There has been an interesting response to my story on responsible tourism, where I hoped to at least get some people thinking about what kind of tourism do we want for Bermuda (and what kind of tourism do we not want).

One can read the full response here on BIAW. AMCAM

I thought it would be a good idea t quickly respond to it though:

  1. AMCAM wonders how I figure the actions of Ms Fox constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. To understand that one needs to look at how I define ‘responsible tourism’, which I do in the same article (for just this purpose). The definition I use, which I think is a good one, is that used by the International Ecotourism society ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’. A tourist coming, carting of some 70 pounds of sea glass (part of our environment), and in doing so hurting local artisans, would seem to be very much contrary to any interpretation of responsible tourism. Thus my reasoning that her actions constituted ‘irresponsible tourism’. I’m surprised I had to explain that. AMCAM is usually one of the most insightful commentators on tourism issues after all…
  2. ‘Imperialist mindset of a White American tourist’ – AMCAM takes particular exception to my choice of phrasing here. Perhaps it’s useful to expand on it for his (and others) benefits. Ms Fox is a White American tourist. That’s a statement of fact. That in itself means little, in as much as the vast majority of our tourists could be so defined. And that’s fine. However, to believe that there’s no racial dynamics involved in tourism featuring Whites expecting to be served hand and foot by a majority Black population in a country with a history of slavery and segregation where Blacks were forced (overtly and covertly) to serve Whites for centuries is to be delusional. Service doesn’t need to be servitude, that’s clear. And it shouldn’t be. The relationship should be one of hospitality to guests – a host-guest relationship, rather than a master-servant relationship. However, there are certain things such as White privilege here, as well as power dynamics and historical factors at play. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is not a reality. As for ‘imperialist mindset’, that seems quite an apt fit for describing a mindset of someone coming to someones homeland and simply helping themselves to the resources there and seeing no problem in doing so. It is an exploitative and imperialist mindset. The history of the Americas is full of this tendency, of Whites coming, expecting the ‘natives’ to be their ‘happy’ servants and generally raping and pillaging the environment. Ms Fox’s actions, while obviously no where as barbaric as the conquests of the Americas, follows this general mindset, and accordingly is resented as such within the general prism of our collective (Americas) history. I don’t need to ‘think twice’ before describing the incident in question as representative of an imperialist mindset by a White American tourist. It simply strips away the niceties that usually obscure these things. It quite aptly describes the incident. It may not be in terms that make AMCAM or others comfortable, as it touches on matters of race and exploitation, but so what? If the description fits and all…
  3. ‘Claims are conjecture’ ‘rant’ – All I did was provide a general summary of what was reported in the media, and by Ms Fox herself. It is a fact that Ms Fox came to Bermuda for the explicit purpose of collecting sea glass for her business. It is a fact that she collected approximately 70 pounds worth of sea glass. It is a fact that she then exported this sea glass back to the USA. It is a fact that she is using this sea glass for the purpose of making a profit. How any of that equals ‘conjecture’ is beyond me. What is circumstantial is where she collected all her 70 pounds worth of sea glass (was it at sea glass beach – which seems probable – where there is a sign forbidding such?), and I didn’t make any firm statement on that at all. It is my understanding that removing sea glass and doing so for business reasons like she did, is illegal. It may be okay for local artisans to do so in a small-scale sustainable way, but it is not okay for a ‘tourist’ to act in such an unsustainable way. Not quite sure how it constitutes a ‘rant’ however. I’m happy with people disagreeing with me and putting forward a counter-argument. Heck, that’s what I called for, a conversation. Not barbs. If AMCAM want’s to put forward a counter-position, I welcome him to do just that.
  4. ‘Jonathan, Bermuda does not need your brand of tourism!’ – And which brand of tourism is that? The brand of tourism I explicitly suggested Bermuda should adopt was that or responsible tourism, of which I provided a definition. Is AMCAM saying that Bermuda doesn’t need a brand of tourism based on ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’? Is AMCAM suggesting we should instead advocate a brand of tourism that does the opposite, that seeks to damage the environment and hurt the well-being of local people? If that’s the kind of tourism AMCAM believes we should have, I’m sure the majority of our people would respectfully disagree. And if that’s not what AMCAM means, then what does he mean, and what sort of ‘brand of tourism’ does he think I’m advocating then? It’s either a poor argument on his part (misrepresenting my argument) or, well, I don’t know what else. If I’m charitable I’d suggest he only read the first half of the post and didn’t bother to read it all and consider the argument.

Ultimately, I’m all for serving our tourists as hosts do guests. I think that’s healthy. I do not support a form of tourism predicated on servitude, in a master-servant dynamic. And I’m for a tourism where tourists come here to enjoy our natural environment and culture, that engages in a non-exploitative manner with our environment, culture and economy.

I’m not for a form of tourism that, in the Caribbean, has been called ‘whorism’, a wholly exploitative form of tourism. This doesn’t necessarily mean sex tourism, but rather the general approach of engaging with our environment, culture and economy in a fundamentally exploitative manner.

But let’s have that conversation.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

Derek Walcott, 1992 Nobel prize winner for literature.

I think it’s appropriate here to conclude with an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s Nobel prize speech:

“But in our tourist brochures the Caribbean is a blue pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber islands bob, and drinks with umbrellas float towards here on a raft. This is how the islands from shame of necessity sell themselves; this is the seasonal erosion of their identity, that high-pitched repetition of the same images of service that cannot distinguish one island from the other, with a future of polluted marinas, land deals negotiated by ministers, and all of this conducted to the music of Happy Hour and the rictus of a smile. What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts beating ‘Yellow Bird’ and ‘Banana Boat Song’ to death.”

2 thoughts on “Service/Servitude/Tourism/Whorism?

  1. As a culturally engaged activist who enjoys exploring other cultures I see the opportunities available here in Bermuda for responsible tourism and lament the lack of leadership in having just such a conversation as you propose. Throughout its heyday and from its inception in the 1880s Bermuda’s tourism was about persons coming to Bermuda for its balmy winter climate (not as hot as the Caribbean and certainly preferable to Atlantic winters of Canada and the USA); its exceptional light and visual delights (attracting a booming following of professional artists and intellectuals in painting and photography as well as ‘keen and proficient amateurs’) gave inspiration and new ‘tools’ for expression. These tourists stayed for long periods and were guests of both their hosts and the ’employees’ who served them. The concerns about servitude versus service can reasonably be put at the foot of insensitive/cowardly Bermuda leaders, who as apologists for the rude and despicable racism that became fashionable in the America of public spectacle lynchings, said we in Bermuda must at least ‘put on a show of segregation’ to make these racist visitors feel comfortable. The early commentators note that Bermuda Blacks were not as ‘tractable’ as were found further south in the Caribbean and some Bermudian servants were seen as sometimes surly and even common Black persons on the street did not show the expected deference to Whites. Service not servitude.

    This ‘mellowing and managing’ of Black behaviour by Whites was experienced by persons still alive today and others of us have heard the stories directly from seniors. But we also saw the ‘college kids’ crush when White students came to beautiful and staid Bermuda and acted irresponsibly and silly. It was the Black males and females (from houseboys and waiters; maids and waitresses etc) acting as ‘in loco parentis’ who kept them safe from each other and their own individual naivete and stupidity and recklessness. They embraced and cosseted these immature persons as Bermuda culture would have them nurture and protect our own youth – – – Black and White. They tasted and fell for Bermuda and its ‘culture’ and returned as honeymooners and holidayers. So our parents brought them home to christenings and weddings at the church hall; to family picnics and outings to Pontoons and Albuoy’s Point; to band concerts and fetes at the lodge hall or the church field etc. They came and stayed and spent money but most of all they interacted with Bermudians because we embraced them. We shared our culture with them and both our lives were enriched by this.

    Mass tourism, which is not sustainable or responsible for Bermuda in any case in my opinion, meant we did not see the value of the old approach of ‘hosting our visitors as guests’ which was the manner of the traditional Bermudian hotel worker. That was a slow business of workers talking too much and too long to the visitor. Money was made by servicing the maximum number of persons in the minimum time. The financial analysts and the managers required servitude (shut your mouth- – – no talking to the customer or the fellow worker or backtalk to the supervisor ; no freebies or pleasantries – – – only customer service agents and concierges were expected and rewarded for satisfying guests; and no slack allowed in familiarity with the customer). Older Bermudians came to the end of their time and many younger Bermudians would not consider servitude which even when it was given was unappreciated by both the ‘cheap tourist’ and the rapacious hotelier.

    The world continues to turn and world views continue to evolve. We know that many Americans no longer live up to the caricature of the fat camera bedecked man chomping a cigar with a cola in hand and scanning his brochure that promises all the ‘ glories of XXXX’ in 5 hours. They may not come for as long as their early counterparts who stayed in Bermuda for 6 months or more at a time. But the modern visitors will come more frequently. Let’s expose our culture to them and share our history and life. Let’s introduce them to all of Bermuda’s story and not just the ‘white’ parts and the sanitized version. Bermudians of African origins and descendants of our Portuguese immigrants must be as aware and proud of their stories and history and achievements so as to see these as assets in a very viable cultural tourism industry. Let’s further that discussion.

    Bermuda has unique aspects. Bermuda is another world. Explain that to our visitors. Share and explain cassava pie. Remember that besides the Americans and Canadians, there are huge travel markets in the Far East (China; Japan; Korea etc) and the Near East (the Arab world; the world of India and its associated countries from Sri Lanka to Pakistan and Tibet). Bring on the tourists/ ‘homeboys’ from Africa and South America. All these folk visit America and after Disney world and New York we are only two hours away and we forget to tell them. We cannot handle the visitor who wants to see Europe on $10 a day and who wants Bermuda on $8:50. We should develop and market to the person who wants to come as a guest and who will appreciate our culture as we share it with them. Everybody loves to be appreciated. Bermudians are no exception. Bermuda cultural tourism is the way forward.

  2. Bermuda tourism is dead and buried. Thanks to plp propaganda and their 14 year reign of terror. The only cultural impression they get is intimidation and cold rudeness. I know people from the Deep South, who say they have never heard so much racism talk anywhere until they came here; it starts from the customs attitude and the taxi ride, with hate radio from the airport.

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