The Caribbean – Beyond the Beaches
Thinking about the Caribbean, the first image that comes to mind is usually tranquil beaches with white sand and coconut trees. In fact, this diverse region is facing many challenges and changes.
In his book "Les Caraïbes face aux défis de l’avenir" (‘The Caribbean: facing the challenges of the future’), Viktor Sukup gives a good overview of the current situation. The economist and former EuropeAid staffer met the team from Capacity4dev to explore two vital aspects of the Caribbean’s development: tourism and the environment.
Mr Sukup first emphasises the diversity of the region, “an archipelago over several thousand kilometers which forms a broad arc from the largest island Cuba, facing the Yucatán (Mexico) and Florida peninsulas, until Trinidad, a few kilometers from the mouth of the Orinoco in Venezuela”. He also notes the language diversity, with four different languages spoken (English, Spanish, French and Dutch).
Tourism is one of the main sources of income of the Caribbean. Mr Sukup explains that “to believe the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the number of tourists should double in the fifteen next years, after quadrupling during the last thirty years”. Although the economic crisis has had a clear effect on tourism activities since 2008, Mr. Sukup still believes the activity has been on the rise again since 2011.
The other main source of income for these countries stems from emigrants, essentially in North America, sending money back to their families in the Caribbean. In this video, Viktor Sukup explains how important these transfers are to the national income, representing more than 20% of gross domestic product in countries such as Jamaica and Haiti.
However, even if it is essential for local economies, tourism in the Caribbean usually causes more harm than good. When huge boats bring thousands of tourists to a small island, there are two problems. First, these visitors don’t really benefit local communities merely by going for a walk and buying some postcards. “Of course, these islands levy charges from the boat, but the benefits are not huge”, explains Mr. Sukup. And secondly, mass tourism can also affect the environment of these small, fragile islands.
Mr Sukup talks about different sorts of tourism that could improve life in the Caribbean by sustaining local communities. For example, nature tourism, or lighter tourism that provides real benefits to the countries. This means linking tourism with different aspect of the local economy, like agriculture. “For most of the people, at least Europeans, it is maybe interesting to drink a mango or papaya juice rather than orange juice imported from the USA”.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization advocates ‘sustainable tourism’ and describes it as “the optimal use of natural, cultural, social and financial resources for national development on an equitable and self sustaining basis to provide a unique visitor experience and an improved quality of life through partnerships among government, the private sector and communities”. By publishing a Guidebook on Sustainable Tourism, Europaid has also focused on the impact of tourism on local communities.
Mr Sukup highlights that “in terms of environment, the region actually lives in both the best and the worst of all possible worlds”. Endless summer and splendid coral reefs are part of the bright side of the Caribbean. But the region is also one of the most exposed to natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes (including the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti), and tsunamis, etc.
A United Nations Environment Programme report on Climate Change in the Caribbean found that: “Small islands, whether in the tropics or at higher latitudes, have characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise and extreme meteorological events”. In this context of vulnerability, good governance and the protection of resources are major challenges for the region, as explained in Capacity4dev’s public group on Building Resilience of small island economies.
The challenge for the Caribbean is to preserve the beautiful beaches and coral reefs that attract tourists while not allowing those same tourists to damage the environment.
In his book, Mr. Sukup summarizes the possible solutions. Apart from sustainable tourism, he underlines the importance of international efforts against global warming, financial help for scientific institutions like the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center, and reinforcing disaster prevention. Regional cooperation and integration is also, in Mr.Sukup’s opinion, a key tool for the good development of the region.
“These micro-states are small entities so if they are able to cooperate more, it can only be beneficial”.
This collaborative piece was drafted by Maria-Laetitia Mattern with input from Viktor Sukup and with support from the capacity4dev.eu Coordination Team.