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Churchill is gone and Ralph Nader shuns high office, so let us take our statesmanlike utterances where we find them. James Mitchell is an Othello-like figure with a full beard, sloping forehead and the caramel coloring of his mixed Scotch-French-African ancestry. Educated in Canada, he was formerly tourism minister and owns a small hotel on his native Bequia, northernmost of the Grenadines. His father was captain of a tri-masted schooner lost at sea many years ago, and Mitchell sails his own 28-foot sloop Colibri.
Mitchell wants to avoid the fate of Caribbean neighbors that have ridden the tiger of tourism only to wind up being devoured by it. He articulates priorities that larger islands belatedly embraced, broadening tourism to include the young, the budget-conscious and the ecology-minded. He rejects what Herbert L. Hiller, executive director of the Caribbean Travel Association, frankly calls "the high fantasy content" of Caribbean tourism. "The old mode is mass tourism," Hiller says. "It reflects standards set in Miami Beach, meaning high technology and imported management, materials and values. Men like James Mitchell now want tourism with a higher Caribbean content. They want Caribbean cuisine, architecture and culture."
The situation that Mitchell is determined to avoid is evident everywhere in the West Indies that super-luxury hotels have gone up. Many hotels, encumbered by huge investments, neglected to train their staffs properly and abruptly discharged employees at season's end. In addition they charged rates so high that publishers of The Caribbean on $5 and $10 a Day finally dropped the book because, a spokesman explains, "It kept getting thinner every year." Mass tourism brought prosperity, but with it such undesired side effects as soaring land prices that killed off agriculture. Mass tourism also helped create the very problems vacationers hoped to escape, such as polluted beaches in Puerto Rico and traffic jams on St. Thomas.
Charging that those chiefly prospering from all this were foreign hotel owners, West Indian black power militants found it easy to equate tourism with neocolonialism. And certainly natives feel they have sometimes been treated as second-class citizens. When tourists tried to photograph young Trinidadians making sandals on a street in Port-of-Spain, one youth protested: "What if I burst into your home and took a picture of you on the toilet?" A waiter in the Bahamas I says, "If tourists stopped snapping their fingers and calling us boy, they'd be surprised how nice we can be."
But some native unpleasantness seems gratuitous. Subjected without apparent provocation to treatment ranging from ill-mannered to hostile, many Caribbean visitors go home vowing never to return. Tourism has declined in the U.S. Virgin Islands in part because of the kind of attitude displayed by the police officer who ordered a woman visitor to move the parked car in which she was waiting for her husband. When she complied, he arrested her for driving without a license. The officer was black, the tourist white, but race is not the only source of friction. Bellhops in Haiti refer to black American tourists as les blancs noirs—white black men.
These tensions were aggravated last September when eight people, four of them white American tourists, were shot to death on a Rockefeller-owned golf course on St. Croix. One can dismiss this violence as an aberration, and perhaps reach the same conclusion about the mini-buses now doing a brisk trade carrying other tourists to view the murder scene. Still, the bad publicity came at a lime when the Caribbean was already facing stiff competition both from cheap European charter flights and a Florida tourist revival spurred by the success of Disney World.
Caribbean tourism also suffers randomly from hurricanes, polio scares and, above all, the vicissitudes of the U.S. economy. In Puerto Rico, whose $250-million-a-year tourist industry has not yet recovered from a slump that began with the U.S. recession of 1970, Tourist Director Roberto Bouret warns that the island's struggling luxury hotels "must improve service in line with their rates." It is no coincidence that the islands now enjoying the biggest tourist surges include Haiti, Martinique and Barbados, each of which specializes in smaller, personalized hotels. The lesson is not lost on the government of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, which recently closed the Holiday Inn on Montego Bay for two weeks because of indifferent service. Where Caribbean politicians once made a whipping boy of tourism, Manley has told his people, "The tourist is innocent of responsibility for your problems. Don't blame the visitor, blame me." Similarly, posters in Barbados proclaim: TOURISM NEEDS YOU, YOU NEED TOURISM.
Tourist-related friction, like tourism itself, is much less pronounced on St. Vincent. Whites might be greeted with cries of "Honky" if they venture into Kingstown's tough Pauls Lot neighborhood, and there is a certain coolness about Stanley (The Dodger) Gibson, who stood one morning on Kingstown's wharf as passengers filed off a cruise ship to shop for straw goods. "These tourists can humbug you, mon," he complained. "You don't know who is a CIA agent." Then he chuckled, adding, "But it doesn't matter. We've nothing to hide."
The fact is that most Vincentians are friendly and open to outsiders, plainly pleased that anyone would visit their neglected island. This right away puts the modern visitor ahead of Columbus, who is credited with having sighted St. Vincent in 1498, an event diminished only by the fact that he did not bother to stop. Nor did St. Vincent escape obscurity when, after Britain wrested the island from the French and the Carib Indians, local sugar planters ordered a boatload of breadfruit from Tahiti to feed their African slaves. The subsequent adventures of H.M.S. Bounty have been recounted often enough, but few could tell you that the ship was bound for St. Vincent when its crew mutinied or that Captain Bligh completed his mission, sailing into Kingstown Harbor in another vessel in 1793.
Some, including St. Vincent's handful of Marxists, would just as soon see Yanquis and other tourists stay home. And there is an extraparliamentary group called the Educational Forum whose members are mostly college-educated. Echoing the "tourism is whorism" cry heard throughout the West Indies, Forum's literature interprets tourist brochure references to the "virgin beauty" of Caribbean islands as symbolic invitations "to be the first to ravish their virginity." But Forum leader Kenneth John, a barrister, admits this argument was "deliberately overplayed," adding, "We are a poor country and must have some tourism." This is much the line that James Mitchell takes. "St. Vincent needs tourism, but we must deal in realities," he said recently. "That's why it's wrong to talk of paradise. It's an image that can only disappoint; tourists come and find roads potholed or they find poverty and ignorance. It's the same with yachtsmen. We're not going to control the tides. Some days it might be rainy or rough." He laughed. "But in these islands you do have a better run for your money.