Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tourism: I Remember Antigua

Before we settled in St. Vincent, Sally & I visited a number of Caribbean islands. My work at the time slowed down in the winter, so we took a couple of weeks off and spent a week on each of a couple of islands. Antigua was a particularly uncomfortable example of something we experienced (more or less) on other islands. Antigua has a marvelous tourist area: docks for several cruise ships and blocks of modern construction containing the kinds of shops that tourists expect.

But when we went for a walk and got outside that tourist area you could cut the tension with a knife. The people sitting on the porches stared at us with open hostility. We had rented a car, so we stayed out of the tourist areas after that.

It was fine out in the countryside, and there were beaches that weren't crowded with tourist hotels, though they were hard to get to. But there were also seashore areas that were blocked by gated communities.

The key to the tension, in my opinion, was the gap between ordinary Antiguans and rich tourists (even if some tourists were only rich for a couple of weeks a year). And that is a danger that any area of touristic interest runs. Even St. Vincent, when it opens the Argyle airport and stops being a secret that only Caribbean people know about, will have to be careful that it doesn't create that gap between native and tourist that breeds hostility on one side and vulnerability on the other.