While I was traveling in the Caribbean in March with a group of Vassar students examining, among other things, the impact of tourism in the region, I was struck by the widespread concern about the potential impact the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba would have on the tourism-dependent economies of the rest of the Caribbean islands. Concerns were lowest-but only relatively so-in Dominica, which has secured special niche as “the nature island of the Caribbean.” It was particularly high in St. Lucia, where officials feared that their particular tourism product (built in part on the popularity of their destination weddings) would be particularly hit by an opening of Cuba to US tourism. The issue is beginning to surface in letters and opinion pieces in the Caribbean press. I have just come across two such opinion pieces summarizing the growing concerns-one an article by Sir Ronald Sanders on the BBC Caribbean site and the other a letter to the editor of the Jamaica Gleaner by Pastor Wesley Boynes of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. (See links to the pieces below). Both writers underscore the importance of preparedness for the changes that an opening of Cuba to US tourism would bring.
Sandres acknowledges that “other Caribbean countries will feel the impact not only from the displacement of thousands of American tourists from their shores, but also from the shift of foreign direct investment from them to Cuba in tourism infrastructure such as hotels, shops, and cruise ship ports.” He points out that “indigenous Caribbean organizations would do well to themselves now invest in Cuba’s tourism industry so that they can benefit from the traffic that is now there and is bound to increase once the embargo is lifted.”
Pastor Boynes, in his open letter to the prime minister and the tourism authorities of Jamaica, expresses his fears that “Jamaica would not be able to compete, at least, not in the early period of an opened Cuba. The sameness of the sun, sea, sand approach with craftshops (all selling exactly the same things) which makes up the Jamaica tourism package needs to be diversified and packaged with other aspects of the Jamaican life now, otherwise we will be left behind.” He suggests a look at Jamaica’s recent successes in international sports as a path to a redefined tourism product: “I would like to suggest that the tourism authorities sit down with their sporting counterparts and take a serious look at developing a sport tourism package that is unique to Jamaica. Recent successes of the Jamaican Olympic team at Beijing make this idea very ripe for the picking. Jamaica is the ideal place for winter training, so some of our hotels should be developed in order to facilitate track and field teams, football clubs and teams representing other sporting disciplines such as basketball, golf, even baseball etc., from countries with cold climates which happen to be our tourism markets.”
The topic is one that will continue to be debated as government officials and the tourist sector across the region follow developments in US-Cuba relations.
You can find Pastor Boynes’ letter at
You can find Sir Ronal Sanders’ article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/caribbean/news/story/2009/04/090417_sanders_cuba_us.shtml