Mindful travelers may be wary when it comes to traveling in the Caribbean; the negative environmental impact of tourism in the region is well documented. But devotees of sustainable tourism should know that the positive benefits of tourism in the Caribbean may far outweigh the negative. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether or not to book your next trip to the islands.
Developing Countries Can’t Rely Solely on Agriculture
For many years, countries in the Caribbean relied heavily on agricultural to support themselves and generate income for the country. Unfortunately there has been a recent major decline in agricultural activity, especially in crops like bananas, sugar, and vanilla. Caribbean nations have been able to overcome this deficit thanks to the money they bring in from tourism – the islands have the perfect combination of warm weather and beautiful landscapes to make them a leading travel destination. For many years now the tourism industry has been the top generator of foreign exchange, bringing in billions of dollars which goes directly to the region’s economy.
Tourism Supplies Jobs to the Local Communities
Increased tourism leads to increased employment. From resorts and hotels to restaurants, clubs, bars, diving schools and other adventure activities, Caribbean countries thrive on the jobs tourists create. Even people you wouldn’t normally think work in tourism, do, right down to the fishermen and farmers who provide food for cafes, restaurants, and hotels.
Jamaica alone hires thousands of people who work either directly or indirectly in the tourism industry, which is the second largest employer in the country. Increasing jobs also increases tax revenue, which can go into services and facilities for the local people. Everything from infrastructure to health services (which accommodates health tourism travelers) needs to improve in order to cater to the tourists who come for these reasons. This benefit then passes down to the local population.
It Helps Raise Awareness
The problems and struggles of people living in the Caribbean are often hidden behind the luxurious resorts. When people travel to the Caribbean islands, they typically don’t get to see the local side of the country unless they choose to, perhaps through a volunteer opportunity.
Issues that are important in this region of the world, even if they are purely environmental, can be brought to light because of tourism. When people travel here, they hopefully become educated about their destination. When they return back to the United States, they are then able to raise awareness about issues in the Caribbean, which is crucial for any developing countries.
It Helps Rebuild Communities After a Tragedy
The Caribbean, as beautiful as it is, has fallen victim to unfortunate tragedies over the years, whether it was the earthquake that hit Haiti or Hurricane Maria which devastated Puerto Rico. When these things happen, tourism numbers drop dramatically, and it’s a huge financial loss for these countries who need the tourism money more than ever to help rebuild. So while it may seem insensitive to travel to a Caribbean country after such a tragedy, it can actually be beneficial.
That being said, travelers should check travel advisories for certain countries before traveling there. The U.S. State Department website can provide information on travel advisories and restrictions (if applicable) for the countries or islands you plan on traveling to.
When Tourism Hurts the Caribbean
Although tourism certainly seems to have more advantages in the Caribbean than disadvantages, there are ways in which it can hurt the locals. For instance, in Cuba, sex tourism creates difficult social problems, while water activities and the construction of fancy resorts are hurting wildlife and polluting the water. Before traveling to the Caribbean, tourists should do their best to educate themselves on local issues and see what they can do to help.
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