year round. Many tourists come to the region from temperate regions to escape the cold during the northern hemisphere winter. Furthermore, the Caribbean region is closer to North America and Europe than most other tropical locations. This makes the region the easiest choice for many when planning a tropical vacation. Click on the link below and study the map. Notice how close the Caribbean is to North America.
- Natural features: The Caribbean is blessed with many beautiful natural features which attract visitors. Many territories have beautiful beaches, clear calm waters, stunning coral reefs lush rain-forests and waterfalls. Some territories have features that are unique, such as the Pitons in St. Lucia and Harrison’s Cave in Barbados.
- Culture: The Caribbean has a very unique and diverse culture. Our speech, food, music and dance are all uniquely Caribbean. Many visitors come to the region hoping to have this unique Caribbean cultural experience.
- Social and Economic stability: The Caribbean is a region which has experienced very little social or economic upheaval (such as riots or civil war) in recent decades. Many tourists feel safe travelling to this region because it is quite stable in this regard.
- Adequate infrastructure: Caribbean islands are developed enough to have adequate infrastructure in place. Most territories have international airports which can accommodate large aircraft and seaports which can accommodate large cruise ships. Most territories have well developed telecommunications services and a reliable supply of electricity and water.
Benefits of tourism to the Caribbean
- Employment: Tourism creates employment for many people throughout the Caribbean. Many people are employed at hotels in many different jobs requiring varying levels of qualification and skill. Some jobs require unskilled or semi-skilled labour, such as housekeeping. Others require a high level of skill or qualification. Tourism also creates employment outside of hotels. Tour operators and taxi drivers, for instance, would find it very hard to make a living if there were no tourists.
- Linkages: Many individuals and small businesses benefit from tourism by providing goods and services to hotels and tourists. Bars, restaurant owners, craft vendors and car rental companies all benefit when they are patronized by tourists. Many hotels purchase local produce such as fruits, vegetables and eggs from local farmers. Hotels also purchase fresh fish and other seafood from local fishermen.
- Foreign exchange: Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange for many Caribbean countries. Foreign exchange can be used to purchase goods and services from overseas.
- Infrastructure: Tourism helps to pay for facilities which benefit local people such as airports, sports facilities and roads to areas where hotels will be built.
- Government revenue: Departure tax and other charges help increase government revenue and help pay for government services.
- Cultural exchange: Visitors and locals interact with each other and share aspects of their culture. Through this cultural exchange we get to learn about the cultures of visitors from other countries and they get to learn about ours.
- Community identity: Tourism is a good way of generating a positive community identity and pride. Also tourism encourages communities to maintain traditions, especially those which can be put on display for tourists.
Disadvantages of tourism to the Caribbean
- Destruction of habitat: Often coastal forests, mangrove or wetlands are destroyed in order to build hotels. This poses a serious threat to the wildlife which depend on these areas for survival.
- Tourists may damage the environment they come to enjoy: Tourists sometimes engage in practices which damage our natural environment. For instance, they may break off bits of coral or engage in the practice of walking on the coral reefs.
- Pollution: Irresponsible disposal of solid waste and sewage by cruise ships and hotels pollutes the environment. Cruise ships and hotels often take advantage of the fact that Caribbean islands do not have adequate laws to protect their environment or the means to enforce such laws when they exist.
- Increase in the price of land: The increase in the demand for land to build hotels often causes the price of land, especially near the coast, to increase. This makes it more difficult for locals to buy land.
- Neglect of other industries: Industries such as agriculture and fishing may be neglected if they offer lower earnings than tourism.
- Loss of beach access: Locals may be denied access to certain beaches.