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Tourism vs Culture in the Caribbean

t-v-c-2 Tourism vs Culture?

If the question should be asked globally, “What comes to mind when you hear the term, ‘Caribbean’?”, the responses would most likely include ‘sun’, ‘sea, ‘beach’, white sand’, ‘fun’, ‘party’ and ‘food’. No doubt, these would have been accurate since Caribbean culture is known globally and has been incorporated into several cultures around the world.

Since this is known and acknowledged by the governmental bodies in the Caribbean, this makes tourism is a large and vital part of the Caribbean economy. At times, however, both tourism and culture seem to be distanced from each other, with each appearing to take precedence at various convenient times. How should we view tourism and culture for the betterment of our economy and lives? To provide possible answers to this question, one must look at both terms and what each may imply.

Tourism, as defined by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional purposes.

This is prevalent in the Caribbean as the personal purpose of recreation brings over 30 million individuals to the region annually. It is a suitable spot for those who want to experience a white sandy beach due to the harsh conditions of the temperate climates in which they reside. Not only are the beaches a popular option but there are several other elements that make a great vacation including magnificent hotels, thrilling adventure-themed endeavors, and unique culture.

This in turn benefits the region, as tourism amounts to roughly 35 billion dollars in 2019. (Statista) While this is a remarkable amount, culture is inevitably a part of tourism and cannot be overlooked.

Culture, although not easily defined, essentially speaks to the way of life of a people. It is even listed as a part of the definition of tourism. There are several discussions about the involvement of culture, however, one must realize that our culture plays a large role in determining other areas of life. The practices that have been passed down through generations that have formed a part of our cooking, conversations, self-care, beliefs, celebrations, and architecture, contributed to the context in which we exist in and makes a visually pleasing hotel more than a decorated space but the bearer of colorful people.

While it is easy to speak about the favorable parts of Caribbean culture, there are some taboo aspects ingrained that do not get as much screen time.  The debate continues; do these aspects deserve to be more widely broadcasted since it is still a part of our culture as much as the other “more favorable” practices or are they excluded for the purpose of avoiding commercialization and criticism, hence ironically weakening the cultural traditions? One may agree that, regardless of the inclusion of these more hidden parts, Caribbean culture is so vast that if tourists want to experience a “tour guide-less” encounter they are able to do so at their own discretion.

At the end of the day, the word that should be taken into consideration is “symbiotic”, meaning, “a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups”. With that being said, both tenets of tourism and culture must work conjointly for the betterment of the Caribbean economy and society.

Tourists not only visit the Caribbean for the sun, sea, and sand but for the rich cultural elements that are displayed throughout the region. And while special care should be taken to not exploit or overly commercialize our cultural practices, it is evident that this can be quite useful in providing information and entertainment about these lesser-acknowledged cultures by promoting them in tourism. Essentially, there should not be a ‘tourism vs culture debate’ but, rather, a ‘tourism and culture conversation’.

Source: Alethia Campbell

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