Virgin Atlantic and the Travel Foundation dig a deeper hole for themselves, continue to condescend to Caribbean youth

In response to my indictment of the ‘charitable’ efforts of Virgin Atlantic and the Travel Foundation to turn a generation of young people in the Caribbean into fisherfolk and bee-keepers, a Virgin representative posted the following in the comments:

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.

To which I have this to say:

I did not say that tourism is key to the region’s economy. In fact, most of the islands are attempting to diversify away from a dependency on tourism, particularly in light of the ongoing global financial crisis.

You – Virgin and the Travel Foundation – are talking your book. Tourism in the Caribbean is to your benefit.

Your projects are not merely small; they are insulting. The Caribbean’s youth are educated, technically savvy, computer-literate, driven and ambitious. But you think ‘small scale’ fish farming is more important than developing financial services, media, advertising, marketing, manufacturing…

Pardon me if I don’t buy into your argument that relying on the fickle tastes of British tourists gives my peers “independence and choice”.

Your pitch might work on someone who has not grown up in the region, who has no idea of the scale and speed of the development in the Caribbean, someone whose idea of these islands is ‘sun, sea, sand and subservience.’ I am not that person. You, however, quite obviously are.

  • Bryan

    As a corporate strategist in the UK and an ex-employee of Virgin Atlantic cargo – Caribbean, I understand the point the Virgin rep was making. The extent to which it was the best example to use fish and bee conservation is debatable. However, as a consultant I try to understand the business link, and how corporate activities interplay with elements within society and then try to improve upon those areas where the corporation interact with its environment. The logic expressed is feasible and as a West Indian not insulting. Apart from my academic achievements and degrees behind my name, I still aspire to be a farmer, as I see the procedural link to prosperity.
    Nevertheless, what I would admonish the Virgin Foundation to do is to make these social initiatives scaleable and sustainable. Scaleable so that individuals involved in Fishing or Bee conservation can hire additional labour – contributing to the multiplier effect in the economy and thereby sustained organic growth. And sustainable, so that a profitable industry can grow out of this area. Being technically savvy has nothing to do with a focus on environmental issues of waste management and food security. I advise all to search the Financial Times for articles on sustainability and water management.

  • nsteinhardt

    It's really amazing how 10 yeas ago all you could do for a loved one serving the country was write a letter and light a candle.

  • M Saiwn

    I'm not taking sides but the tourism is the key to the region's economy. Or at least it was. I have to agree with you when you say that fish farming is a little too enclosed of an option. It's important but trying developing other areas such as financial services, media, advertising would be in my opinion the answer. It's more compatible with the tourism.

  • dylen

    my name is khan