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Problématiques caribéennes

International tourism in the Caribbean Area: Current Status and Future Prospects

Le tourisme international dans la Caraïbe : état des lieux et perspectives
Olivier Dehoorne, Christelle Murat et Nathalie Petit-Charles


Longtemps limité à des pratiques touristiques élitistes, l’espace caribéen s’est largement ouvert au tourisme international au cours des trois dernières décennies. L’avènement du tourisme de masse s’est accompagné d’une redistribution des flux et de fonctions touristiques dans cette région. Les enjeux, qui accompagnent l’importance croissante du fait touristique, essentiel pour les économies des îles caribéennes, sont de plusieurs ordres : tout d’abord, il convient de s’interroger sur les effets d’entraînement des revenus du tourisme dans le cadre de ces économies extraverties. Se pose également la question de l’accès aux ressources et de la fermeture des lieux touristiques, dans un contexte où les sociétés locales développent aussi leurs propres pratiques touristiques et récréatives ; autant d’usages qui se polarisent sur des ressources littorales et doivent nous interpeller sur les enjeux environnementaux et la durabilité des pratiques touristiques qui prévalent aujourd’hui

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1Tourist destinations in the Caribbean that had been the reserve of the elite for many years have now become accessible to the mass tourism market. The first tourists were generally industrialists, bankers and businessmen who began to frequent the region from the 19th Century, travelling on ships from New York and staying in the Bahamas archipelago, on Puerto Rico or in Havana. Afterwards, the availability of aerial transport from large North American and European cities generated a distribution of tourism flows in the Caribbean area. The first air links to the Caribbean date from the beginning of the 20th Century when Pan American Airways offered flights between Havana and the US. The democratisation started in the 1960s with the introduction of charter flights and large carriers such as the Boeing 747 and the DC-10, but it has been in the last twenty years that the region has experienced a considerable influx in tourists because of the lifting of restrictions on air travel and the increase in charter flights. These flights now directly serve the tourist resorts and no longer go via the capital cities.

2It is difficult to quantify the tourism flows for a region that itself has been constructed through different types of mobility. Firstly the term tourist is largely allocated to those people who have a variety of motives for moving, such as the Diaspora of the Caribbean people to North American and European cities. These movements are particularly significant in countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, also Haiti with an official figure of 100,000 tourists. In 1998, temporary stays by expatriates involved between 800,000 and 1 million people on Puerto Rico (Cameron, 2000). Mixed in with these international visitors are also many potential emigrants for whom the ‘tourist’ trip is a perfect alibi for leaving their country. These ‘fake tourists’ can then work illegally in tourist locations or organise suitable stop-off points in an attempt to reach North American or European cities (Audebert, 2007; Dehoorne, 2007). Some, having boarded cruise ships, show no hesitation in disappearing during a stopover at a port of call. Despite the undoubted limitations of the figures (overestimated for international visitors and underestimated for intra-regional visitors), there are now approximately 25 million international and regional tourists coming to the Caribbean islands and 45 million coming to the coastline as a whole (islands and mainland) (Dehoorne, 2006).

3Finally, it is important to emphasise the fact that tourism is characterised by the movement of consumers (tourists) towards producing areas (host countries). Consumption is linked to territory wide resources (Williams and Hall, 2000) and although it is primarily influenced by the intangible nature of the host areas (photographs of a beach in the sunset), it relies just as much on essential material resources (such as drinking water, lagoons) which are already included in the local consumption system. Tourist consumption increases the anthropogenic pressure on resources within the relevant territories.

4For this paper we intend to highlight the importance of flows and the related spatial systems that enable us to determine this mass tourism phenomenon and then pursue several strands of thought on economic and development issues in general.

1. How the Caribbean tourism area is organised

Figure 1. International Tourist Arrivals in the Caribbean in 2009

Figure 1. International Tourist Arrivals in the Caribbean in 2009

1.1. Flows within the Caribbean area

5Since the end of the 1980s, the Caribbean shores have taken their place in the mass tourism era, achieving prominence on the international scene through a number of major destinations (Cancun, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, cf. Table 1). Overall the volume of tourism activity remains rather modest in relation to world tourism (the above countries have nowhere near the number of tourists that frequent the Mediterranean coast), but it is important to remember the characteristics of the territories under consideration (limited size, population levels, available resources, externally-dependent economies) and the significant polarisation of tourism towards micro-territories.

Table 1. The top ten tourist destinations in the Caribbean Islands

Table 1. The top ten tourist destinations in the Caribbean Islands

Source: World Tourism Organization

6The Caribbean region does not have equal levels of tourism - certain areas are over visited by tourists, whereas other larger areas are neglected, as illustrated by the example of the island of Hispaniola, occupied by both the Republic of Haiti (ignored as an international tourism venue) and the Dominican Republic (top destination since 2006). Tourism urbanisation on Hispaniola stretches along its northern and western sides (cf. Figure 1). Tourist numbers are greatly influenced by the political situation abroad and by levels of security, as demonstrated by the observed fluctuations over the last decade. After several years of decline, Columbia has once again reached a volume of tourists that is similar to the 1990 figure (approximately 800,000) and Venezuela, its neighbour, has regained some 150,000 visitors after eight successive years of decline, and is now approaching the half million mark. Certain countries are generally looked upon as being sanctuaries for refugees, such as the Bahamas or the US Virgin Islands, both capitalising on international tensions.

7Thus the larger Caribbean islands have opted for mass tourism. They have organised themselves around key coastal resorts that offer inexpensive stays. Cuba’s example proves to be important in this respect: in 1990 Cuba rediscovered its pre-revolution level of 1957 and in 2004 the number of visitors passed the two million mark. Certain destinations such as the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Tobago and Saint Barthelemy have been given over to a luxury tourist market, mainly American. In a way these islands have remained as protected ‘paradises’, isolated from the rest of the world. The volume of commercial accommodation has been deliberately kept low. Other territories like Barbados and Puerto Rico offer a range of accommodation; quality hotels rub shoulders with modestly priced establishments such as guest houses or ‘bed and breakfasts’.

8The advent of mass tourism has been accompanied by a redeployment of tourism functions in the Caribbean area. The ‘elite’ have kept certain traditional tourist destinations for themselves, but they have also invested in new ‘paradise’ islands, like the coastal islands in the Gulf of Honduras, which have been spared from charter flights. It is financial factors that allow the preservation of exclusive locations for the ‘elite’ (Saint Barthelemy, Mustique).

9New resort complexes that are spacious, enclosed and away from urbanised areas, bring western middle class tourists to the Caribbean (Isabela in Puerto Rico, Punta Cana in Santo Domingo). Other more traditional resorts have lost their appeal, largely because of poorly planned urban development leading to many and varied sources of irritation (traffic jams, pollution, petty crimes). These failing resorts may have seen their international reputation eroded, but the likes of Puerto Rico, Barbados and the French West Indies have now reorganised themselves to attract a domestic clientele.

10Both conflicting tourism systems (elite and mass tourism) have merged into the complex nature of the host countries; new stakeholder groups have then formed and the different protagonists regularly employ ecological arguments to defend their interests.

1.2. Intra-regional visitors and domestic tourism affirmed

11Although rarely studied to date, domestic and intra-regional tourism practices have added a new dimension to Caribbean tourism - one that is outside the Caribbean. Today these practices concern developing countries in general. It is therefore important to look at the figures from one Caribbean country as a provider of tourists and Mexico is a particularly good example: in 2002 Mexicans accounted for 57,475 million tourist nights in their own country as opposed to 30 million tourist nights from international visitors. Mexico also sent out more than 12 million tourists around the world, most of who stayed in the region (WTO, 2003). Other examples are Honduras, where the national population accounted for almost 30 % of the country’s tourist nights, and Belize where the figure is 11 % (more than 60,000 tourist nights). Similar observations can be made for the islands, like Barbados, where 22 % of the 531,000 international tourists visiting in 2002 were Caribbean nationals. The share of regional tourists rises to 27 % of the total of international tourists for Curaçao and reaches 40 % in the archipelago of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

12When it comes to practices that relate to these new categories of tourists, two types of behaviour can be observed:

  • With this emerging tourism we can find new categories of citizens, younger and of modest income, sampling the world of leisure by staying in basic accommodation away from the established international circuits. Firstly these can be families, neighbourhoods or whole villages taking trips to the beach, going on short camping breaks (more or less informal) or renting accommodation from a local person. At the moment they rarely go to the international beaches in their country of residence because occasionally these can be private or have restricted access; they prefer to concentrate more on coastal districts that are less regarded and little developed.

  • Tourists from higher income brackets - traditional or emerging, whose representation reflects the social pyramid existing in their particular country of residence (note that, differences in income are very wide in those countries where the middle classes are poorly represented). This genre of tourist mainly travels by plane, mixes with western tourists and frequents tourist locations in the region that have a good reputation.

1.3. The rationale behind tourism in the Caribbean Basin

13Several lessons can be drawn from the spatial analysis of flows within the Caribbean area. Firstly, the distribution takes place according to a centre/periphery model which is characterised by the domination of the provider metropolitan areas; these control the bulk of the flows towards the periphery. Therefore, as a tourism periphery the Caribbean depends on its proximity to rich North American households that make up its stock of potential tourists. Primarily it is North American urban areas that service the Caribbean tourism market; they provide more than 70 % of the tourist population (WTO, 2003). Even though there are exclusive trans-Atlantic links with certain European cities (Paris, London, Amsterdam, along with Madrid), the fact remains that regional dynamics are first and foremost driven by North America. To give an example, two thirds of all tourist breaks taken by German people are abroad (equivalent to 789 million tourist nights), but only 1 % of these stays are in the Caribbean (i.e. 8 million tourist nights); more than 40 % of their stays take place in a neighbouring country.

14The flows that belong to a transoceanic pattern are of secondary importance on a regional scale, but from time to time they can dominate tourism when it comes to certain destinations, such as the smaller French territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, part of Saint Martin), British territories (Anguilla, Cayman, Montserrat) and Dutch territories (Curaçao, Aruba, Saba, the other part of Saint Martin). The existence of longstanding historical, cultural, linguistic and political links favour the continuance of these networks, which at times benefit from being part of economic and/or political groups, for example, members of the British Commonwealth (Saint Lucia, Turks and Caicos, Barbados). Thus, intricate systems affect the centre/periphery relationship which also has a North South connection.

15Tourism in the Basin juxtaposes countries whose living standards are extremely disparate. As in the case of industrial delocalisation, the economic and social gains offered by different states favour the movement of investment to new territories, more often ‘in the south’, which benefit from social and fiscal advantages. In so far as host countries are in a position to give the necessary transport, sanitation and security guarantees and at the same time remain within an air perimeter that does not exceed four hours flight time from provider cities, the economic differential plays a decisive role in a very competitive regional context. Finally these North to South flows also conform to southern tropism, an attraction to tropical and subtropical regions, ‘to a world without winter’.

16The specific links that have been established between the main provider cities and particular destinations have led to a partitioning of the Caribbean area and hence reinforced the stranglehold of certain national client groups and rigid client categories - the infamous ‘consumer niches’ - in the host territories. Offers have become more and more standardised, and each regional entity targets certain exclusive provider markets. More than ever the regional market appears fragmented and controlled, as illustrated by the spatial rationale of the different airlines when dividing up the air space. These realities have resulted in the marketing of unoriginal tourism products that differ from each other only in the scale of the service and consequently the prices thereof for the targeted client category.

1.4. Untenable regional competition: when the tourist crisis hit the French West Indies

17Having held a protected and privileged position on the French market for many years, the French West Indies were surprised by the boom in the regional marketplace (note that for the period 1990 to 2002 the annual rates of growth in tourism were respectively 9.4 % and 14.3 % for the Dominican Republic and Cuba) Comments on tourism from the leaders at the time were very optimistic because they could not imagine a tourism crisis raging in the tropics; the French West Indies also seemed capable of handling the fierce competition present in the Caribbean marketplace. The tourism sector was then the most important economic sector on Martinique with more than 10,000 employees, that is, over 10 % of the active population at the end of the 1990s. But while the growth was beginning to find its rhythm and while other islands of the Antilles were anticipating a diversification in their clientele, especially from the nearby North American markets, the French West Indies were consolidating their privileged relations with the French market.

Table 2. Tourist visits to Martinique from 1985 to 2009

Table 2. Tourist visits to Martinique from 1985 to 2009

* Other sightseers are those visitors who travel from island to island (by air or by sea)

Source: Martinique Tourism Authority

18The French island of Martinique has continued to lose visitors since 1998. The cruise sector has been the most heavily affected by the crisis with fewer than 100,000 cruise passengers (over 151 ships) stopping off on the island in 2005! Gone are the times when the island had more than 500 cruise ships passing per year (506 in 1992 and 678 in 1991).
The growth in the 1990s relied firstly on French visitors (70.8 % in 1990 compared to 59 % in 1987) and secondly on European visitors, whereas the presence of North American visitors decreased (12.5 % in 1990 compared to 23 % in 1987). In 2005 the share from the United States represented only 0.8 % of the 3 million tourist nights recorded, the figure for Canada was 1.1 % and for Europe it was 3.1 %! French visitors now represent 87.5 % of the total number of tourists.

2. The economic issues involving tourism

2.1. The importance of tourism revenue

Figure 2. International tourist incomes in Latin America

Figure 2. International tourist incomes in Latin America

19At the end of the 1980s the tourism economy began to compensate for the traditional plantation revenue in the Caribbean. Its predominance has continued to assert itself and the sector has now become the major source of foreign currency. International tourism earns the insular Caribbean some 19,000 million US dollars (WTO, 2005), but the distribution remains very selective (cf. Figure 2). Employment in the tourism sector is now at 2.5 million (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2001) compared to 400,000 in 1990 (Gayle and Goodrich, 1993). This sector therefore directly and indirectly supports 15.5 % of employment in the region compared to 6.3 % worldwide. In certain cases tourism provides two thirds of the total employment (US Virgin Islands) and its revenue can reach the equivalent of 20,000 US dollars per inhabitant (Cayman Islands).

20Tourism has also established itself as an essential activity for many of the economies in the region; its earnings can easily make up more than half the country’s GNP: Saint Lucia (64 %), Antigua and Barbuda (74 %), British Virgin Islands (82 %) and Turks and Caicos Islands (91 %) - the record. Progress has been significant in the newer destinations such as Cuba (1,915 million US dollars in 2005 compared to 243 in 1990) and the Dominican Republic (from 900 million in 1990 to 3,180 in 2004), and the impact has been considerable on the more disadvantaged economies such as Panama (685 million in 2004), Nicaragua (187 million in 2004 compared to 129 in 2000) and Honduras (29 million in 1990, 260 in 2000 and 396 in 2004).

21Since its outset, the region’s economy has had to endure a long process of dominant externalities, from the plantation system to the move towards tourism. At certain times agriculture (sugar cane, bananas, pineapples) and derivatives (rum) continue to be an important source of revenue, but their contribution is constantly declining as freer markets favour multinational companies who control the supply chain (from production site to the consumer). Thus tourism has come to the rescue of the struggling plantation economies such as Saint Lucia where banana revenue has represented up to 85 % of export earnings for the country. It has been a similar situation for Cuba, where up to three quarters of its trade with other socialist countries has largely consisted of agricultural products; now tourism has become the most important source of foreign currency for an island that boasts 40,000 hotel rooms.

22These controlled externally-dependent economies pass from one production cycle to the next. Indeed, the development mechanisms that support total tourism are in favour of furthering the plantation cycle: externally-dependent economies, control of the marketplace by transnational groups and heightened competition with the production of a sole product. Short term systems do not necessarily lead to a carefully thought out diversification.

2.2. The need to re-examine tourism revenue

23Despite the importance of financial flows that circulate in the Caribbean area, the proportion of revenue that genuinely contributes to the development of the member nations could be considered as insufficient. There are several reasons for the ineffectiveness of the expected multiplier effect: firstly the importance of the all-inclusive holiday, which is generally organised and bought in the customer’s country of origin; the most generous slice of the revenue stays with those who control the market (direct access to potential customers, airlines and sometimes to the facilities in the host country). These packages are very widespread throughout the region.
It is also necessary to underline the importance of international capital in a region where more than 60 % of hotel complexes are owned by foreign nationals (Pattullo, 1996). The first to benefit are then international investors (North American, European and South African) who take advantage of attractive tax systems that allow the rapid movement of earnings without having to reinvest. These measures have also been responsible for creating certain local fortunes from transnational capital.

24The issues surrounding logistics and supplies for tourist locations are also noteworthy. The applicable strategic choices derive from the specialist services that the relevant large companies offer: these choices are far removed from the realities faced by the host country and they encourage an all-encompassing international mindset with a view to finding the best price for their tourism complexes. Wilkinson (2004) highlights the fact that less than 15 % of the food consumed in hotels on Saint Lucia is locally produced; this situation is explained in part by the difficulty in guaranteeing a regular supply of provisions, the need for health checks and visitors’ tastes. The net contributions from tourism therefore need to be considered when all imports have been deducted (especially food related). The studies conducted for the island of Saint Lucia produce an equivalent financial loss to 50 % of the declared tourism revenue (Poon, 1990; Wilkinson, 2004). Consequently the possibilities for involving local people in the tourism process are limited.

25These observations enable us to both recognise the actual tourism revenue and to better appreciate the economic difficulties faced by certain islands located at the centre of the tourism systems. In the background remains the pivotal question as to the cost of the tourism product in relation to locally consumed resources and investments, notably those directed towards infrastructure and financed by local authorities; more precisely, how is the revenue shared out? Currently the main priority for these newer states is to have immediate employment. In the light of this we can better understand the problems facing the French West Indies who, despite certain real tax advantages, are far from being in a position to compete with the other islands in the region. The comparative advantages of less developed islands are more attractive than those of the wealthier territories. The latter have social and legal systems that guarantee workers’ rights (a minimum wage and employment law) and laws forbidding the privatisation of beaches that belong to the public domain.

26Current rationale would indicate that the Caribbean islands appear more like simple host structures that fall in line with an international system where the likelihood of local participation is limited (in the absence of capital and access to provider markets). The development of the tourism sector has resulted in complex mechanisms that are beyond the control of a resentful and impotent local population. The cost of tourism for the people and their environment is particularly severe: inflation and the dollarization of local economies alongside the closure of sections of coastline.

27It is therefore with this context in mind (where the importance of the tourism flows and the islands’ resources are at odds with the lack of revenue) that consideration must be given to finding new alternatives, firmly rooted in the host territories and populations so as to create a genuine sustainable tourism development programme. Ecotourism is thus at the centre of these new proposals (Breton, 2001). It comes down to supporting projects that have as one of their ambitions to contribute more to the well-being of the local communities and/or help finance protected sites. It is vital that we plan for new approaches to tourism that are complementary and original, better integrated into the host societies and their environment, and that are able to deliver alternatives to the classic resort-based mass tourism as well as taking on board the concept of sustainable development.

3. Tourism and development - the limits of the current systems

3.1. Secure entrenchment and “tourist bubbles”

28Contrary to the popular belief that tourist enclaves constructed ex-nihilo would naturally evolve to become more accessible to the host territory or society - in some part based on tourism models observed on European coastlines - tourist sites in the Caribbean have largely remained closed and new constructions have adhered to a policy of entrenchment vis-à-vis the host territories. In general the acceptance of social and geopolitical risks within a complicated regional context that is highly unequal has led to investors favouring closed and secure sites. The enclaves differ in size; they can extend over the whole of the micro-island territory or can encompass certain large sections of coastline, notably those which have the best coral. These discriminatory systems reflect the familiar realities for the region’s towns and have accelerated the process of enclosing tourist sites over the last fifteen years. Far from opening up, hotel complexes have become more inaccessible and security plays a crucial role in their commercial success (such as the Varadero Peninsula, Cuba). What has resulted is a process of isolating tourist locations (they are reserved, cut off from the host territory, they have their own flights, occasionally private) so that they are closed off to the rest of the host territory. The local undesirable populations find themselves in the urban suburbs and other ‘invisible’ shanty towns, forgotten by all. The enclaves maintain the frustrations and divisions at the heart of these economically dependent societies and the unpredictable consequences can be brutal - those encountered by the individual who strays from the signposted tourist paths.

29The events of the last few years have underlined the importance of geopolitical factors in international tourism and the concerns that were awakened by the attacks of September 11 2001 appear to have precipitated the reorganisation of the marketplace; if the Caribbean has been able to play on its image as a ‘safe paradise’ and a low risk destination for tourists it has been in large part due to its gathering of tourists into exclusive areas. In reality the region has experienced certain serious social tensions, pockets of poverty and ‘no go’ districts run by organised criminals, gangs and drug cartels who have also made inroads into resorts like Acapulco and Negril (de Albuquerque and McElroy, 1999). In tourist cities like Havana and San Juan you can find ‘tourist compounds’ with high security perimeter fences around a heritage site where the visitor can move around without being disturbed, under the watchful eyes of police forces specialised in the protection of tourists.

30Making sites secure and simplifying how we view the desirable haven has led to a system of ‘tourist bubbles’. The explosion of mass tourism has produced an increasing uniformity in the makeup of sites because of the inevitable demand for standardisation in the way that the tourism product is marketed throughout the world. The loss of originality in the tourism product has led to a loss in the uniqueness of a location and any reference to that particular national territory seems secondary. When it comes to planning our holidays the Caribbean is advertised for its sunny climes, its ‘perfect beaches’ and the ‘authenticity’ of its souvenir junk. Tourists have no need to leave their tourist bubbles; they have paid for a piece of ‘paradise’ as part of their package. Everything is designed to minimise the contact between the tourist and the local community. The enclave withdraws into its ‘own’ beach and each client keeps to their regular consumption and their regular lives. He or she is in an unforeign space. The respectability makes this haven appealing, but everything on these sites is modelled on his/her everyday routines. It is the temptation of having a haven which can be contemplated from the terrace of a bar or from a swimming pool; it is having one’s desire for the exotic satisfied and at the same time being protected from anything different. The tourist no longer abandons his familiar environment for a new totally foreign environment.

31The true challenge would be to make these ‘tourist bubble’ holidays a first step, a preliminary contact with a disquieting, but appealing faraway land and a training period that would guide the tourist to activities that are more integrated into the host societies. However, with the current market systems, the representation of the tropics and its exotic nature would appear to be an end in itself. The challenge will be for local societies to succeed at offering different alternatives and to deconstruct the prevailing images, re-establish their own images and create other perspectives.

3.2. The relevant environmental issues

32The rapid growth in flows towards small islands and sometimes to narrow sections of coastline can cause undeniable environmental problems that require us to reflect on development choices. On tropical coasts and especially on island territories, the direct impact of current modes of tourism consumption cause added damage to that affected by urbanisation and demographic pressures from its locations. Behaviour that provokes the disappearance of natural resources and increased pollution has been identified (Island Resources Foundation, 1996; Saffache, 2000), but decision making powers remain within the political domain. We need to investigate the coherence of policies that allow, taking cruises as an example, several ships (each with more than 3,000 passengers) to dock in one small bay (Pointe Seraphine on Saint Lucia and Havensite Mall on the US Virgin Islands). It is also a major problem for the island of Aruba (113,000 inhabitants over 192 km²) which receives more than 720,000 short break tourists (for an average stay of eight days) and some 230,000 cruise passengers. The consumption levels that accompany these flows of people generate unavoidable problems regarding waste management and the recycling of wastewater from hotel complexes that are very often lacking in adequate treatment systems. We also need to reflect on the impact of mass tourism on the fragile marine worlds, whether it be from cruises (Wilkinson, 1999), pleasure boat mooring or underwater diving and hunting in weakened coral systems.

33These scenarios lead to the infamous ‘spiral of death’ (McElroy and de Albuquerque, 1998) where coastal urbanisation caused by tourism flows results in an accumulation of domestic pollution and consequently, irreversible damage to certain very popular sites such as the beaches at Miami Beach from 1960 onwards and Condado (San Juan) from 1980 onwards, and the cycle continues relentlessly. These new dimensions to mass tourism, where the pressures are particularly strong, need to be taken into account. Coastal areas are deteriorating rapidly on the small islands whose resources are limited and for which biophysical environment constitute the main source of wealth. The non replacement of resources presents a problem in terms of development choices; at the moment these choices come under the particular requirements for economic growth (Daly, 1990; Goodland, 1992).

34Faced with the certainty of mass tourism in the Caribbean and the resulting extensive deterioration to resources (notably in coastal areas), ecotourism strategies can also be deployed as an alternative approach in the management of the most sought after locations: tiny islands, islets and their lagoons. Bearing in mind the obvious vulnerability of these resources and the risk of irretrievable damage if opened arbitrarily to the general public, ecotourism, and to wider degree ecology, have become fundamental considerations. The reduced accessibility of these protected sites, which are often deprived of regular flights, ensures the restriction in tourist numbers to the benefit of certain international financial elites. Safeguarding resources and limiting access on behalf of an upmarket tourism goes hand in hand; examples are the smaller islands of the Saint Vincent and Grenadines peninsula or the coastal peninsula of the Gulf of Honduras (Stonich, 2000). The ecotourism campaign, actively supported by diverse NGOs, has resulted in the closure of sites, along with prohibitive prices, in a bid to protect these sites against the inherent ‘risks’ of mass tourism.

35The environment, access to resources and the management of resources are at the heart of the conflict over politically motivated decisions on usage, as in the case of marine reserves where the regulations have affected the disappearance of traditional ways. New international residents set themselves up in these ‘final paradises’ whereas the peoples of these beleaguered islands, unable to survive within a new imposed legal framework, deprived of resources, and dispossessed of their common land, leave the coastal areas for the mainland (as in the Gulf of Honduras) and/or gravitate towards urban shanty towns (Stonich, 2000).


36We have to look at tourism in relation to the integration of local communities in those countries where political, racial and cultural differences add to the latent conflicts (Duffy, 2001). Alliances between different local controlling groups (who monopolise the bulk of the revenue) and external authorities are a source of tension. At certain times development choices regarding infrastructure have been debatable and some communities have felt neglected, even excluded. Moreover, the excessive practices on certain tourism sites have disturbed local populations who have withdrawn into their traditional ways of life. Such tourist locations are at times the scenes of great excesses where tourists, in the temporary anonymity of these havens, can indulge in acts that would be inadmissible in their own countries: prostitution and paedophilia (Kempadoo, 1999). Investigations that have been focused on economic issues tend to neglect the gross absence of fairness which itself exacerbates the reality encountered in very unequal societies. Inflation, along with feelings of being manipulated and despoiled feed the resentment that would astound any tourist as he or she strolls through the picture postcard world a million miles from the reality of the situation.

37The disproportionate balance of power and the deep divisions stir up tensions when decisions are taken concerning tourism development and the management of natural resources. And at times biased governments with limited means will not always be in a position to control the progress of projects that are being driven by certain local elites with transnational interests. In this respect, Edie insists on “dialectic unity between internal populism and external dependence” where “dependence and populism can be better understood if they are seen as different aspects of the same reality; they remain in the same dominant dominated asymmetrical exchange model” (1991; quoted by Daniel, 1996).

38Among the key focal points for the future is the need to accept that credence should be given to the biophysical and human environmental realities affecting particular areas, and the need to question how land is controlled and how sought after resources are privatised. The search for alternatives that involve local communities, both in the type of tourism consumption and in the rejuvenation of sources of income, is required to ensure the move away from a rigid externally-dependent development. This could come into effect via ecotourism projects favouring practices that are more appropriate and more viable in terms of the overall functioning of these societies, as much economically, as ecologically or politically (Weaver, 1994; Hall and Lew, 1998). However, recourse to the ecological angle requires us to question its real intentions. Controlling resources is essential in running a beleaguered territory and the main protagonists will employ ecological arguments to legitimise their appropriation of resources and thereby manipulate tourist mobility in the last of the ‘tropical Eden’.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. International Tourist Arrivals in the Caribbean in 2009
Fichier image/jpeg, 436k
Titre Table 1. The top ten tourist destinations in the Caribbean Islands
Crédits Source: World Tourism Organization
Fichier image/png, 34k
Titre Table 2. Tourist visits to Martinique from 1985 to 2009
Légende * Other sightseers are those visitors who travel from island to island (by air or by sea)
Crédits Source: Martinique Tourism Authority
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Figure 2. International tourist incomes in Latin America
Fichier image/jpeg, 304k
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Référence électronique

Olivier Dehoorne, Christelle Murat et Nathalie Petit-Charles, « International tourism in the Caribbean Area: Current Status and Future Prospects »Études caribéennes [En ligne], 16 | Août 2010, mis en ligne le 15 août 2010, consulté le 19 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Olivier Dehoorne

CEREGMIA, Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Maître de Conférences,

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Christelle Murat

CEREGMIA, Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Doctorante,

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Nathalie Petit-Charles

CEREGMIA - Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Doctorante,

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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