When people find a beautiful, undiscovered travel destination they are understandably protective of it.
Dominica is such a place. At Manicou River we always ask our guests to spread the word and tell all their friends what a wonderful place Dominica is. So often the reaction is along the lines of ‘we don’t want to tell too many people, you don’t want the island flooded with tourists!’
Dominica receives around 25,000 stay-over tourists per year. As a comparison, its nearest neighbour Martinique, receives 1 million visitors. Dominica could double, even treble the number of tourists per year making a significant difference to GDP and employment and the travellers seeking an ‘undiscovered’ tourist experience would barely notice a difference.
This idea of wanting to travel but to go places where there are no other tourists has always struck me as a little self-centred. The same mentality as people who sit in their car on the road and complain about ‘the traffic’ as if they are not a part of it. ‘I should be allowed to be here, while the rest of the world stays at home.’
Enthusiasts of ‘tourist-free’ travel will argue there is such a thing as to ‘the right kind’ of tourist. There’s a snobbery baked into this that I’m uncomfortable with but when considering vital issues of environmental protection and fair treatment and preservation of local culture, there is an argument to be made for the right kind of tourism.
It’s fashionable now for hotels to tout their Sustainability Policies, including such sacrificial measures as not changing the towels every day. While policies that increase energy and water efficiency are welcome, I believe what is more important is how hotels and resorts behave outside of their own property and within the community in which they are located.
I get the appeal of resorts. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to spend their hard-earned vacation time (and budget) doing nothing more than lying on the beach. But if you spend your entire stay within the confines of your resort, you must consider that all the foreign exchange wealth you are bringing to this (probably much poorer than yours) country is going to the resort owner and not necessarily trickling down to local people. Sure, the resort is creating jobs and hopefully buying at least some local produce but in developing countries most working people are small-scale producers and entrepreneurs running family businesses. Unless you are visiting and spending money at local shops, bars, restaurants and markets you are not contributing to the local economy in any significant or helpful way.
You’re also missing out on the best experiences.
At Manicou River we have always encouraged our guests to mix with locals. You find the best and most unique Dominica moments by stopping on the side of the road at a snackette having a Kubuili beer or a bush rum while the locals regale you with stories and tips about the island.
We can make this recommendation with confidence because Dominica benefits from one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean.
Dominica will soon have 3 major luxury resorts. This will no doubt change the island and its tourist experience. But every developing nation deserves to develop. The hope is that these resorts continue to promote, as one of Dominica’s unique selling points, its vibrant, friendly and safe community and encourage their guests to go out and experience it. If the community continues to have a good interaction with tourists, they will continue to treat them well and take care of them. If they start to regard tourism as something that only a few benefit from, their attitude will quickly change.
As soon as you start ‘fencing off’ tourists and telling them it is not safe to mix with locals, resentment builds and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are Caribbean islands that bear evidence of this mistake.
Developing countries pinning large economic hopes on tourism need to beware of making too many decisions based on the needs of people who do not live there. Tourism needs to be to regarded as inviting guests into the local culture, not creating a culture around what we think tourists will want.
And it goes both ways.
As a tourist, your permission to enter another culture is premised on the understanding that your presence will benefit the local people. To do that, you need to get among them and put your money directly into their hands.
Tourism and travel in general, will always be linked to and dependent on providing pleasure. By all means choose the most exotic, luxurious and relaxing destination you can afford. You work hard, you deserve it. But be aware that no matter how responsible or sustainable your resort claims to be, if you are spending your entire stay within its confines and not putting any cash into the hands of local people as payment for goods and services – not tips, not charity donations, not bringing gifts to hand out to poor children – you should reconsider how responsible a tourist you really are.
Kate Leury Nielsen 2017