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Dominica weekly is a personal weblog about the nature island of Dominica.


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Besides all the damages done to Dominica’s coastline by Hurricane Omar, the 2008 Tourist Season opened today (October 25th) as schedule. A week ago most people was skeptical whether or not the local authorities would be able to get the Roseau Cruise Ship Berth repaired in time to welcome the Emerald Princess – the ship of the season. But after lots of collaborative work by the Discover Dominica Authority and the Dominica Sea/Port Authority the Emerald Princess was able to dock safely, and hundreds of visitors were able to enjoy a the perfect tropical day. What a great day it was to welcome the new tourist season.

A heartfelt thanks to all guys at the Discover Dominica and the Dominica Sea/Port Authority who made a special effort to have everything ready, especially after all damages done by hurricane Omar. Thanks!!!

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Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be in the charming company of celebrated Caribbean Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, at our first ever Literary Festival held on the beautifully manicured grounds of the University of the West Indies.

Quite an opinionated and beguiling fellow, I must say. Among his words of wisdom was an interesting comparison of slavery and tourism. From Mr. Walcott’s point of view, ‘at least, during slavery you didn’t have to smile’. Walcott certainly has a basis for such an innovative comparison. And I am aware that his sentiments are shared by many.

Thousands of persons in the tourism industry, all over the Caribbean are inclined to work in this sector mainly by the attraction of high value foreign currency, and the fact that relatively little training is required, but not necessarily because it offers occupations in which they are passionately interested. Apart from this scenario, our regional governments seem ever so intent on convincing us that success in tourism is our only significant prospect for economic prosperity.

So the people go about their jobs with plastic smiles, often making ridiculously large efforts to grin, laugh and be friendly to the tourist. Children, from a very tender age are taught to wave and smile at the larger-than-life tourists while they drive by on the bus like celebrities taking pictures of the simple island people.

The funny thing is many of us forget that the average tourist is able to realize when someone is overly eager to please him, with sugary words of greeting. Let’s face it- if the Caribbean’s service sector was overloaded with so many brilliant actors and actresses in disguise, we would have our own colony in Hollywood by now.

I am not against tourism, but I certainly agree with those who feel that in too many islands it has not yielded returns which are comparable to the large investments and sacrifices made to accommodate visitors. Just think about it. Too frequently, you can’t get a bus to home, school or work when there’s a cruise ship in port- the bus drivers all morph into taxi men. The road network is often totally jammed as a result of the cruise ship as well and both students and workers must leave their houses more that 15-30 minutes earlier than on a regular dat. Sometimes the water system to certain communities is disrupted to supply the needs of the ship in port.

As long as tourism remains the main focus for economic development by our Caribbean leaders, these are situations to which we all must adjust, whether we like them or not. But one of the downfalls of tourism is that it really does make some of us feel like we just can’t do much better for ourselves as a people, for economic survival. The average vendor- toothless or not- must smile all through his day- or else the tourist will feel uncomfortable and he won’t get paid.

I never thought about it, but here are probably a lot of vendors out there who don’t want to have a smile stuck on their face all day long. But they have too. It’s this sort of compulsive ‘singing for our supper’ role that Walcott was referring to. Once again, he is opening our eyes…

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I once met a man named Jason, while standing at the bayfront cruise ship berth on my lunch break. We forged a conversation, searing social criticism, island styles, ironic humor, and good food (though not necessarily in that order).

When our conversion ended, I watched Jason on his on wheelchair trying to navigate the uneven cobbled streets and narrow sidewalks of my hometown of Roseau, Dominica, and I began to think about the accessibility of travel for people with disabilities. Being a disabled traveler involves challenges many others don’t have to face. But is movement getting easier or harder for disabled travelers to move around?

Increasingly, it is becoming easier for people with disabilities to travel, but when you look at most of the tourist sites and facilities in Dominica very few of them are accessible by disable tourists. Though I understand the number of disable tourist is very small, but if Dominica markets its self as one of the Caribbean destinations that welcomes disabilities travelers, they will come.

Many ships now have signs posted in Braille and in December, 2007 Royal Caribbean realized just how much of a boon disabled travelers can be for business when more than 3,800 deaf and hard of hearing passengers set sail together on a cruise that was specifically designed to meet their needs.

But for those adventure travelers with disabilities, who aren’t willing to wait for the tourism industry to adapt to their needs, the world is waiting for you and here is an open invitation to come visit Dominica. Most Dominicans are friendly and helpful.

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