Our Readers' Opinions
May 12, 2006

Agriculture and Tourism

by Cedric B Harold

My previous two articles dealt with agriculture as the natural focus for developing a strategy for national development. It has been argued elsewhere that Caribbean countries that have moved away from sugar (and, by implication, agriculture) and invested in tourism have experienced significant increases in their GDP per capita.

I will not knock tourism as a source of income (private and national). In a study I did of Caribbean countries, I found that, without exception, those with a heavy emphasis on tourism had the highest GNP per capita. Let us take note also that London, Paris and many other European cities are tourism meccas par excellence.{{more}} If we are to have a thriving tourist industry, let it be like those European cities and not like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios in Jamaica, where we try to replicate in a Caribbean destination exactly what the North American tourist is accustomed to in his home environment. Essentially, it means giving tourists a taste of SVG, and of ensuring that Vincies enjoy the same services and courtesies we plan for our tourists. Barbados, which tends to cater to European tourists rather than North American tourists, have some of these features and we can learn much from them. We have to make sure though that our beach front land is not bought out by foreigners who then close them off (effectively) to locals. It will be important to develop internal tourism (it exists, but can benefit from substantial facelift). Indeed, as we develop our tourism product, it will be mandatory to offer a higher quality service on all bus and boat routes, in the expectation that a passenger could as easily be a tourist or a Vincy. A similar point applies to all inns, taverns and hotels. Naturally, there will be a rating system with the equivalent of 5-star, 4-star and other hotel ratings, where the higher ratings charge more than the lower ratings. I suppose the same thing will have to apply to buses bearing in mind that the higher the quality of service, the higher will be the fare. This is really an argument that some operators should be licensed to operate air-conditioned buses with spacious accommodation along popular routes for which they will charge a commensurately larger fare.

As I said, I am not knocking tourism, but let us be clear whom we are targeting and what we will want quality service to mean. But this is in addition to and not instead of what we plan to do with agriculture. An integrated plan will see hiking trails running alongside or through farm lands, and provisions there for hikers to observe and even to participate in some farming activity, and certainly to find refreshment from one farm to another.

It is not often appreciated how many Vincies of the present generation and tourists would like to see former modes of production in action – the hand-operated mills, the ovens and kilns, and other artefacts from a bygone age – as well as how to prepare our many creole dishes and to learn their names. It is not enough to have recipes and brochures.

To my mind, the best way to offer these services is to design them around a Vincy crowd and to welcome tourists to participate – not the other way around. The package, however, must be complete – i.e. there must be music and dance. A formula much used in Cuba is to have performing artistes doing the dancing, but to have intermissions when the audience is invited to come on stage and do their own thing.

I could get carried away on the matter of dance. It has too many meanings. There is dance as show – as in a cabaret performance; there is dance as participation – everybody participates, and it does not matter what you do; and there is dance as simulated sex. This has an ancient tradition, sometimes pregnant with meaning. But there is a thin line between this ancient form and some modern forms which beg the description of vulgarity. I wonder what Bassy and Leiza have to say about that? [cbharold@cwjamaica.com]