Virgin Atlantic’s patronising ‘help the Caribbean’ campaign

Hats off to Virgin Atlantic and the Travel Foundation for rendering me completely speechless:

The Travel Foundation cares for the people and places we all love to visit. Sustainable tourism can help protect traditions, culture and the natural environment – the things that make your holiday special. It can also improve the lives of the people who live in tourist destinations so they are happy and able to give you a warm welcome.

And the great news is that all of this gives you an even better holiday experience as well as ensuring there are great places for us all to visit, for generations to come.

We’re changing lives in the Caribbean – Over the next three years, the Travel Foundation will work on the profound social and environmental effect of tourism in the Caribbean, where we fly 800,000 customers a year. They will support entrepreneurial business development among disadvantaged youth, particularly in the areas of craft making, beekeeping and fishing.

Our fantastic beekeeping project will help young people learn about traditional skills so they can produce honey to sell to the tourism industry. This will aid the conservation of the honey bee and give you an even sweeter taste of the Caribbean.

Tilapia fish farming is an educational programme that will teach about over-fishing and help young people develop small businesses, enabling them to sell farmed fish to local hotels and restaurants. This will demonstrate an alternative livelihood to traditional fishing and allow you to enjoy fresh fish from a sustainable source while you’re having a fabulous holiday.

Our craft making project will teach new skills, helping young people produce crafts from recycled materials collected from hotels, thereby reducing waste and offering new business opportunities. So, in the near future, you’ll also get to buy hand-made souvenirs in a new craft centre – a unique reminder of your time away!

That text, taken from the airline’s website, was also included in Virgin’s in-flight ‘Seatback’ magazine, which is where I first saw it. I am incensed by the campaign, however well-intentioned those behind it may purport to be.

Both Virgin and the Travel Foundation appear to think that the only opportunities for ‘disadvantaged youth’ in the Caribbean are in ‘craft making, beekeeping and fishing.’ Gosh, development has just passed those backward-but-smiling natives right by!

Both the language and the substance of the text contrive to reinforce the image of the Caribbean as a homogenous, tourist-dependent bloc, and of its people as suited only to such ‘traditional skills’ as fish farming and craft making. The emphasis on the contributions of these poor, straw-hat wearing Caribbean folk to the hotel and restaurant industries in the region is even more infuriating.

Thanks, Virgin and the Travel Foundation, for reducing the ambitions and potential of an entire generation of young people in the Caribbean to kowtowing to tourists.