Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finding culture in the "tourist trap": an example in the Bahamas

Over time I've read a number of articles and some books regarding the impact of tourism on local communities. Opinions vary from those officials who would open up the floodgates for real estate development regardless of the consequences, to opponents who believe, in one person's words, that "tourism is whorism." I believe that the answer is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. If tourism is not seen as the only path to economic growth, and care is taken to maintain the culture and the environment even in the midst of the development, tourism can have a mainly beneficial effect on the economy of the area in question.

I was confronted by the paradox while on vacation in the Bahamas, specifically Paradise Island, a prime example of a tourist enclave. After eating dinner, we were walking along the "Harbourside Village" which is an extension of the nearby Atlantis resort, when we came across this traditional Bahamian "rake n' scrape" band, complete with harmonica, tub drum and musical saw, ironically after we left the Johnny Rockets in the background. (For those of you who may question our food choice, I should mention that our family also managed to eat locally caught fish at a more traditional setting on another occasion.) Evidently the opportunity to earn some money was one motivator for the group to perform at this location, and the resort provided that venue, which in turn motivates the musicians to continue playing their traditional music. (Music researchers have found examples of musicians who haven't played the traditional music in years, which is the first indication of the tradition's potential disappearance.) As long as there isn't pressure to make changes to the music to please the tourists, both the resort and the musicians benefit.

There is much more that can be said about this debate, and I confess not being completely sure how to maintain the happy medium in all the possible scenarios. What I can say in summary is that people need income, but not at the cost of their souls, so to speak. 

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