The Way Forward: The Political Value of a Bankrupt Tourism Policy
By Joseph Gaskins
Jul 3, 2015 - 12:53:33 PM
“If properly [sic]
planned and allowed to grow unchecked, tourism can suffocate indigenous
culture, destroy traditional values - aesthetic, moral and social, ruin
architectural traditions, upset or even ruin the environment, encroach on areas
which would best be used for other industrial activity, create imbalances in
terms of foreign and local business ownership, divert workers from other
important employment areas and contribute to an increase in crime.”- Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Perry G.
Is there a more germane statement that can be
made today to describe the current dilemma we face in The Bahamas? With the
conflict over Baha Mar and deteriorating social conditions, in one short
paragraph the diagnosis is clear: We’ve allowed tourism to grow “unchecked.”
These four quoted lines are not just a statement
of fact, it’s a policy statement in the negative—here’s what we can’t let
Sometime between March 5th 1982 and May 7th
1983, the then Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Perry G. Christie, delivered this
speech at the “Distinguished Lectureship Series” at the College of the Bahamas
titled,“Tourism and its Effects on the
Individual and Society”. In it, Christie hailed
tourism as a source of improvement
for the life chances of Bahamians and the singular reason for economic growth
over the last 25 years. Simultaneously though, he warned that this rapid growth
would lead to complacency and that the Bahamian would need to “focus sharply”
on cultural heritage and the protection of its natural environment.
Today, the eyes of the entire nation can see
plainly the literal bankruptcy of our status-quo tourism policy, $3.5 billion
worth of evidence that we’ve lost ourselves along the way. The price for these
mistakes is a nation held hostage.
The Baha Mar debacle however, is only the most
recent indication of a deficit in our tourism model, which has at its center,
large foreign direct investment. The growing reliance on cruise ship passengers
whose expenditure is only a fraction of stay-over visitors speaks volumes about
the weakening state of the industry. Even when cruise ships arrive in our
ports, it is rumored that passengers are told to leave the ships at their own
risk, not to take too much cash, and to beware of violent Nassau streets.
When guests do decide to stay, far too many of
them complain about poor customer service and a dearth of activities from which
While we’ve been engaging in the largest single
construction project in the region, tourism trends suggest that visitors are no
longer interested in being herded through large hotel hallways and barraged by
retail stores. All the evidence points to tourists wanting a more “authentic”
experience, one that centers culture over awe-inspiring edifices.
Even though the current crisis may seem like a
moment for sheer panic, it can also be productive for current and future
leadership, and for the country. Baha Mar has laid bare the problems with the
country’s current tourism policy — now it’s time for the country’s leadership
to plot the way forward.
While this situation may read as a failure in
governance, there’s also the opportunity for meaningful change. In these
moments government should acknowledge the failures of the past while
galvanizing the people around a new course. Mr. Christie had it right 32 years
ago and there’s no shame in calling for a pause—a time for the country to take
a collective breath, come together and reevaluate its current situation.
For the opposition, and even for those who’ve
recently, albeit hesitantly, thrown their hat into the ring for PLP leadership,
there is real political value in this moment.
The Bahamian people are hungry for ideas—the
articulation of deep and thoughtful policy changes that can be an alternative
to the old way of doing things. This is the time for those ideas to shine, to
push back the shadow of impending doom and give hope to a people who no doubt
feel unhinged, drifting at the whim of international organizations, wealthy
financiers and foreign courts.
Most importantly though, this is the time to
show the potential for leadership—new leadership—not to point fingers or
excavate figures from the past.
For years now we’ve heard tourism officials,
business owners, and every day Bahamians declaring the need for a change in our
tourism model. If there is any good that can come out of the Baha Mar crisis,
it is that we now have a definitive example that illustrates the failures of
our tourism policy, and an opportunity to use that example to justify a shift
To allow this moment to evaporate without
leveraging it for its political value would be truly a failure. To allow the
country to continue down this path would be an absolute disaster.
Joey Gaskins is
a graduate of Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY with a BA in Politics. He was
born in Grand Bahama Island, studied at the London School of Economics
and Political Science (LSE) where he attained his MSc in Race, Ethnicity
and Post-Colonial Studies and begun a Doctoral Degree in Sociology.
Joey lives in Nassau and is a former part-time lecturer at College of
the Bahamas, restaurant owner and a principal at the communications and
policy consulting firm, The Consortium Group (www.tcgbahamas.com).
You can reach him at
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her
private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of
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