The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 hot, flat coral islands – of which only 40 are inhabited. Lying southeast of Florida, the Bahamas are famous for its offshore banks and as the birthplace of Sidney Poitier. Tourism developed there early: Nassau, the capital of New Providence Island, attracted the swanky (and cranky) rich in the 1930s, including the Duke of Windsor, who was sent there as ambassador after his abdication.
Another tourism bonanza followed in the 1940s when – with concessions and handouts – a landscape of resorts and casinos replaced scrubland and mangroves on the two islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama. Crooks and adventurers abounded, and corruption continued to be part and parcel of tourism dominated by the white merchant class. Modern-day investors include Sol Kerzner, who developed Atlantis, a fantastical resort in Nassau, and the proposed Bimini Bay Resort that is the focus of a previous Tourism Concern campaign.
The Bahamas have a landmass of 10,000 square kilometres, similar to that of Cyprus. Located in the north of the Caribbean, the archipelago had a population of 390,000 (as of 2015). America seems to dominate the culture, although the great post-Christmas carnival of Junkanoo is a reminder that most Bahamians have an African heritage; during the time of carnival the streets of Nassau rise up in costume, drumming and dance. Otherwise, cruise ships, tacky shopping malls and resort life point to a tired over-exploitation.
In contrast, life in the Out Islands barely seems to stir. These strung-out strips of land, from Inagua in the south, famous for its flamingos, to the northern islands of Abacos, settled by UK loyalists fleeing the US revolution, are dotted with communities where doors are never locked and old-fashioned courtesies survive.
In 2013, the Bahamas welcomed 1.4 million international tourists. The sea is everywhere in these paper-thin islands and sailing, diving, snorkelling and fishing are the focus of tourism. You can island hop – at some expense – from one empty white beach and shimmering turquoise horizon to the next. Go to San Salvador, where Columbus is said to have made his first footfall in the New World, or curious Eleuthera, with its pineapple industry and dinky colonial enclaves.
Despite the threat to Bimini, the Bahamas has a good record of conservation of its marine environment, and some islands have national parks, both above and below sea level.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Cruise ships & Workers rights:
In the Caribbean, for example, which is the world’s busiest cruise zone, many cruise lines employ European officers, with North American and Western European staff in the business and entertainment jobs, supported by a crew from the poorest parts of the developing world. These workers are often paid low wages and labour in shoddy working conditions. ‘Conditions for workers below deck haven’t improved in decades’, said an inspector with the International Transport Workers Federation.
‘Many are reluctant to come forward and complain. To most people, workers on cruise liners are nonentities. They have an almost invisible existence.’
Cruise ships are also caught up in issues relating to the economic exclusion impacts on port destinations, along with various environmental issues. The Cruise ship industry has a poor reputation for its waste-dumping practices which can create pressure on small countries with limited refuse sites, or can contaminate the sea.
According to the Bluewater network, now part of Friends of the Earth, a typical one-week cruise generates 50 tonnes of waste and thousands of gallons of grey water (waste from sinks and showers and so on) and sewage. Almost all is dumped: some is treated, some is not. And while the powerful cruise companies claim that they have done much to reduce pollution, the laws are lax, regulations often ignored and the majority of the big companies have convictions for dumping. Environmentalists are also increasingly worried by larger and larger cruise ships visiting such pristine environments as Antarctica and the Galapagos.
To learn more, check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Cruise ships:
All-inclusives & Economic Leakage:
All-inclusives can alienate tourists from the destination they are visiting and the people who live there. Positive cultural exchange is hampered, while resentment builds among local people who are blocked from being able to benefit from the tourism economy.
Various negative issues have been identified, including poor working conditions and huge environmental impacts such as water wastage & domestic waste. The largest concern is the decreased patronage to local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, taxi drivers and small guest houses – as guests are deterred from leaving the hotel grounds.
The way in which the industry is organized means that, for the most part, consumers spend much of their holiday cash in buying the package – before they leave home. Much of that goes into the pockets of foreign owned companies in the host countries: not many nationals of poor countries get to own marble-floored hotels, shopping chains or flashy restaurants serving fusion food.
Statistics vary; but some people argue that what is known as economic ‘leakage’ – the extent to which local economies lose (or never receive) the revenue generated by tourism – is as high as four-fifths the cost of a holiday. Even if it’s not that high, leakage remains a serious problem for most host countries.
We are calling for tour operators and hotels to take a rights-based approach to sustainability, and to undertake due diligence throughout their supply chains in order to identify and address the negative impacts of the all-inclusives power play, and race to the bottom that this entails.
You, the tourist, can also make a difference by opting for holidays that offer a fair deal for local businesses and people. In many cases half-board or Bed & breakfast options are cheaper options and provide you with a far greater level of freedom & choice!
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned around the impacts of all-inclusives and have published various reports on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:
Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
National Parks & endangered species:
According to Right Tourism, the waters of Exuma Cays have been managed as a no-take marine fishery reserve since 1986, allowing populations of commercially important species such as queen conch, Nassau grouper and spiny lobster to thrive. Sea turtles swim throughout coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Exuma Cays located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southeast of the Bahamian capital Nassau, was the first land and sea park in the world. Though the park is mostly water, the land is a vital refuge for a small mammal called the hutia, several rare and endangered iguana species and marine birds such as terns and the long-tailed tropic-bird that nest high in the bluffs
Ongoing Threats include Private development of vacation homes and booming tourism that, if not properly managed, can destroy native vegetation and lead to increased private and commercial boat traffic. Boats and divers can cause irreparable damage to coral reefs. Other threats include offshore channeling and dredging, water pollution and over harvesting of fish and other marine species.
Other significant environmental issues are the impact of tourism on the environment, coral reef decay, waste disposal, and water pollution. The principal environmental agency is the Department of Environmental Health Services. A rookery on Great Inagua affords protection to some 30,000 flamingos as well as to the roseate spoonbill. Land clearing for agricultural purposes is a significant environmental problem because it threatens the habitats of the nation’s wildlife.
Endangered species include Kirtland’s warbler, Bachman’s warbler, Green sea turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Allen Cays rock iguana, and Watling Island ground iguana.
The tourism sector is highly seasonal. During high season, massive influxes of visitors enter a destination during a short period of time. Increased number of tourists places stress on the local environment & infrastructure. Waste resulting from tourist remains a challenge in the Bahamas, regular garbage collection throughout the country, along with beautification of beaches, and the removal of abandoned vehicles are all required to keep the destination an attractive holiday escape.
Tourists use more water than the ordinary consumer. Indeed, the water ‘footprint’ of the Western world, as in our carbon footprint, is very high. There are already serious water shortages worldwide and a prediction of ‘water wars’.
The United Nations has claimed that ‘The average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a third world villager would use to produce rice for 100 days.’ Tourists need unlimited supplies of water – they are used to it at home and desire copious amounts on holiday: for drinking, baths and showers, swimming pools, overflowing fountains and green manicured lawns.
But water, in developing countries, is often a precious commodity. More than 2 billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and 80 per cent of all deaths in the developing world are water related. Put a hotel near a local community and the pressure on the water supply is acute.
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned on water equity and have published reports & articles on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles:
Coral Reef biodiversity & Diving:
From Egypt to Australia to the Bahamas, snorkeling and scuba diving have long been popular tourism activities. Coral reefs are very delicate ecosystems and can be upset by the smallest change in ocean temperature or human contact. According the WWF, coral reef’s occupy less than one quarter of 1% of the marine environment, yet they are home to more than 25% of all known marine fish species.
Increasing ocean temperatures from human induced climate change and toxic run-off from sewage or agricultural waste have the ability to alter the balance of a coral reef ecosystem and result in coral bleaching. In many cases, inexperienced divers cannot control their buoyancy or improperly secured gear can damage the coral.
If you are considering a snorkeling or diving trip, look for ‘coral friendly operations’ that practice reef conservation in a number of ways. These include giving environmental briefings, using available moorings rather than anchoring to fragile reefs, using wastewater pump-out systems and participating in local conservation projects. Anything that you take with you on the boat should be kept safe and disposed of once you return to the shore, not in the water, including cigarettes!!