Caribbean Tourism Is Pro-Poverty Not Pro-Progress, Says Economist Marla Dukharan

In her Caribbean Monthly Economic Report for March 2023, Caribbean economist Marla Dukharan points out critical issues with measuring Caribbean tourism’s success. “Is tourism a net benefit to the people of the Caribbean or to tourists?” she asks before diving into some sobering truths.

It’s no secret that for much of my decade-long career as a travel journalist and particularly since the pandemic, I’ve asked the industry: How can high tourism arrivals be the sole measure of economic success, when destinations that top these lists in the Global South show a high level of poverty or deepening inequality? Where’s the data to show the real benefit of tourism, when governments don’t take even measure its negative impacts or its contributions to local communities?

I raised the point once more on stage, as a moderator at the inaugural Caribbean Travel Forum, part of CHTA Marketplace in San Juan in October 2022, not because I like to repeat myself or because I expected a new answer, but because this issue lies at the core of travel’s future for this tourism-dependent region. Yet Caribbean tourism leaders are avoiding it.

A handful of poignant quotes from Dukharan’s report:

“Despite the fact that the Caribbean Tourism Organization is largely Government (read taxpayer) funded, their statistics are behind a paywall.
If the tourism sector can’t or won’t fund its own statistics, this is a red flag.”

“How can Governments justifiably continue to subsidize tourism without data to show its net contribution?”

Read the whole report here. Pay attention to the last line and to the section on destinations’ economic overview.

As someone who is embedded in the tourism industry and witnesses it daily, it is clear that in much of the Caribbean, tourism continues to benefit the few while the majority continue to struggle for a better future (made worse by post-pandemic inflation, unemployment and other woes). As Marla Dukharan says, maybe that’s how Caribbean governments prefer it after all.


Lebawit is an award-winning, independent travel journalist, author and speaker specializing in global tourism. Her reported stories on sustainability, equity, destination management, hospitality, responsible marketing, and climate action have appeared in consumer and trade publications, including Bloomberg, Skift, and Conde Nast Traveler. Read more about Lily here.

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