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The problems with Sandals

Published: 
Sunday, November 5, 2017

What do Donald Trump, Theresa May and Keith Rowley all have in common aside from being national leaders? Yes, they all suggest leadership is equivalent to knowing better than everyone else. For Trump it’s MAGA, for May it’s Brexit, and for Rowley it’s Sandals.

All refuse the transparency demanded by their electorates to make public their plans. And the consequences of this lack of transparency will be three electorates left to live and deal with the socio-cultural fall out, and possible economic disasters, long after these leaders are safely retired and protected from the complications of their decision-making.

Further to this dodgy two-some with which to be associated, our PM has called those who do not support his Sandals vision “unpatriotic”. In such light, do we assume his liming and personal relations is actually the pinnacle of patriotism? Yet any sociologist out there must question the PM’s words when it comes to Sandals.

As with other governments before him, the PM suggests tourism as the saviour of our diversification plan but does not recognise that while socio-economic benefits may come, but are not guaranteed, one thing that is guaranteed by pursuing this limited diversification model is socio-cultural damage to the nation such as the continued long-term socio-cultural alienation of youth in Tobago from local culture.

Caribbean sociologists have documented what happens socio-culturally to a society and an island like Tobago when tourism is its only industry. While tourism may have socio-economic benefits such as increases in new employment and the potential to stem migration patterns amongst the unemployed, tourism also has socio-cultural impacts. For example, the new jobs provided are usually a limited range of seasonal and low paid, service-orientated ones; and service jobs bring to the surface the socio-cultural differences between tourists and hosts.

In societies with histories of enslavement and colonialism this usually sets up a situation of a tourist population—especially in Tobago with its local population that is predominantly of Afro descent—where white economic power comes to be served by a black and brown labour force. This, of course, whether explicitly or implicitly in the minds of locals, solidifies the cultural legacies of white superiority and black servitude.

Furthermore, the economic gains associated with tourism often encourage a dependency model rather than a social development one. This too has socio-cultural consequences for youth. Instead of developing a labour force to be creative, entrepreneurial and disciplined, tourism creates one that finds little pride in servitude.

Nor does tourism promote local cultural resilience. Instead, foreign ideas about what’s best come to dominate and this dilutes local culture. It also suggests when the young people of such islands are older and in charge of national development they’ll know little more than the servitude model.

The legacies of these differences can be seen in the current tourism product found in Tobago and the consistent lack of quality customer service found on the sister isle. It can also be seen in the increase in North American and European consumption patterns amongst locals as a result of tourists’ consumption preferences. Another consequence of the tourism model, as a 2010 study by the Oxford Economic Organisation suggests, is that 80 cents of every dollar spent by tourists in the Caribbean leaks out of it.

Of course, in spite of these disadvantages and many others like environmental harm, tourism does represent a marketplace for local cultural products. Yet in offering such a marketplace, if a government does not promote the production of local cultural items and also the cultural resilience of low-income cultural producers, local culture is again diluted and replaced by the dominance of foreign cultural ideas and products. Such products are generally commodified and sold by local elites in the society, who are the main economic beneficiaries of tourist ventures, rather than those less fortunate.

Yet rather than recognise the socio-cultural consequences of his decision-making and the sociological imagination, the PM turns to dog-whistle tactics around patriotism designed to stir the ethno-racist pot of local politics. It also begs the question, if he knows better than the rest of us, why doesn’t he speak and listen to sociologists as much as he does economists?