The picturesque Careenage, St. George’s, Grenada

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

The World Bank lists St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as one of the least popular holiday destinations in the world with only 74,000 overnight tourist visitors in 2012 . We are also at the bottom of barrel when Caribbean cruise ship arrivals are also counted .

Our nearby tourist competitors had the following number of overnight, non-resident visitors in 2012: Grenada — 116,000; St. Lucia — 307,000; and Barbados — 536,000. Before anyone retorts that this is because all three have international airports, they should note that Dominica had 79,000 airline tourists in 2012 — 5,000 more than SVG — but no real international airport, a population 40 per cent smaller than SVG’s, and lots more cruise ship passengers.

According to a recent report, “The Caribbean welcomed a record 26.3 million tourists in 2014, a 5.3 per cent rise over the previous year”. Meanwhile, our own tourist numbers have been stagnant or in decline for several years.

But is that really such a bad thing?

Any discussion of the number of tourists coming to the Caribbean by air or sea contains a suspect economic assumption: plenty of overseas holiday guests are necessary, maybe even sufficient, to promote wealth creation and poverty eradication in developing countries like ours that lack other obvious money-making alternatives. The shear cost and enormity of the Argyle airport project requires that this assumption be tested against existing empirical evidence.

Our financially-troubled neighbour Grenada, a well-established and attractive Caribbean tourist destination with a population almost the same size as ours and a land mass only slightly smaller, has about 200,000 annual cruise ship visitors and a little more than half as many (116,000) overnight, non-resident visitors (nearly all arriving by plane); the comparable figures for SVG are 83,000 and 74,000. Taken together, Grenada annually receives twice as many tourist visitors as we do with much of the difference based on cruise ship arrivals. Nevertheless, the contribution of Grenada’s tourism industry to its overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 6.4 per cent, not much higher than SVG’s 5.9 per cent, mostly earned from the Grenadines.

Similarly, St. Lucia, a country where tourism makes up a whopping 40 per cent of the GNP, experienced negative economic growth in 2013 and 2014, and is expecting a very modest increase of 1.1 per cent in 2015.

Another example is Jamaica, which received a record-breaking 2.1 million stopover visitors and 1.4 million cruise ship visitors in 2014 . These 3.5 million visitors contributed about US$2.2 billion to a tourism sector that makes up some 15 per cent of the country’s GDP. These seem like impressive figures until the following numbers are considered. Jamaica’s per person GDP, the most commonly employed measure of a nation’s wealth and poverty, in 2014 is estimated as US$9,256, or 27 per cent below SVG’s US$12,672 estimated GDP. Overall, SVG, with a much smaller 5.9 per cent tourism GDP contribution, is a richer country with less poverty than Jamaica.

I am not arguing that a lot of tourism makes a country poorer: some of the richest places on earth are heavily tourism dependent and vice versa. What I am claiming is that the figures for Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and many other examples I could have chosen from the Caribbean and elsewhere show that tourism is no economic panacea, not the least because most jobs in the hospitality sector are at the low end of the wage, education, social class, and skill continuum. Hundreds of Vincentians have been working on cruise ships for years now, mostly in insecure, low-paid, servile positions that Caucasians from the developed world abandoned long ago. Now our White overseer — who demeaned all People of Colour when he called himself the “Blackest Prime Minister in the history of SVG,” slandering his predecessors in the process by implying they were Uncle Toms — wants to bring thousands more of these unremunerative, subservient, unstable, and mainly seasonal jobs to our homeland via his adventure at Argyle. Being “Black” is not a metaphor; it is an immutable birth status in the global system of capital accumulation and racial oppression. Are Black Vincentians only good for cleaning toilets, making beds, scrubbing floors, and fetching drinks for White people?

If you have a government that actually boasts about creating what Marx and Engels called a “reserve army of labour” to be exploited by global capitalism and which sees our best and brightest nursing school graduates virtually compelled to migrate to other lands to earn their bread, hoping that they will send a few crumbs back home to their families, this is how you end up.

You also end up with lots of sex tourism. All over the Developing World where tourism has become the mainstay of the economy, millions of People of Colour, including pre-pubescent boys and girls, have been ruthlessly exploited by debauched White men looking for low-budget sex away from the prying eyes of their home country’s law enforcement and legal systems. With our weak and corruptible system of law and order, with such high rates of unemployment and underemployment, with our libertine attitude towards sexuality and a growing tolerance for homosexuality, with our high rates of physical and sexual abuse of women and children, with so many females reduced to “picking fares” to make a living, with the “poor parenting” and “dysfunctional homes” correctly referred to by the Prime Minister in his 2015 budget address, and with so little for tourists to do here except drink cheap rum and buy cheap sex, we are well primed to become just another regional bulling-and-brushing tourism destination like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Brazil.

All these and many other negative features of migration, remittances, and tourism are well understood by our Prime Minister and his leftist acolytes simply because they have been endlessly described and analysed for decades by the neo-Marxist critique of political economy Dr. Gonsalves has such familiarity with as a student, lecturer, and scholar. Still, good economics often makes bad politics even when no economic school of thought would ever argue that it makes sound developmental sense to birth, rear, educate, and train females — all at great expense to their working-class parents and their poor country — in order to subsidize rich nations like Trinidad/Tobago and Barbados from the moment they graduate from nursing school.

But school days are long over and arcane theoretical disputation is of little moment in the rough-and-tumble world of electoral politics in an anti-intellectual, semi-literate, Alice-in-Wonderland society like ours where “White” is “Black” and “Black” is “White.” The masses have long wanted a new international airport, so a brand-new airport they will get regardless of whether it can be afforded, supported, or needed and regardless of the negative effects on our fragile way of life.

In Caribbean politics, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

ENDNOTE

This is the sixth in a series of ten essays on the folly of the proposed Argyle International Airport. The others may be found at:

http://www.iwnsvg.com/2014/09/17/get-ready-for-a-november-election/

http://www.iwnsvg.com/2015/01/17/lessons-for-argyle-airport-from-canadas-montreal-mirabel-intl/

http://www.iwnsvg.com/2015/02/01/lessons-for-argyle-intl-airport-from-the-cruise-industry/

Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport

Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport

C. ben-David

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

9 replies on “The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport”

  1. WOW, this commentary is offbase!

    While I agree that the Argyle International Airport project (which I have been observing from a distance) is likely a waste of time and resources, your characterization of the tourism sector and its impact on employment and development in a small country is outrageously inaccurate.

    I am from Nassau, Bahamas, a country that long ago was accused by its regional neighbours of engaging too much in an ‘unreal’ services sector (including tourism). Today, the Bahamas has by far the broadest and wealthiest middle class in Caricom and has long been a net importer of labour. It exports no labour.

    Your characterisation of jobs in the tourist industry is equally inaccurate. I am pasting today’s webpage for http://www.employbahamians.com. You will note that the variety of jobs being sought at this very moment (mostly for the US$3.6 billion Baha Mar project) include financial analysts, network engineers, managers and other professionals. The resort will ultimately employ 7,000 Bahamians. The 8,000 jobs at Atlantis are also largely professional and skilled positions, with an average salary of $35,000 per annum. But this is set to increase appreciably as a result of the competition for labour represented by Baha Mar’s opening on the 27th of this month.

    Do you see any dishwasher positions on offer? I did not. Such jobs are a TINY fraction of the jobs created by a well developed tourism industry, and in the Bahamas (as in Vegas, Orlando or elsewhere) are largely performed by migrants.

    Moreover, the 15,000 stable, well paid employees of large resorts require the services of dentists, accountants, supermarkets, schools, doctors, lawyers (like me) and others, bolstering the professional class.

    You make some smart points about Argyle in your earlier articles, but this one is simply laughably off base and is the same antiquated mentality towards tourism that kept so many parts of our region from taking advantage of their comparative advantages for too long.

  2. C. ben-David says:

    Dear momoyama,

    Many thanks for your comments and your interest in my essays.

    Unfortunately, none of your assertions have any accuracy or even relevance to what I have written, for the following reasons:

    1. I clearly wrote that, “I am not arguing that a lot of tourism makes a country poorer: some of the richest places on earth are heavily tourism dependent and vice versa.” So, if the Bahamas is benefiting from tourism this in no way negates anything I said above. At the same time, even a tourism powerhouse like the Bahamas is now running scared given the renewal of relations between Cuba and the Bahamas which, if they bear full fruit, will lead to a massive downturn in the Bahama tourist industry. Tourism is a very volatile industry. Here today, gone tomorrow. Just check out Atlantic City.

    2. That the Bahamas imports labour — most of it at the low end of the skill, wage, and education continuum — simply proves my implicit point that tourism is a bottom-feeding industry.

    3. The variety of professional jobs for Baha Mar, Atlantis, etc. form a small portion of all jobs at these and other resorts. The low level jobs — such as dishwashers — don’t have to be advertised locally and internationally because poor people line up for them day in and day out.
    All over the developed world, most workers in the hospitality industry are the low paid, exploited, and disposable immigrants you talk about. In the developing and underdeveloped world, such workers are the poor of the country.

    4. You make an assertion about “average salary” without telling us about the range of salaries or how many people are employed at what positions at different salary level. This data would quickly reveal how skewed and stratified wages are in the hospitality sector.

    5. Contrary to what you imply, the hospitality industry is a very labour-intensive industry in which workers are mainly non-unionized and poorly treated, and which only survives on the backs of the cheap labour of its unskilled and low-skilled staff. The huge cruise ship industry is the best proof of this. Walk down to your cruise ship terminal some time and you will see that the staff on day pass are almost all People of Colour: Black people from the Caribbean and Brown people from South Asia. How many of them are “financial analysts, network engineers, managers and other professional?”

    6. The spin-off jobs you talk about — e.g., lawyers like you — are real enough but this doesn’t mean that the majority of low-paid workers can afford to utilize them. Again, the Bahamas may be an exception, which I clearly acknowledged in saying some tourism countries are doing well, but what about, say, Las Vegas, New York, or Toronto where a lowly hotel-room cleaner would have to stand in line for government legal aid because she could never afford to pay a private lawyer in anything more than a simple matter.

    1. I agree with you about the deplorable employment practices of US based resorts. But the same is far from true here. Low level workers in the Bahamian tourism industry are paid vastly more than their American equivalents, with credible stories of maids making $70,000 on overtime. You cannot make a comparison with the US hotel industry and what we have in the Caribbean.While the former is close to slave labour, unions here are so strong that there is an automatic 18% gratuity on all dining that is shared by all staff!

      But then again, a room at Atlantis will range from $600 to $2,500 a night and a glass of pretty ordinary Chardonnay most me $27 last week!

      The Caribbean’s natural advantage is in high end, intensive tourism, which with the proper governmental and industrial policy can produce transformative levels of human development – as it has in the Bahamas.

      Just look at what is happening in St. Lucia and Barbados. Never mind the recession and look at the larger picture. Tourism is the future of our region, my friend.

  3. I acknowledge some of the points and clarifications you have made, which at least clear up some areas of misunderstanding. But I think you continue to err in your view that tourism is a ‘labour intensive’ industry. It is not. It is, like all services, far more capital intensive than agriculture or industry. For every maid job in tourism, there are three or four office jobs produced.

    Of the thousands of jobs at Atlantis, the vast majority are at least the equivalent of clerical workers in the banking or insurance industries, while maids etc. would comprise a tiny majority. Perhaps you need to visit the resort to see what I mean. The complexity and sophistication of its facilities and services necesitate a higher level of skill than would be required for a similar sized industrial development. Everything from marine biologists to hundreds of IT and marketing specialists FAR outnumber maids or bell boys. These operations are more than just hotels. They are multi-national organisations headquartered in Nassau.

    My allusion to average salaries is just that: Average salaries. Bear in mind that, in the Bahamas, no large scale resort pays anything close to the minimum wage of US$200 per week. Entry level salaries for a large resort would be more like $300 per week, with the average 10 year veteran worker earning considerably above the national average wage of $14 dollars per hour. There simply are no miserably paid employees at a place like Atlantis or Baha Mar.

    It is simply a fallacy that tourism produces menial jobs in abundance. It does not. It produces directly a larger amount of professional and skilled than menial jobs. Moreover, my point about indirect professional jobs is that no industry in our region can produce the numbers of well paid, stable jobs as tourism, which in turn bolsters the domestic professional sector out of all proportion to the size of the population. Imagine a US city of 300,000 with 1,500 lawyers!! Tourism grows the professions demonstrably in our region.

    I agree that this will not initially be the case in a place like SVG that is just starting out, but it will certainly move in that direction as the country follows its comparative advantage in tourism.

    Those who see Cuba as a threat have no understanding of the industry. I have been to Cuba maybe 30 times and love the place. But in terms of infrastructure, facilities and skills, it will take a generation or more before it is able to compete for the same market as more mature destinations. Orlando is a rival to mature Caribbean destinations. Cuba is not.

    While I may disagree with him on Argyle, Dr. Gonsalves is dead right when it comes to pivoting SVG toward where its natural comparative advantage lies: TOURISM.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      Many thanks for your comments which simply confirm that SVG is not the Bahamas, something that I have repeatedly argued in these peices in relation to other real Caribbean tourist destinations.

      Not every Caribbean island has the natural and human resources to be a major tourist destination. The island of St. Vincent (not the enchanting Grenadines) is one of these.

      As for Cuba, mark my words if relations with the USA fully normalize, that country will eat your lunch within five years. Don’t forget you were a tourist backwater when Cuba was flourishing up to the time of the wicked Castroite revolution. A post-revolution Cuba is something you should very scared about.

      You say that SVG is just starting out. Only starting out in 2015. Why? Because there is little to start out from.

      As for the Grenadines, unlike the Bahamas, there are just not enough islands or land mass to make a huge impact on the economy of the entire country.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Sir.

        I appreciate your response, but think you are wrong to assume that SVG is somehow to be distinguished from other Caribbean destinations in terms of potential. While I agree that the Grenadines contain the primary potential in terms of expanding tourism in SVG, I do not share your view that the mainland should turn its back on tourism.

        Leaving aside our shared scepticism about Mr. Gonsalves’ Argyle project, do you honestly not see that St. Vincent requires an intensified focus on tourism if it is not to be left behind permanently by St. Lucia, Barbados and the rest of the region?

        FYI I have visited mainland St. Vincent and feel that it has immense attractiveness as a tourist destination. I agree with you that there is no need to expend resources on Argyle right now, but I would consider it a massive shame if anti-tourism prejudice and anti-Gonsalves politics were to prevent that potential being tapped.

  4. C. ben-David says:

    Dear momoyama, I do not have an “anti-tourism prejudice,” as you suggest. I just tried to point out some of the obvious problems with mass tourism and the obvious and cynical contradiction between Dr. Gonsalves political-economic world view and the vote-getting political decisions he has made.

    Nor am I anti-development or somehow down on my country. It is Sandals et al — not me — who have decided that SVG is no place for them to make money. I am only the bearer of bad tidings. Ask Sandals why they would never build on mainland SVG.

  5. C. ben-David says:

    Yes, momoyama, I agree that St. Vincent has “immense attractiveness” but not as a “tourist destination” because the former is neither sufficient and often not even necessary (e.g., Las Vegas, Dubai, etc.) for the latter. Please keep tuned and let me know your opinion after essay number 11.

    1. I certainly will stay tuned. Have followed all of them and mostly am in total agreement. The airport may come to be seen as a huge folly, when what is needed is simply a better integrated internal transport infrastructure between Barbados and the EC. The whole chain can benefit that way, rather than each trying to out do the other.

      What I had in mind for SVG is not necessarily the same as, say, Barbados, or Antigua, but a unique destination that can play its part in making the whole EC a much more accessible and visible chain of destinations. When I flew there from Barbados it was hard to conceive of two islands so close and yet so different. From the volcanic sand to the rugged topography it was like night and day.

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