Warnings have been sounded about the perils of having an economy based largely on tourism – just as St Helena is trying to do exactly that with the building of its airport.
Holidaymakers are seen as the great hope for liberating the island from dependence on overseas aid, but it puts islands “at the mercy” of the global economy, according to warnings from other UK overseas territories.
The St Helena Tourism acknowledges the problem itself – reporting that visitor numbers have increased by 3% despite a downturn in the global tourism economy.
The concerns – in response to a UK government consulation – have just been made public in an independent report.
Warnings about seeking other sources of income came from the governments of the British Virgin Islands, the Falklands, the Cayman Islands and Anguilla, in the consultation on the future of Britain’s island outposts.
One Anguillan writer said: “Economy is too dependent on the tourism sector, and as a consequence is at the mercy of the global economy.”
The premier of the British Virgin Islands said falling income from tourism was having effects “across all sectors of society.”
A private comment to this website noted that St Helena was heading towards the same hazard: “We are trying to create a tourist-dependent economy.”
The same correspondent also picked up on a call from St Helena Tourism Association to protect the island’s main tourism asset – its heritage. “The Tourist Dept talk of the need to protect extraordinary historical sites of global significance, whilst destroying ten metres of Eighteenth Century pavement” – a reference to cobbles being broken up in Jamestown (see story, below).
Vince Thompson, chairman of the tourism association – an independent body – says the island’s economic development plan “quite rightly” concentrates on tourism.
But he also says it “does not give enough attention to the development of other economic activities.” He says he is continuing discussions on the point.
St Helena Government reports say improvements to the island’s health and education services depend on developing private enterprise, to capitalise on the opening of the airport in 2015.
Visitor numbers on St Helena rose by 3% in 2011. The number of people arriving by yacht rose by 11% – on top of a 15% increase the previous year. Cruise ship visits – not included in the overall figures – have also increased.
St Helena Tourism said: “This is especially encouraging when one considers that international tourism has suffered over the past couple of years on the back of the global recession.”