“To Hell With Paradise”

Readers will perhaps be aware that, stemming from the recent sea glass incident, I thought it might be a good idea to try and have a conversation about tourism in general and what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda. This post seeks to continue that.

It’s not my intention here really to give an opinion, per se.

Rather, what I want to do is put forward some excerpts from a speech, dating from the 1970s, by the then Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The idea is for readers to reflect on his ideas and ask themselves to what degree his sentiments then are still applicable today, not just for Bermuda but for the entire Caribbean.

I’m not able to find an online link to his speech, so I’ve taken these excerpts from a Sports Illustrated article. The entire article is well worth reading, and can be found here.

Speech by Prime Minister James Mitchell in Haiti, 1972

“As premier of my state, you will pardon me, I hope, if I appear not too anxious to grab the easiest dollar. The tourist dollar alone, unrestricted, is not worth the devastation of my people. A country where the people have lost their soul is no longer a country—and not worth visiting.” 

“It is inappropriate to talk about trade winds whispering on islands where poverty shouts.” 

James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St Vincent & the Grenadines.

James Mitchell, former Prime Minister of St Vincent & the Grenadines.

“[Government policy should be] development of our people while giving good value.”

“One myth that needs to be exploded is the idea of the Caribbean paradise. There is no paradise, only different ways of life. The North American trying to escape a big-city problem like air pollution may not recognise the West Indian’s problem of lack of opportunity in a small island – but it is a problem just the same.”

“[St Vincent will concentrate on small numbers of tourists] whose idea of holiday is not heaven but participation in a different experience.”

“St Vincent needs tourism, but we must deal in realities. That’s why it’s wrong to talk of paradise. It’s an image that can only disappoint; tourists come and find roads potholed or they find poverty and ignorance. It’s the same with yachtsmen. We’re not going to control the tides. Some days it might be rainy or rough. But in these islands you have a better run for your money.”

“We mustn’t become overdependent on tourism. We want balanced tourism. This means serving homegrown vegetables and lobster caught the same day instead of imported caviar and steak. This will preserve our agriculture and keep tourist revenues going out for imported food. It’s what visitors want, too. They want to see things indigenous to the islands, like cultivated fields and fishing boats leaving.”

Thoughts?

As said, I don’t intend to give an opinion here. I just thought that these excerpts were interesting, and I wonder how relevant they may still be some forty years later.

What do you think?

Service/Servitude/Tourism/Whorism?

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.”

Becky’s Beach Glass Design – An Example of Irresponsible Tourism?

This is a news story that has developed over the last few days in local media.

Basically, a US tourist, who happens to be a jeweler specialising in incorporating sea glass into her works, came to Bermuda, scooped up about 70 pounds (about 32 kilograms) of sea glass from Bermudian waters, and took it to the USA where she’s made a handsome profit from it. By her own admission she came to Bermuda explicitly for this purpose, as part of her business.

Now, there’s a few problems with her actions here.

For one thing, that she came to Bermuda for this explicit purpose breaches our laws regarding work permits. She would have required at least a temporary work permit for this action – it was illegal for her to do what she did as a tourist.

More importantly, it is against Bermudian law to remove sea glass from the beach in the first place, and it’s also against the law to export this.

The relevant legislation in question can be found here…

Now, Ms Fox, the jeweler, has since compounded matters, by being quite frank in the US media about what she did, and then blocking, and deleting comments by, Bermudians and others who have been critical of her actions and pointed out how she broke the law and has been quite insulting to our people.

She’s also playing the victim here and telling folk she’s being bullied and people are making things up. As she’s deleting comments pointing out exactly how she broke the law and refusing people the right of reply, some of her readers are indeed believing that she is being bullied and has done nothing wrong.

Now, I don’t intend to get into a whole discussion about Ms Fox here.

Quite frankly, she broke the law, she’s acted very insultingly to Bermuda and Bermudians, and her behavior has been quite poor and disappointing. I think she could have defused the whole thing immediately after her wrong-doing was pointed out to her. She could have simply said something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I did was wrong and clearly misunderstood the laws of Bermuda. I am sorry to anyone that I have hurt and will be contacting the Bermudian authorities to work out how best to resolve this issue in an amicable way, and all the profits that from sale of Bermuda glass jewellery is being donated to these environmental charities in Bermuda. Lesson learned.”

That would have been enough I think.

Our people are largely forgiving, and an honest recognition of making a mistake and taking steps to make good would have been welcomed. Heck, we probably would have helped advertise her wares – it would raise money for our charities, boost awareness of our local artisans and be a good little tourism advertisement for Bermuda. Her refusal to even accept any wrong-doing and compounding it by insulting our people and trying to silence us, yeah, that’s left a rather sour taste and won’t be forgotten.

I for one hope that our Government will be taking steps to:

  • Seek compensation from Ms Fox;
  • Tighten up regulations concerning sea glass and other artifacts;
  • Boost local artisans;
  • Ramp up inspections.

Responsible Tourism

However, I digress. There’s really not much more that can be said on this story that hasn’t been said already in the media or by hordes of my righteously irate compatriots on various social media.

What I find most interesting about this incident, other than the imperialist mindset of a White American tourist in appropriating other peoples natural and cultural resources, is how this allows us to really focus on what kind of tourism we want for Bermuda, and what are the possible consequences/impacts of tourism in Bermuda?

The Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.

I think that’s a pretty decent definition, and should really be the ideal form of tourism that we want – and the kind of tourists we should be when we travel.

Now this definition is not simply ‘green’ tourism. One can build a resort with the latest green tech, or go on an explicitly nature vacation (hiking in a natural park, etc), without meeting this criteria. It also has to ensure economic benefit to ordinary people and not threaten or undermine the local economy and culture.

If one were to apply this concept to this particular incident, then not taking our sea glass was the responsible thing to do. Supporting local artisans was the responsible thing to do. Perhaps asking to work with some of our local sea glass artisans would have been the right things to do, and even arranging to help sell their products in the USA through her site would have been the responsible thing to do.

Doing all this would have ensured the sustainability of our sea glass beaches (certainly a lot more than carting away 70 pounds of it!) and boosted the local economy and artisans.

This principle can apply to tourism in general for Bermuda. It means making sure that the impact on our environment and infrastructure is sustainable, that it doesn’t destroy the very nature that attracts tourists here in the first place (and environment here means more than just beaches, clear blue waters and greenery – it extends to pollution, litter, energy use, waste management, food, water, traffic, etc).

And it also means that tourism should benefit ordinary people. I don’t mean the bank accounts of the elite, of the 1%. I mean ordinary people overall. We all recognise that there is some degree of trickle down from tourism, even if it’s just revenue collected by the government and used for public services.

However, I’m thinking more in terms or increasing local economic links and reducing leakage of the tourist dollar overseas (or into the bank accounts of the elite), and this means ensuring the tourist dollar is more equitable spread (through using local entertainers, boosting local artisans, using small businesses as much as possible, relying on local farmers as much as possible). Doing this – and shifting to renewable energy – all keeps the tourist dollar local and spreads it around more equitably, while also supporting local enterprise and culture.

Starting a Conversation?

There’s A LOT that can be written about responsible tourism and how it can be applied to the benefit of Bermuda.

I’ve already written a longer piece than I like writing – I just think that if some good is to come out of this incident it is that we might be able to start a conversation about tourism in Bermuda – what are it’s negative impacts, how do we address them, what kind of sustainable tourism do we want and how do we go about realising it? Just for starters…