News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Friday, Oct. 26, 2012: Tourism officials from across the region gathered in St. Kitts recently to discuss the state of Caribbean tourism in 2012. But while stakeholders at the Caribbean Tourism Organization-presented event focused on serious issues like the changing face of world travel & tourism and the paradigm shift in travel, at the grassroots level, the issues are very different.
Across the Caribbean, the US dollar talks! In every country you visit, you are quoted in US dollars, from the taxi drivers whose rates are more over priced than a New York cab, to the made in China souvenirs that dot the tourist shops.
In St. Kitts it was no exception. But there the stores are largely controlled by Indian nationals, who run the souvenir and duty free rum shops and even the bars. They come from St. Maarten and import Chinese-made souvenirs, including cheap key rings, fridge magnets, T-shirts, and shot glasses with the island’s name or flag slapped on to fool the visitor the items are local. Of course the prices are also quoted in U.S. dollars and marked up much higher than they would cost on 28th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.
Of course there are the local artisans, who try to encourage you to buy their handmade crafts – but at prices that make you balk!
Getting a taxi is another expensive adventure. In St. Kitts, its US$12 from Basseterre to Frigate Bay and US$8 from Frigate Bay to Timothy Beach – a ten minute walk at best. St. Kitts of course is no exception as this is a fact of life for a tourist across the entire Caribbean, whether you are in Bridgetown or Montego Bay among others.
US dollars talk too at restaurants where one small star fruit juice costs US$3 and a Jamaican patty is US$2.50. In the Resorts, meals are also ridiculously overpriced, with US$27 for a poor breakfast made up largely of eggs, sausage and bacon and US$40 for a poorly prepared pasta dinner.
Finding authentic cuisine has become somewhat of a challenge as more and more, resorts seem to believe that copying the American diet is best for the tourists.
Plop down on a beach lounger or near the pool, drink loads of rum punch and maintain your American diet of burgers, steak, pasta and pizza.
Even on The Strip of St. Kitts, where local beach bars are supposed to provide the authentic island experience, the local cuisine is limited to conch fritters without much conch and a Jamaican-adopted version of rice and peas, coconut rice and seafood – mahi-mahi, parrot fish, snapper or lobster.
The closest I came to finding local cuisine after numerous requests, was being directed by a local waitress to a small restaurant in Newtown. Sadly, I soon realized that the lady who served me a helping of ochro and fish steamed, dumpling, yam, callaloo rice and steamed vegetables with passion fruit drink was not Kittian but from Guyana! Go figure.
It’s another aspect of the state of Caribbean tourism – albeit a positive one – as new immigrants from Guyana and Jamaica, primarily, are setting up restaurants and adding a new element to other neighboring countries.
The American culture has also permeated the entertainment scene where small community band of singers offer up their cover of Adele and others with just a sprinkling of reggae, salsa and soca, tossed in for that island feel. Can’t tell you how many times I heard Adele, Rihanna, Neyo, LMFAO and Daddy Yankee!
The airports across the region have also copied the rigid and annoying TSA searches. It’s not enough to pass through the security scanners. No way! Passengers are openly profiled as in the U.S. and pulled out of a boarding line to have and their entire pocket book searched again and patted down like a common criminal.
The state of the industry is where inter regional travel is a nightmare of long waits, cancelled flights and added expenses of food, drink and hotel in order to get to a destination that’s only an hour away and where some airports in lack radar and can only handle one jet at a time, whether landing or departing.
As Dr. Auliana Poon, managing director of Tourism Intelligence International, pointed out to stake holders, the paradigms are shifting and it cannot be business as usual. Sadly, the Caribbean’s shift is to strive hard to copy the American lifestyle and culture as much as possible and double the prices too. Forget what is local and authentic! That’s a thing of the past for many destinations.