Destination or Destitution?: Closing the Gap Between Resort Area Tourists and Locals

by The Cowl Editor on January 17, 2019


Photo of a Punta Cana resort.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic is a popular spring break
destination for Providence College students. Photo courtesy of Excellence Resorts.

Pink sands, turquoise waters, and palm trees are what one envisions when thinking of Cancún, Mexico or Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Thousands flock to the Caribbean and Central American resorts for a tropical getaway, full of sun and endless cocktails.

Outside of the walls of the resorts, which most often serve foreigners, life for the locals is not nearly as picturesque. Poverty and crime grip many communities, and paint chipped shanties starkly contrast with the luxurious resorts.

Although many locals work at these resorts, the majority of the revenue stays in the hands of the wealthy owners. According to East Carolina University,  three billion U.S. dollars enter Cancún annually. 

However, “hotel housekeepers earn about 50 pesos a day, or about $5, not including tips.” Even if tips are generous, such an income can only raise workers just above the poverty line.

In addition to the poverty levels of Cancún, the New York Post reports rising levels of violent crimes in Cancún and its surrounding areas. 

Attributed to the battling among drug cartels for territory, the violence most often affects lower income communities. 

According to the World Bank, Mexico’s poverty rate hovers at roughly 43.6 percent of the national population. The Dominican Republic, although steadily dropping in poverty rates, has a third of the country’s population in poverty.

While the contrast between the wealthy tourists and impoverished hotel employees is staggering, the tourism industry does provide jobs and income to the local communities, though not nearly enough. 

Since Cancún and Punta Cana are favorite destinations of Providence College students for spring and winter breaks, being aware  of the gap between tourists and locals is essential. In order to better support local communities, there are a few possible options for students to take when traveling.

First, choosing a hotel that donates its leftover food to nearby nonprofits can help feed the community. Mountains of food, untouched by visitors at buffets, often rot in the garbage. 

Some hotels, however, have partnerships with nonprofits such as Huellas de Pan, located in Cancún, that distribute leftover food to lower income areas. 

By opting to stay in no-waste hotels, tourists can help support and feed local communities. If masses of tourists make this decision, pressure for non-participating hotels to join can ensure that all food is distributed to those in need.

Regardless of the hotel, tipping the employees is crucial. Most daily wages are meager, and the majority of income comes from the generosity of guests. 

Although students typically want to save money as much as they can on an already expensive trip, cutting corners in tipping should not be an option. Most, if not all Caribbean resorts accept American dollars, so there is no excuse to be stingy with hardworking employees. 

Lastly, buying from local vendors and artisans is a great way to guarantee that tourist money goes straight to the community. In many popular tourist sites, kiosks run by locals sell knick-knacks and souvenirs. 

Choosing to buy from these kiosks rather than hotel gift shops directly aids the community rather than large companies. It can often be a better deal, too.

When traveling to the Caribbean for spring break, be aware of the gap between tourists and locals. Small decisions, such as tipping the housekeeper or purchasing souvenirs from a vendor, can make a large impact. 

The complicity of tourists in the support of large companies prevents the locals from benefiting more from the tourism industry. Be aware of the situation, make decisions that aid locals, and be part of the change to close the wealth gap.