The Caribbean is a slightly contradictory place. Its islands boast wild, pristine landscapes, abundant bird and marine life and fascinating culture, yet the entire region is more readily associated with beach holidays and is a magnet for anyone seeking sun, sea and relaxation. Tourism is undoubtedly the lifeblood of the Caribbean, but some of tourism’s biggest offenders have rushed in to cater for this demand for a ‘taste of paradise’. All inclusive resorts and mega cruise ships accommodate large quantities of tourists throughout the region, but offer questionable benefits for local communities. There are also a number of captive animal centres dotted through the region where tourists are encouraged to interact with marine animals – something we feel is morally and ethically wrong. A holiday here can be about so much more than beaches, and happily, by avoiding the clichéd Caribbean break, you can also avoid some of its most irresponsible pitfalls, too.


All inclusive & cruise ships

Two of the least responsible tourism models exist in the Caribbean – all inclusive resorts and cruise ships. Both contribute huge numbers of people to the region, but with limited benefits to the local economy. All inclusive resorts generally create limited local economic benefits and have a large environmental footprint. They sometimes have beaches that are reserved exclusively for tourist use, with fences and security keeping local people out. The worst offending resorts my even warn tourists about the ‘security threat’ posed by local people – which may or may not exist – and recommend that they stay within the resort. Tourism Concern reports that in the Dominican Republic, all inclusive holidays have been blamed for restaurant closures and increased negative attitude towards tourists. Read more about our stance on all inclusive resorts around the world. Through research into employment standards in all inclusive around the world, Tourism Concern also found numerous employment issues, including failure to recognise workers’ rights to join a trade union; lack of training; being pressurised into working a considerable amount of unpaid overtime; and not earning a living wage.

Large cruise ships are another mass tourism offender. There are numerous ways in which these floating cities impact negatively on the destinations they visit and on the oceans themselves. They disgorge thousands of tourists to ports which stresses infrastructure but delivers little economic benefit. They are polluting and often have a bad record when it comes to treatment of staff. Find out more about these huge vessels and why we don’t support or market holidays on large cruise ships.
What you can do
If you like the idea of a resort, seek out those that operate responsibly. The best resorts build a loyal and skilled local workforce, reduce energy costs and waste, source fresh local produce and offer an exciting range of sensitively planned excursions. This model benefits the destination, the local people and the tourist.

You won’t struggle to find small, locally run accommodation in the Caribbean either, so do seek that out as an alternative to resorts and all inclusives. These not only keep money within the local community, they deliver a really personal and intimate experience of the destination – win-win, in fact.

If cruising floats your boat, pick a small cruise ship or yacht and take to the waves with a clean conscience, on a clean, non-polluting vessel that supports local people and docks at small harbours that can’t be reached by large liners, spreading the economic benefits of tourism wider and keeping them respectful, too.

Wildlife & environment

Captive wildlife

Many Caribbean Islands have a good record for conservation of wildlife and birds. St Lucia, for example, has brought its endemic St Lucia parrot species back from the brink of extinction in recent decades following island wide campaigns and a breeding programme. It also does good work to protect the eggs of turtles that nest here from sand mining and poaching.

Sadly, though, the Caribbean islands are simultaneously home to some really questionable captive animal centres. There are several dolphinariums around the region, where tourists can swim with, pet or watch dolphins perform. And there is also the Cayman Turtle Centre in the Cayman Islands, where visitors can hug and pass around young turtles and can swim with adult turtles in a lagoon. The Centre markets this as a rare chance to be in contact with endangered green sea turtles, which are in decline due to egg poaching, habitat degradation and entanglement with fishing nets. What most visitors don’t realise is that this is also a farm, where the turtles are bred in captivity and then killed for their meat, which is traditionally eaten here. The way the turtles are kept is also a source of deep concern. These solitary animals are kept in tanks containing hundreds of turtles. In the wild, they can dive to 150m, but in the farm are kept in shallow tanks. This is farming with the worst animal welfare standards, all dressed up as a unique tourist opportunity.

At Responsible Travel we believe keeping dolphins, whales and turtles in captivity is morally and ethically wrong. We don’t promote any tours that include zoo visits either and we encourage travellers to enjoy seeing wildlife in the wild, where it belongs, in ways that support conservation of habitats and species.

What you can do
World Animal Protection has a campaign to stop sea turtle farming. Join its online petition to urge a global cruise line to stop sending tens of thousands of its passengers to the Cayman Turtle Centre each year.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: pshanson] [Cruise ships: I AM] [Turtle: Adam]