The Folks as Hosts: The Grassroots View of Tourism
Panel: CARIBBEAN DEVELOPMENT ALTERNATIVES AND U.S. POLICY
A. Lynn Bolles
University of Maryland College Park
Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Studies Association May 1991,
From the very moment of the "Discovery", conquerors and travellers
alike are at awe of the tremendous beauty of palm and beach, mountain and
plain of the Caribbean. Supposedly Columbus himself felt he had found the
Terrestrial Paradise (Lewis 1968:16). The romantic saga of tropical paradise,
sex, piracy and slave revolts and contemporary images of sex, sand, sea and
temporarily lost inhibitions annually lure millions of tourists to the region.
Governments, tourist boards, multinational corporations and allied industries
spend fortunes promoting the saga and the image to potential visitors the
consumers of tourism. A part of tourism, the act of leisurely activities, are
the people who provide services for the visitor. They are the ones who
produce and are themselves tourist commodities, and who also happen to be
citizens of the country or locale the guest visits. It is the folk/hosts who
have the direct or indirect contact with guests. And for many whose
livelihoods depend on tourism, it is up to them whether or not a visitor "has
a good time." Hosts/folk, tourist sector workers, share their towns, villages
and countries with paying guests, and their own health, education, water,
electricity etc. needs are often put aside or are inadequate because of the
necessity of the satisfied customer.
Of the three sets of actors generating, receiving, and accommodating
tourism hosts, guests and touristiers the one category most neglected in
research, study and policy are the hosts/folk. In particular, compared to
economic analyses, there is relatively little study of the hosts who live in
tourist areas. Residents, of communities which are economically dependent
or seasonally dependent, are critical agents in analyzing how tourism works
on whatever level of adequacy, and in understanding the social relations
between hosts and guests. Community residents who work in the tourist
sector have the greatest impact on the success rate of the business. And
interestingly, the majority of tourist sector workers are women.
Cynthia Enloe, in her book Albt.sh. Ananas andAsws mentions
(1990:34) that certain Caribbean nationalists have criticized their
governments promotion of tourism as turning their society into a "nation of
busboys." Putting aside the sexism of the statement for a moment, the image
of the declaration is powerful. Independence, national autonomy and the
end of colonial rule should not equate with the reconstitution of
subservience for anyone. In reality however, tourism isturning Caribbean
societies into "nations of chambermaids." Not only does the categorization of
domestic service underscore the division of labor within the industry, but it
also indicates the nature of social relations within the industry, the
evaluation of various kinds of labor which constitute such enterprises, and
the actual benefits accrued by workers, their communities and their
The objective of this paper is to identify, in a general manner, the
ways Caribbean women workers and their communities are effected by
tourism. Here the analysis focuses on the relations of production of women's
wage labor and unpaid domestic labor in their households, and in other
aspects of their lives. First I discuss tourism in a general way, using a
regional perspective. Second, case study materials are presented to illustrate
how women hosts as workers view visitors, their interactions, the various
modes of behavior and how tourism effects their productive, familial and
community life. Finally, the discussion raises questions which will inform a
proposed study in Jamaica. What are the salient issues facing women in the
sector? Can tourism be made accountable to workers and their communities
as they share locale? Women workers in the Caribbean tourist sector are not
alone. They represent just one location in the tremendously expanding
global tourist trade.
Worldwide, the tourist industry employed more people than the oil
industry by the mid 1980s (Enloe 1990:20). The United Nations World
Tourism Organization (WTO) is hard pressed to provide up-to-date materials
and information on the sector to its 108 nation membership. By the year
2000, the WTO predicts that tourism will be the single most global economic
activity (Attix 1986). In the Caribbean, the sector is ahead of that time
frame. Since 1985, tourism is the single most important economic activity
and major source of foreign exchange for many Caribbean countries,
generating approximately $4.6 billion in revenues regionally in that year
alone (Deere et.al. 1990:29). Clearly, a great deal of attention is paid to
tourism, as an economic sector, and to its consumers tourists. As Deere et.al.
state (Ibid.) it would not be an exaggeration to say that Caribbean economies
are being sustained by tourist dollars. In certain countries, such as
Barbados, if visitors did not come, perhaps three quarters of the national
work force would be put out of work (Dann 1984:107). Tourism is an
important source of employment, but it suffers from relatively weak
domestic linkages, particularly to the agricultural sectors (Deere et.al.
1990:30). Multinational corporate hoteliers dominate the sector in the
region. This is not a product of local policies, as C.Y. Thomas reminds us
(1989:147), but a reflection of an overall world trend. The links between
airlines, cruise ship lines, hotel chains and tour packages illustrate vertical
and horizontal positioning within corporate structures. MNC domination
further weakens the foreign exchange potential of tourism because fully paid
bookings go directly to tour agencies located in the US, Europe and Canada.
Gayle (1990:6) mentions other ways that the tourist industry in the region
remains vulnerable, such as frequent environmental degradation and
extreme fluctuations in visitor volume as well as high expenditures.
The Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid capturesthe situation in her novel
A Smal/Plae. She writes:
.....You (the tourist) must not wonder what exactly happened to the
contents of your lavatory when you flushed it. You must not wonder where
your bath water went when you pulled out the stopper. You must not
wonder what happened when you brushed your teeth.. Oh, it might all end
up in the water you are thinking of taking a swim in; the contents of your
lavatory might just graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in
the water, for you see, in Antigua, there is not proper sewage disposal
The Caribbean Sea absorbs the sewage of its 30 million residents and
millions of visitors, plus the uncounted tons of waste dumped at sea by
cruise ships and yachts (Barry et.al. 1984:84).
Further on in the novel Kincaid writes (again addressing the tourist):
Your delicious meal: its better that you don't know that most of what
you are eating came off a plane from Miami. ...and before it got on a plane in
Miami, who knows where it came from? A good guess is that it comes from
a place like Antigua first, where it was grown dirt-cheap, went to Miami and
came back. (1984:14).
Barry et.al. (1984:85) speak of the wining and dining Caribbean
tourists. They are likely to enjoy food and beverages from their home
countries. The less diversified an economy, the higher the import content of
the tourism industry. Large hotels cater to the tastes of their clientele, not to
the constraints of local food supply. Along with the food, all hotel equipment
and furniture comes from foreign distributors.
Jamaica is one of the major players in the Caribbean tourist industry.
Despite the destruction caused by hurricane Gilbert in 1988, just over one
million tourists visited the island (Gayle 1990:16). The million figure
represented a 2.5% decrease. Reasons for the decline stem from the Jamaica
Tourist Board relaxing its promotional efforts in the United States and
Canada and the competition by cheap package tours to "new" tourists spots,
such as Cancun Mexico. With fewer visitors, other indicators of the industry
showed a decline: the average room occupancy declined and tourism receipts
decreased. Following Gilbert, the Government enacted the Tourism Action
Plan which included inputs from both public and private sectors with
designs of increasing tourist expenditures from $77.00 for stopover visitors
and $50.00 for cruise ship passengers. The Jamaica Tourist Board developed
a new product for the U.S. market at the expense of $37.6 million. In 1989,
1.6 million tourists spent $590 million in Jamaica (Gayle 1990:17).
On the other side of this positive picture were Jamaica's small hotels.
These businesses were unable to refurbish their properties in the aftermath
of Gilbert. The situation was complicated by the Government's agreement
with the International Monetary Fund. IMF policy called for increases in
loan interest rates (+ 35%), electricity rates (+32%), consumer goods tax
(+50%), and food prices (+20%). Such increments in the cost of doing business
for the small hotels have driven many into bankruptcy or forced them to
suspend operations until they can afford to open again. And of course when
businesses close employees are laid off and join the ranks of the
The overall scenario of tourism, in Jamaica and elsewhere in the
region, is that revenues from the sector are vital to the national economy but
are exacted from the society at a high price. As the post Gilbert situation
shows, tourism succeeds when it is heavily promoted by all interested
parties MNCs, government and private concerns. But the economy of scale
is in operation too. It is not only the small hotel owners who are in a
precarious position, but also the workers in those establishments, in
restaurants, in bars, and who sell beads, straw baskets and braid hair on the
When the Folk are Women and Workers
You've seen the advertisements. A Caucasian man and woman sit on a
white sandy beach taking in the sun. Juxtapositioned to the couple are two
sets of pictures. One is of tourists (re white couples) shopping, swimming,
dining, viewing the panorama. The other photos are of the folk, perhaps
men dressed in military garb reminiscent of the colonial past. But always
there are images of smiling faces of Black or Brown women as a nanny, a
flower vendor, a exotically costumed female entertainer bending under a
"calypso" bar, camera angle focused on the area between her legs. The men
are manly and the women are welcoming and available in their femininity
(Enloe 1990:32). Not only are women the majority of workers in the tourist
industry, but without their image, visitors would not be lured to these
Tourism is a labor-intensive industry. It requires a high ratio of
employees to paying customers; people who came as tourists need and
expect a lot of service (Ibid.). Furthermore, the kinds of jobs typed as labor-
intensive are also unskilled, low skilled and low cost in terms of wages and
benefits. Unskilled, low skilled work categories assumes that the worker
already knows how to perform the task required by the job. Most of the
jobs in the tourist sector are viewed, in most societies and definitely in the
Caribbean, as the ones that women not only know how to do, but that they
come "naturally" to them. Therefore, housekeeping, doing laundry, cooking,
serving and so forth, are female dominated jobs. Located in a labor market
already rife with gender inequality, the tourist sector low skilled, no skill
female jobs receive low pay. It should come to no surprise then that since
the early 1980s, three-quarters of Caribbean tourism workers are women
(Barry et.al. 1984:85). The Jamaican Government (1990:16:5) reports
employment gains in "other services" for the year 1989. The growth in this
employment sub-sector was related to the positive performance in tourism,
which is "traditionally" female dominated.
A Dann (n.d.) reviewed the literature on the socio-cultural impact of
tourism in reference to the Caribbean. The author notes that the
disproportionate number of women implies low levels of pay and sexual
harassment. Moving further on this point, being on the bottom of the hotel
hierarchy, women face racism and sexism on the part of European or
Euroamerican managers and racism, sexism and classism on the part of the
In her work in Negril, Jamaica, Deborah D'Amico-Samuels provides one
of the few studies on tourism and its impact on women and economic
development. It represents research done from the grassroots woman's
point of view. Most of the working class women, whose lives informed this
study, were vendors in the Negril Crafts Market. D'Amico-Samuels
(1986:xxi) expressed the sentiments of this group.
U.S. tourists were associated with money, valued material items (such
as jeans and cassette recorders), with "softness" (inability to sustain hard
physical labor), and loose morals (casual sex, venereal disease, and drug use),
all of which contrast sharply with the ideal Jamaican working class character.
There were few or no other choices of wage labor but working in a hotel,
restaurant or informal sector work. Market vending was working for
yourself which implied a sense of self-sufficiency which was considered the
Most Jamaican working class women have the sole responsibility of
raising and financially supporting their children and other dependents
(Bolles 1987). The notion of financial autonomy, "independence" (which
includes fulfilling obligations to a domestic network), and authority figures
importantly in women's position in relation to men in Jamaica. Women who
head households provide for themselves and children, meet their physical
and emotional needs and work full-time or as best as possible. Many women
workers in the tourist areas are seasonally employed and/or must rely on
informal sector tourist work. Under the broiling sun, the vendor walks up
and down the beach, trying to sell crafts, fruit, or braid the hair of visitors,
while being harassed by hotel security guards. Seven days a week for many
hours per day, women do this kind of work with no guarantees of meeting
expenses. Small children tag along with their mothers; work and day care
are located in one place. For women hotel workers with small children, day
care is a problem, but it is usually organized via a domestic network of
family and friends. Often items left by guests in their rooms find their way
to workers' homes. What is discarded or of little consequence to carry back
to the States is valued among those who work is bounded by Dec 15th and
April 15th (the high tourist season).
According to the D'Amico-Samuels study, the vendors in Negril market
are engaged in creating economic opportunity in the narrow space between
the "rock" of doing poorly paid scarcely available wage labor and the "hard
place" of living in poverty. Considering these options, selling for oneself.
Negril's tourist sector includes a cottage sector, as well as large tourist
enclaves. Historically, the economic activities of Negril were fishing, small
scale farming, and coconut producing and processing. When the yellowing
disease destroyed the coconut trees, the beach was devoid of the village's
major enterprise. But the barren beach became valuable for land
speculation and tourism development. The social stratification of the
community by class, color and gender already in place was compounded by
this unique situation. The group which benefitted most from tourism, owned
land or had access to capital. Negril's "First Families" reaped the rewards of
selling their holdings at the premium price or developed it themselves. And
the composition of this group depended a great deal on its privileged
class/color position in the past. A number of working class Negrillians were
also able to become upwardly mobile especially through the cottage sector
tourism. However, women in all groups, across class and race did not receive
their equitable share in the economically positive experiences, and perhaps
bore more of the negative consequences of tourism in Negril.
As mentioned earlier, little of the research on tourism focuses on the
folk and their communities. One area where the folk become the center of
attention is their noted resentment of tourists, crime against visitors, and
rudeness. Of course this has to do with the industry's insistence on
providing a pleasurable time for their guests with hopes of encouraging
them to return. Included in the list of problem with the natives is
prostitution. Somewhere beyond the religious appeal for morality does
prostitution receive attention, except when military shore leaves etc. are of
concern. However, sex tourism is a global issue. It requires women in the
"Third World" to be economically desperate enough to enter prostitution;
having done so makes it difficult to leave (Enloe 1990:35). In the Caribbean
context, the male visitor, (read white) views certain women, usually women
of color, as more available and more sexually exotic than his white female
counterpart at home. There is a sense of excitement of "forbidden fruit" and
carnal lust in these sexual encounters. Sex for sale is a predominantly
woman's occupation, but in Jamaica and perhaps throughout the region, men
are engaged in these same economic activities. In Jamaica it is called "rent-
a-Dread." Here the white women visitors definitely fulfills her fantasy of
forbidden fruit viz the seething Black brute stud/prowess.
The following are some issues to be incorporated in a study from a
woman folk perspective located on the north coast of Jamaica:
1. The economic activities of women workers have to looked at in terms of
all sub-sectors of the industry, including perhaps most importantly
allied informal sector ventures and prostitution. Employment
histories are critical.
2. Since most Jamaican working class women are sole supporters of their
families, materials collected must include a variety of people within
and outside of the residential unit, plus household composition, life
cycle data, domestic network structures and migratory patterns.
3. The place where women tourist sector residents or workers encounter
tourists is important in understanding their perception of them.
Resentment and hostility are located on a two way street of racism,
sexism, classism and national chauvinism.
4. Has the Government intervened in enclave tourism and has the
community in questions had any input in the decision-making?
5. What infrastructure improvements where put in place prior to tourist
development or at the expense of the community?
6. What kinds of relations does the MNC hotelier demand which smacks of
racism and sexism from North America or Europe?
7. What are the institutions in the community church, schools etc. which
reinforce inequality between guests and folk or is there commitment
for recasting the relationship?
8. In the tourist sector accountable for its actions? Is there dialog between
community, local government, workers, residents, etc. How about the
role of local elites?
9. Is there organized labor representation and how effective is it?
10. What are the community's/tourist sector provisions for the future? How
are children dealt with by all parties?
Research from a folk perspective turns these "normal" issues and
problems about tourism around to focus not on the visitor, but on the people
who remain when everyone else has gone back home.
Attix, Shelly 1986 "Socially Responsible Travel: How to Prevent the Social
and Ecological Damage of Tourism" In Bluding Elonomn Alternamves
Barry, Tom, Beth Woods and Deb Preusch 1984 The Other sde of Paradis,.
Foreign Controlia the c^Tribbe.nNew York: Grove Press.
Bolles, A. Lynn 1987 My Mother who Fathered me and Others Working
Paper # 175 Women and Development, Michigan State.
D'Amico-Samuels, Deborah 1986 "You Can't Get me Out of the Race: Women
and Economic Development in Negril, Jamaica" Ph.D. diss.., Dept of
Anthropology, Ph.D. Graduate Center City University of New York.
Dann, A. (n.d.) UN-ECLAC Literature Review on Socio-Cultural Impacts of
Dann,Graham 1984 The Qality of Life in Aartads. Barbados: Macmillan
Deere, Carmen Diana, et.al. 1990 In the ,Sadows at the -un. Boulder:
Enloe, Cynthia 1990 Banaas i B ches andBases. Berkeley: Univ of California.
Gayle, Dennis 1990 "Managing Commonwealth Caribbean Tourism for
Development in the Twentyfirst Century" A paper presented at the
Caribbean Studies Assoc.Meeting, Trinidad and Tobago, May 1990.
Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988 A ,Smal/Pace. New York: Plume.
Lewis, Gordon K. 1968 The Growth of the Mtoern Wes.t Ind/s. New York:
Monthly Review Press.
Planning Institute of Jamaica 1990 A ivnmic and SodaJ Survey famaic
1989 Kingston: PIJ.
Thomas, C.Y. 1988. The FAr and thAe we.rless New York : Monthly Review.