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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Mass market versus up-scale tourism / St. Croix-U.S. Virgin Islands and Anguilla

Posted By: Bruce Potter - replying to Peter Wiese
Date: Thursday, 3 August 2000, at 3:23 p.m.

In response to "Uncontrolled tourism development in the Gulf of Mexico" (http://www.csiwisepractices.org/?read=230) by Peter Wiese

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Speaking of the self-destruct theory of tourism, this issue has been addressed over the years in the eastern Caribbean by Jerry McElroy and the late Klaus de Albuquerque in their analyses of tourism intensity in the small islands of the region. The operational dynamics of the process seem especially 'ecological' in that stresses build up over time, then a precipitating event such as a hurricane creates a catastrophe from which the local tourism economy is not able to recover. This process seems to have occurred in the US Virgin Islands, with Hurricane Hugo (1989) in St. Croix and Hurricane Marilyn (1995) in St. Thomas. In St. Croix I recently heard of a new condominium resort -- the first in 11 years.

Recent comments in the St. Thomas and St. Croix press have further highlighted this issue. Tourism arrivals in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) have been flat for several years and cruise ship expenditures are down substantially.

An article by Hal Hatfield in the Virgin Islands Daily News (15 April 2000) described the economic crisis of the Territory thus 'The government can no longer afford to continue its business as usual.' As a result of the devastating effects of a series of hurricanes, ever-expanding government expenditures, and declining private sector activity, the growth of the economy has remained flat for the last five years. The number of hotel rooms is essentially the same as in 1989, and per-tourist expenditure declined from about $250 in 1997 to $150 in 1999. The relationship between the government and the private sector has deteriorated such that the focus has shifted from solving economic problems to placing blame.

By coincidence, the same newspaper edition had an article by Alvaro Argueta, reporting on a meeting about Eastern Caribbean development issues. The Chief Minister of Anguilla, a neighbouring island, urged St. Croix to learn from their island's experience on the long road from few visitors to sustainable up-market tourism. In Anguilla, concentration has been placed on an upscale market, with hotels with more than 100 rooms and higher than two stories discouraged. The emphasis has been on favourable investment incentives as well as on education and instilling in the island's youth a love for their island and a sensitivity for the importance of tourism to its economy. Attempts have also been made to supply locally some of the necessary goods for tourism such as lobster and fresh produce.

Those of us with long memories are especially amused at the idea of Anguilla, with its tradition of at least 15 years of successful tourism, presenting recommendations to St. Croix...... and being very correct.

Mr. Bruce Potter,
Island Resources Foundation,
British Virgin Islands and Washington U.S.A.

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