by Wendy C Grenade, PhD
Now back to reality. We are in 2021. If we have learnt nothing else from the past year, one of the crucial lessons is that it cannot be business as usual.
While there has to be fundamental changes in the medium to long term, in the short-term, there is a security dilemma. That is, the imperative to promote health security clashes with the necessity for economic security.
In the short-term, the revenue generated from tourism activities is needed to purchase medical supplies, like vaccines; provide safety nets for women and men in the informal sector; support small businesses; maintain the wage bill for the public service etc. Governments all over the world are seeking to find workable trade-offs. The question becomes, for the medium to longer-term, what type of economy for what type of society in what type of polity?
There is a large body of work which seeks to conceptualise sustainable tourism. I wish to acknowledge the work my good friend and colleague, Dr Sherma Roberts, Deputy Dean for Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cave Hill Campus. I strongly recommend two of her books, which she co-authored with colleagues: New Perspectives in Caribbean Tourism and Contemporary Caribbean Tourism Concepts and Cases. Tourism research is critical and at The UWI we pride ourselves in unpacking the complex issues, which surround sustainable tourism for sustainable development.
In the context of Covid-19, I am joining with other scholars and observers to call for safe, smart and sustainable tourism. Given the structure of Caribbean economies, there is need to diversify within and across the tourism sector. I propose a sort of indigenised, authentic tourism product that is accompanied by a comprehensive Risk Management Plan. A lot of work has been done on Risk and sustainable tourism. This work has to be intensified. Similar to a Disaster Plan, Tourism Risk Management Plans should involve mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. There is need for a rebranded approach to Caribbean tourism which should have at its core: protecting lives; promoting safe work with dignity, unionised rights and benefits for workers; ensuring that there be enshrined in Law the preservation of patrimony, sovereignty and heritage and protection of the environment.
Importantly, we have to find creative ways to boost intra-Caribbean tourism. We can more intentionally engage in tourism activities for educational purposes. The Girls High School in St Vincent and the Grenadians could be affiliated with the Anglican High School in Grenada. Joint online sporting events; study tours to one another’s countries; a semester away from home. This can contribute to a kind of cognitive regionalism and at the same time, it can spur economic activity. And this is not new. Cadets, Scouts and Guides have done some of this in the past.
There is scope for our indigenous communities in Dominica, Belize and St Lucia, for example, to develop stronger bonds. Part of a rebranded tourism can include the documentation of oral histories; animated films and so forth, that can empower and give voice to our indigenous peoples. This could form part of an indigenised heritage tourism. In fact, we have not sufficiently told our stories to ourselves. Let us be tourists in our own region. Part of that authentic, indigenous tourism must include the wider Caribbean. Given our linguistic diversity, there are possibilities for the Caribbean and Latin America to become a global linguistic hub to boost conference tourism. These ideas are not new, but they can take on renewed resonance at this time.
All that I have just shared with you is subject to a well-functioning Caribbean transportation network. We have to disrupt the disruption to Caribbean transport. This requires a separate lecture, but I believe in the imagination of Caribbean people and I am confident that the severity of the problem will create an urgency for action. I can imagine if we do not get this right; in 2040, Hope would ask me again, “but why was it cheaper to travel from Barbados to Miami than from Barbados to Grenada?” Why was no one able to establish a ferry service? Was it sooo difficult?” “Could no one imagine an underwater shuttle?” She may ask. We owe it to the little girls and boys who were born in 2020 to propel the engines of Caribbean transport through our air and marine spaces.
Beyond the tourism industry, the Covid-19 crisis has provided an opportunity for us to reflect on the other dimensions of the political economy model pursued by most Caribbean countries. It is important to ask, what should be the role of the state in the economy? Should the invisible hand of the market not be guided by the visible hand of the State? For post-colonial economies, what should be the relationship between growth and development? At the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the Caribbean Community in 1973, the then late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Williams, reminded us that we have learned the hard way the lessons of economic growth in developing countries. That is: growth without development.
New pathways require economic transformation. At this moment as we are called upon to reimagine, we can take glimpses into the past to see what approaches we may be able to modify and adapt for a new time. There have been previous experiments at the non-capitalist path to development, such as Guyana’s Cooperative Socialism, Jamaica’s Democratic Socialism and the Grenada Revolution. You may argue, and rightly so, that 2021 is not the 1970s. The world had changed drastically. Yet, there are lessons from that period that may be useful in re-setting Caribbean economies in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.
I must touch on the economic model of the Grenada Revolution. There was a plan for the economic development of Grenada which consisted of four basic sectors: (1) Agriculture, (2) Fisheries, (3) Agro industries and (4) New Tourism. Of course, this economic model was linked to a revolutionary approach to education. The intention was to disrupt ways of thinking and doing to transform the society. A major lesson from the economic model of the PRG was that, all things being equal, a mixed economy approach, which involves strategic State planning, cooperatives and the private sector, can be transformative. In Grenada, we have some unfinished business with history, to reclaim the baby from the bathwater. But, that is for another lecture.
One of the shortcomings of the PRG’s approach was that it played insufficient attention to the environment. I commend Caribbean countries for being at the vanguard of environmental sustainability. The OECS is leading the charge with respect to Ocean Governance. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Center in Belize coordinates the Caribbean region’s response to climate change, working on effective solutions and projects to combat the environmental impacts of climate change and global warming. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) continues to be at the forefront of disaster management. Our own UWI, as part of its mandate to revitalise Caribbean development, continues to work through the Center for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), at the Cave Hill campus and The UWI’s Seismic Research Center at the St Augustine Campus, for example. These are some of the regional web of institutions at the forefront of research, teaching and advocacy with respect to environmental sustainability.
A lot is happening with respect to the Blue Economy and the Green economy. However, the way forward must include alignment in our efforts to achieve sustainability. I wish to remember our brothers and sisters in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and I pray that the volcanic activity does not intensify.
Wendy Grenade is Senior Lecturer in Political Science, Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work & Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
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