Everywhere Jane and I walk, everyone we meet, every Nicaraguan believes in the inevitability of tourism rescuing their country. It becomes a part of almost every conversation. Tourism has now surpassed coffee as the country’s number one industry. In their politicians, Nicaraguans now seek men who understand the industry, what drives people here, how to work the infrastructure along the way. Aspiring university students seek out hotel management degrees.
The American who builds a small hotel in a Nicaraguan city, who learns its language and its customs, brings capital and wealth to that city. He builds upon the city’s traditions and its beauty.
These Americans are already rescuing Nicaragua from its poverty. I know too well that Nicaragua now has a choice: to rely on these expats and a budding tourism industry, or to fall for the temptation of the hedge fund tourism developers who want to recreate a slice of California or Arizona on their coasts, in their rainforests and mountains.
Jamaica’s coral reefs have been destroyed by mega-developments; St. Lucia’s culture is broken by cruise-ship tourism. In other countries, its casinos and drugs and big money and trashy tourists with dollars and steep expectations. Natives become aliens in their own land. Often, they shed their agriculture-based economy for a single hope: tourism. Their entire GDP, focused on one industry.
In the April/May 2006 issue of Islands Magazine, an advertisement by the country of Turks & Caicos appears to follow the new model. The ad states, “Today, (our country) is quickly evolving into the world’s most sought after destination by celebrities and the world’s elite. A multi-billion dollar investment in new amenities includes a casino, deep-water marinas, championship golf courses, exotic resorts, and world-class dining and shopping…”
It is up to Nicaragua to distinguish between the American in the gardening gloves, and the American in the shiny black shoes.