As global economies expand, the way we interact, communicate, travel and trade has changed significantly over the years. The globalization process has been fast paced with nothing slowing it down. With the advent of COVID-19, it became increasingly clear how interdependent we are on each other. There is no such thing as an isolated economy. We all operate under one global system where goods, services, businesses and people are traded. While globalization has contributed to significant changes and increased opportunities for growth in small economies such as ours, it has also had endless repercussions. Central to these results is the dependence of Caribbean economies on tourism and the justifications made to sustain the industry.
Tourism has long been a staple export of many Caribbean economies. As nations with mainly debt seek to strengthen their finances, these countries have become heavily dependent on it. Given that 83% of the world’s countries see tourism as one of their top five exports, with Caribbean tourism raking in around US $ 32B throughout the period 2010-2018, there is no doubt that there is money to be made in the industry . However, the countries themselves do not make that much money and it does not mislead local people.
The Caribbean tourism industry is largely foreign owned. Few international guidelines oversee or limit tourism operations and its effects. The industry is allowed free rein and locals have very little power over the direction it takes. What this is leading to is continued foreign domination over postolonial territories where locals must adhere to the dance of higher inferiority. This is in fear that doing otherwise would lead to negative reviews that may have economic repercussions for themselves and their country.
The benefits of tourism that are usually touched on, improved local economic activity, infrastructure development and employment employment are more or less a very ambitious projection. Local economic activities are rarely used for the development of local communities and more so for the enjoyment of mainly white tourists from the north. The jobs created are usually not only small in numbers, but they are also jobs that provide adequate living wages. These jobs are usually short of benefits and skills development, as service remains the main concern. But in societies where unemployment reigns supreme, even the most measurable jobs are seen as an advantage, even with the human rights abuses and unfair labor practices that often accompany them.
Although Guyana’s tourism industry is relatively young, its growth has been accelerating as our country progresses to industrialization. This growth will see the global tourism industry have more control over local communities. Despite all the optimistic literature on its importance, tourism is not a solution for sustainable development. It will cut local communities from being decision makers for their environments and their future.
The self-sufficiency of communities is gradually eroded under tourism, as they are dependent on a market over which they have little control. Tourism sells not only experience; it sells people, culture, labor, and land – it demands authenticity. In this demand is the development of a tourist monoculture in which our culturally diverse mix of ethnicities, religions, and spiritualities are all wrapped up in a tidy package ready to eat. In commercializing our cultural heritage and sacred sites, local citizens will have less and less control over whether to accept or reject tourism initiatives and activities.
As efforts to liberalize industries become more relevant, the conflict between economic growth and the protection of indigenous communities will increase. We have already seen that when profits are prioritized, the people are expected to match. There are rarely human rights considerations when there is money to be made.
Freedom from reliance on tourism in the Caribbean region is desperately needed. The pandemic has highlighted that we should not continue to rely on an industry that is constantly misty and volatile. Many tourist-dependent nations have buckled under the impact of COVID-19 which brought travel restrictions. This dependence is also behind risking lives by the urgent opening of airports.
Caribbean tourism was built on a legacy of colonial captivity, environmental degradation, and economic and social sustenance. This should not be the foundation that Guyana aims to develop in our development as we enter a new era in our history.