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.

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  • Travel Foundation

    The Travel Foundation and Virgin Atlantic were concerned to read your comments on our work together in the Caribbean. We believe that the projects will bring huge benefits and stimulate entrepreneurship along with addressing pressing environmental issues. Here is further information which should allay any concerns and provide more information.
    You are correct in saying that tourism is key to the region's economy. In 2008, travel and tourism provided over 2.1m jobs and 15% of the region's GDP but there is an opportunity to spread the benefits tourism brings further.
    There are significant issues with youth unemployment in the Caribbean with as many as 30% of 20-24 year olds out of work.
    The projects that we have chosen to develop may seem small, but they are very significant. They link to the globally-important environmental issues of waste management, fish and bee conservation – issues that are vital to food security.
    By creating new, small-scale, local business opportunities many of the skills learned can be applied to any business which gives young people independence and choice.
    These initiatives will offer choice, new opportunities and new skills for entrepreneurship with the aim that this will create new jobs and opportunities for income generation.
    The Travel Foundation and Virgin Atlantic

  • Travel Foundation is really doing a great job….
    Keep up the good stuff…..