COLUMN – Tourism to its own ruination?
What originally attracts visitors to make costly trips to a distant destination such as Barbados is a beautiful, clean, quiet, and very safe environment in which to enjoy the experience of sun, sea, and sand.
A vicious circle begins to take hold as tourists’ money flows into the hands of local residents, who gain jobs directly and indirectly from providing services to visitors. The foreign exchange generated by tourism allows these new employees to buy cars, sound systems, and other devices, along with alcohol, drugs, and guns.
Noise, foul exhausts, and litter begin to destroy the beauty, and the Seven Deadly Sins cause a rapid rise in crime that did not exist before tourism. What was a serene and happy Christian island slowly loses its moral and ethical basis.
Locals see the visitors partying much of the time, but do not stop to think that tourists have saved their money for a year in order to enjoy a brief period of sun, sea, and sand before returning to the grind and grime of their normal existence. Too many locals want to party all the time, and they want to do so anywhere without regard to their impact on what was originally a beautiful, clean, quiet, and safe island.
Fewer than half of Barbadians alive today have any real idea of what their nation was like before tourism developed to provide the foundation for as much as 60 per cent of the economy, and the vast majority of the foreign exchange. Surprising numbers of Bajans actually resent having to share their island with visitors.
Decreasing numbers of locals appreciate the people who provide the money that allows most Bajans to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle that their grandparents would never have dreamed could be possible in an undeveloped nation almost entirely dependent upon sugar cane. Without tourism, only the very rich would have cars, and such everyday necessities as electricity and telephones would be luxuries acquired only with great sacrifice.
Directly and indirectly, tourism accounts for 40 to 60 per cent of jobs, but the real number is actually much higher. A large portion comes from what is known as “international business”, but that is really just a sophisticated form of tourism. The operators of such business offices can now choose from dozens of “low tax” jurisdictions, so Barbados risks losing them to other countries if this island does not offer a safe, clean, quiet, and beautiful environment in which these prosperous money managers want to live.
A serious commitment to education has elevated many Barbadians, but it has failed to ensure that locals truly understand the source of their income and luxuries.
For example, on the recent May 1 holiday, the tourism product offered to visitors at Enterprise Beach was almost totally destroyed by the Garrison Alumni. This small beach is strategically located to serve a large number of visitors and locals alike, providing safe access to the sea. It is one of the few on the South Coast that were clear of sargassum weed that week.
“Miami Beach” is a precious resource for the nation’s tourism-dependent economy, as well as something to be properly enjoyed by local residents.
It is not the place to have a massive karaoke party, but that is what happened when a large group of supposedly educated Barbadians set up shop on May Day. A noisy generator provided power for a booming sound system that was operated abusively all day by a deejay, who then ran karaoke after the partygoers were sufficiently loaded with alcohol to lose their inhibitions (and common sense).
Very few tourists tried to enjoy the beach that day –– and the noise was so powerful that it penetrated the nearby residences of tourists and locals, even if all windows were kept closed.
It was a distressing example of the challenge that Barbados faces if this nation ever wants to achieve lasting prosperity. Tourism can survive and grow on a sustainable basis only if visitors want to return often, and want to spend increasing amounts of time and money here. Repeat visitors are absolutely essential.
The bad behaviour of the Garrison Alumni on May 1 was definitely not an isolated incident. The Barbados Defence Force and the Barbados Tourism Authority are among the organizations that have chosen Enterprise Beach for large, noisy parties that destroy the sun, sea, and sand experience that is the real purpose of our precious beaches.
And that is not the only problem with noise. All of the activities that annoy Bajans are certain to annoy visitors to a much greater extent. Tourists spend a huge amount of money to come here, and the value for money they expect includes peace and quiet unless they choose to attend a fete or enter a bar or nightclub.
There are hundreds, and possibly thousands, of vehicles equipped with personal sound systems that are much too loud to be safe to use while driving. These are mobile tourism destroyers whether their owners are cruising the streets or stopping for impromptu parties with the volume turned up to maximum –– with booming bass that penetrates buildings and can damage the health of people with heart problems.
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur wisely stated in his recent public lecture that tourism provides the only hope for much needed economic growth. Such growth is absolutely dependent upon repeat visitors, and it will not happen without
a major change in attitude by large numbers of Barbadians.
(Bob Verdun is the retired owner of a newspaper company in Canada, an experienced hotelier, and a business development consultant working on hotel projects in Barbados.
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)