| November 2005
It requires a special effort to write about the subject of tourism fairly. So many lovely places have been despoiled by hordes of rubber-necked visitors that it's easy to see tourism as a modern plague. The problem was aptly described a few years ago by the Director of the National Park Service in the United States: "We're hired to preserve the natural beauty of the Parks for the enjoyment of future generations. So many members of THIS generation are enjoying them NOW , that the Parks are being destroyed." a similar sentiment reverberates throughout many of the world's loveliest places.
More than two hundred thousand visitors came to St. Barths last year, and although a substantial percentage were day-tripping cruise ship passengers, this remains an impressive number for a community of less than ten thousand inhabitants. Moreover, most of these people arrive between Christmas and Easter, a period locally referred to as "The Season". The phrase is used elsewhere to describe periods of legal hunting and fishing. Its use here, for the busiest time of the year, is not entirely coincidental. It would not be a great surprise to see a boutique owner on her way home with a plump tourist lashed across the front fender of her car.
Tourism is a leading moneymaker in all of those parts of the world not afflicted with civil strife or burdened with awful weather. It is a vital monetary force in all of the West Indies, and it is virtually the only viable livelihood available to St. Barths' residents.
Local folk realize this, and most are willing to put up with a certain degree of unpleasantness to accommodate those things that will attract and amuse tourists. There is, of course, a limit, and just where the line is to be drawn is one of the island community's ongoing preoccupations.
Any private dinner party echoes the same litany of complaints: too much building, too many cars, a lowering class of tourists, too many carpetbaggers, the degradation of the environment, etc..
It has become a specialized form of local wit to find a new, erudite complaint about imminent change: the suggestion that someone may inaugurate a car ferry from St. Maarten will immediately raise both eyebrows and heart rates.
There is a good deal of truth contained in all this belly-aching, but the fact remains that the development of St. Barths has been handled pretty well.
Vacationers go where they please, day and night, without any anxiety about their safety, and without a sympathetic concern for the sad poverty of the inhabitants. When visitors meet someone who lives here - a more likely prospect than in many tourist destinations - they often reveal a trace of envy.
The first tourist supplied welcome money for a new straw hat and a new package of fish hooks. Today the flood of visitors finances children's higher education, a comfortable house to live in, a decent car or two, telephones, satellite TV, broadband internet connections, and round-trip tickets to Gay Paree.
Not too bad.
Not too bad at all.
More to come,