Tourism (2010-2011)




Tourism is the Caribbean's newest industry, particularly across the islands of the Archipelago. It has developed uninterrupted over the past thirty years, and since the 1990s has brought periods of continuous growth to many small island communities. Along the mainland coast, wherever tourism has been developed, the numbers involved have proved much greater than on the islands. Nevertheless, for several Caribbean islands, tourism represents the most important economic activity.

The three topmost destinations of international tourists in the archipelago are: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba following behind Jamaica and the Bahamas. This new hierarchy has been established in the 2000s. In 2001, the Bahamas, which was the first tourist pole in the 1990s, receive 1.4 million tourists and 3.8 million cruise visitors for a population of 353 000 inhabitants; the Dominican Republic 4.1 million tourists and 0.3 million cruise visitors (9.5 million inhabitants); Puerto Rico 3.7 million tourists and 1.1 million cruise visitors (3.7 million inhabitants). The number of international tourist are more important in Cuba than the Bahamas in 2001: 2.5 million tourists.

From Grenada to Jamaica, tourism is an important activity. As the world's third producer of bauxite, Jamaica which had thought its economic independence already to be established in the 1960s, based on industrial development, has seen tourism usurp the premier position. The Greater Caribbean has today become the world's premier centre for sea cruises. Clearly the intrinsic qualities of climate and landscape are major assets to the islands, as well as the absence of any military activity in the area. Most of the clientele comes from the United States and a smaller proportion from Europe. The Bahamas are still the first destination with 3.8 million cruise visitors. Investment in tourism is multiplying, with major international companies becoming involved.

The rapid growth in tourist numbers presents a number of environmental problems. Its importance within local economies has also led to a degree of social and economic fragility. Tourism development is often pursued in tandem with financial services. Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands have in particular targeted this niche. Tourism in the Caribbean is overwhelmingly resort based, but sea cruises, which have long existed, are experiencing (as elsewhere in the world) a revival. The Basin lends itself well to such activity with the possibility of stopovers everyday on different islands.

In this Caribbean of tourism, Cuba became the obvious absentee, having been a long established American resort destination well before mass tourism existed. Little by little, it is regaining its importance. This may well constitute the major change of the next 20 years. Tourism will continue to develop and Cuba, the large island in the north, with its UNESCO World Heritage architectural sites, will almost certainly reclaim its former predominant position.

Author: Pascal Buleon
Translation:  : Louis Shurmer-Smith