Tourism in the Caribbean

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Tourism in the Caribbean significantly impacts the economies, cultures, and ecosystems of the area.


The Bath Hotel on the island of Nevis, was the first official hotel to open in the Caribbean. The nearby hot springs, with their rumoured health benefits, were an obvious lure. The inviting climate of the Caribbean brought more tourists to the region in the 19th year.[1] Some tourists preferred to admire the tropical sea away from the water's edge.

Early tourists did not care for the beaches. The early seaside resorts developed for tourists were primarily for health benefits. Taking a dip in the sea was salubrious and prescribed as general pick-me-ups and for serious medical conditions.[2] The island of Barbados was a health resort.

Early tourists to the Caribbean depended on their nationality when deciding which islands they would go to. The English went to their colonies of Nevis, Barbados and Jamaica, the French went to Martinique, and the Dutch went to Curaçao. The tourists were wealthy people who had plenty of time to travel, because the cost and length of the sea voyage to get to the destinations meant that only the well-off could travel.[2] Only individuals that had a lot of time to travel would go to the Caribbean since they stayed for substantial periods of time, weeks, or even months.[2] During the 19th century, the tourism season consisted of the winter months.

American tourists at the end of the 19th century traveled mostly to the Bahamas and Cuba, staying close to the Florida coast. Some of the first hotels include: The Bath Hotel in Nevis, that opened in 1778. The Royal Victorian Hotel in the Bahamas that opened in 1861. Crane Beach in Barbados opened in 1887, while in Jamaica, the Titchfield Hotel opened.[3]

Tourism brought the introduction of regular non-stop international airplane flights in the 1960s. This founded a less exclusive form of tourism, alongside the luxury market, which remains in the present day.[3]

After the introduction of the international airplane services, multinational organizations such as hotel chains and tour operators began to show serious interest in the region.[3]

Mass tourism became significant beginning in the 1980s. Today, millions of tourists vacation in the Caribbean annually. Scuba diving and snorkeling on the biologically rich coral reefs of the region have become major tourism attractions, although a relative few of the island and coastal communities of the region as a whole realize significant fiscal revenues from such activities.

Nonetheless, whether it is by plane or cruise there is no decline in sight for tourism in the Caribbean. Even hurricanes and a series of recessions in the Western world appeared only to cause temporary blips on Caribbean tourism's ever-rising growth rate.[4]

Many Caribbean islands offer a diversity of landscapes in a small area. The Caribbean is fairly free of diseases and pests, and European and North American visitors can speak their own language.[5] The common languages that European and North American tourists can speak in the Caribbean are English, French, Dutch, and Spanish. When a tourist travels to the Caribbean, they experience pristine coral reefs with tropical fish, fruit stands displaying colorful papaya and mangoes, sailboats skimming over azure blue waters, and couples walking hand in hand on the beach at sunset.[5]

Many governments in the Caribbean welcomed tourists with open arms because it was thought that tourism would boost their economies. Caribbean islands now depend on tourism for their economy, often being referred to as "the engine of their growth".[6] Tourism has also benefited farmers, fishermen, and merchants because they must grow and supply more fish, meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, and fruit to feed the large number of visitors.[7] These individuals will be making money off their supplies.

Tourism is a huge contributor to the economies of all Caribbean countries and the biggest contributor to many of them such as Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and the Virgin Islands.


Tourism contributes less to the long-term economy than expected. Tourism requires larger capital because of the infrastructure that is necessary. Western-style amenities were needed to attract tourists. These amenities include: airports (large international airports to handle wide-body jets), roads, sewage treatment plants, landfills, electricity and telephones.[8] The Caribbean has had to borrow money from foreign governments to build these amenities. Paying off those loans, and the cost of maintaining the expensive new infrastructure, has stretched some Caribbean governments and their taxpayers to the limit. On the brink of bankruptcy, some have required bailouts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[8]

Much of the profit from tourism leave the region. The real economic benefits of tourism to a country are from what is left over after deducting the amount which stays or returns overseas. A lot of the profit goes to foreign investment and foreign control of the Caribbean's tourism industry since, "two-thirds of the hotel rooms in the region are foreign owned, and the tour companies who arrange visitor's activities are often foreign owned".[8]

The Caribbean tourism industry also has all-inclusive resorts. Many vacationers that stay in all-inclusive resorts rarely eat out at locally owned restaurants, rent water sports gear from local entrepreneurs, or arrange island tours with local taxis.[9] Much of the foreign exchange never reaches the Caribbean bringing devastation to local businesses.

Tourism development has brought an inflation of food and land prices. Specifically, land for the construction of hotels, marinas, and other tourist facilities commonly sell for more than the current local price.[10] This brings the inflation for the price of land, making it out of reach for many locals. On many of the Caribbean islands, local people can no longer afford to live along their own coastline due to the inflation that is being experienced, or the construction of many hotels. One island in particular is taking action, this is Barbados. A pressure group formed in Barbados known as the "Windows of the Sea". Their goal is to preserve the remaining views that are not obscured by hotels. They would also like to see some old buildings destroyed to give more people physical and visual access to the ocean and its beauty.[10]

Additionally, the tourism industry has also functioned to negatively impact the indigenous Caribbean culture. As a thriving economic source, it remains an important factor for the growth of the Caribbean. Additionally, its ability to connect other nations and globalize the islands also remains to have an influential impact, but has served to be a negative impact according to some proponents. Numerous historians and cultural anthropologists have complied theories that address this particular impact and its effects on the indigenous culture of the Caribbean. The tourism industry has historically been attributed with a characteristically superior white, middle-class European and American clientele. Currently, advanced flight technology has allowed for a broader definition of the "tourist". However, the effects of tourism still remain the same. The effects of tourism and in turn globalization serve to pervert the cultural identity of the indigenous population Through Bennett and Gebhardt's article, "Global tourism and Caribbean culture", numerous instances where tourism and globalization an inauthentic resulting culture. Globalization streams in the traditions and features of a foreign country. The authors note various television shows that serve to influence previous way of life. Commercial features have proved to be significant in the adjustment of the native population. Additionally, the emphasis of tourism for the benefit of the economy also serves to pervert culture. For instance, Trinidad's traditional carnival has become an inauthentic commercialized event used to lure tourists for economic gain. Historically, the festival emphasized a mythological basis, one which demonstrated the holy trinity and the nation's unity. However, it is currently copied by many other countries and embodies the costumes, dance, music and food that are associated with it. Both in Trinidad and the world, the festival has decentralized its original purpose and exploited the prepackaged culture that it is associated with. This particular instance is a clear display of how tourism and globalization effect culture and create an inauthentic identity.

Similarly, some researchers and theorists examine the differences in culture and how they have been created by tourism. For instance, Anderson Moji pays particular attention to Costa Rica and how their indigenous culture has now been adjusted to include novel foods, music, and style. Through globalization, tourism and migration, the addition of new cliques on these factors has also served to demonstrate the effects of tourism. Different societal labels such as "Rastafarian" embody the transcontinental tradition and culture into that of Costa Rica. Again, tourism and globalization function to negatively preventt the indigenous culture. Although these additions serve to create additional markets and benefit the economy, historians and cultural anthropologists alike, highlight its negative connotations.


  1. ^ Pattullo: 8.
  2. ^ a b c Gmelch: 3.
  3. ^ a b c Pattullo: 9.
  4. ^ Pattullo: 11.
  5. ^ a b Gmelch: 6.
  6. ^ Gmelch: 8-9.
  7. ^ Gmelch: 9.
  8. ^ a b c Gmelch: 10.
  9. ^ Gmelch: 11.
  10. ^ a b Gmelch: 12.


  • Gmelch, George. Behind the Smile: the Working Lives of Caribbean Tourism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2003.
  • Pattullo, Polly. Last Resorts: the Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean. London: Cassell, 1996.