VOL. 2 - No. 2 YEAR/AÑO 2010

ISSN 1997-2520


The Three Cs of Caribbean Tourism: Contexts, Characteristics, and Consequences*

Art Padilla

Department of Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship College of Management, North Carolina State University Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Jerome L. McElroy

Department of Business Administration and Economics, Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, Saint Mary’s College Notre Dame, Indiana, USA

Submitted:11th September 2009; Resubmitted: 18th February 2010; Accepted: 23rd February 2010. ISSN: 1997-2520


n The metaphor of the “Three Cs” (context, characteristics, and consequences) is employed to derive a framework around which to view the phenomenon of tourism. Each element is closely related to the others, and each is affected by and embedded within the others. As an ensemble, the Three Cs determine the configuration of tourism at particular destinations. It is a simple yet analytically powerful mechanism that brings a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of tourism problems, enabling a more nuanced understanding of international tourism issues and challenges. The paper attempts to make two points. First, the tourism style or character in a given destination is a function of a complex interrelated set of macro socio-economic and historical forces -the contexts- that differ from destination to destination (or island to island). Second, the interplay between the contexts and characteristics largely defines the consequences or results that are observed, both positive and negative. To illustrate the Three Cs approach, contrasting analyses were made between the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos, with extensions to Cuba. We suggest the Three Cs model is sufficiently broad to fit a variety of destinations and can result in better regional policy conclusions.


Multi-disciplinary, Three Cs model, Caribbean tourism, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos.


n La metáfora de las “Tres C” (contexto, características y consecuencias) se emplea para obtener un marco alrededor del cual visualizar el fenómeno del turismo. Cada elemento está estrechamente relacionado con los otros, y cada uno se ve afectado por e insertado en los otros. En conjunto, las Tres C determinan la configuración del turismo en destinos específicos. Es un mecanismo simple pero potente analíticamente que aporta un enfoque multidisciplinario al análisis de los problemas del turismo, lo que permite una comprensión más matizada de las temáticas y los desafíos del turismo internacional. El trabajo intenta destacar dos aspectos. En primer lugar, el estilo o carácter del turismo en un determinado destino resulta de un complejo conjunto interrelacionado de macro fuerzas socio-económicas e históricas -los contextos- que difieren de destino a destino (o de isla a isla). En segundo lugar, la interacción entre el contexto y las características define en gran medida las consecuencias o resultados que se observan, tanto positivos como negativos. Para ilustrar el enfoque de las Tres C, se realizaron análisis contrastados entre la República Dominicana y las Islas Turcas y Caicos, con extensiones a Cuba. Sugerimos el modelo de Tres C es lo suficientemente amplio para adaptarse a una variedad de destinos y puede dar lugar a mejores conclusiones de política regional.

Palabras clave:

multidisciplinario, Modelo Tres Cs, turismo caribeño, Cuba, República Dominicana, Islas Turcas y Caicos

*An earlier version of this paper was presented to the 30th Annual Caribbean Studies Association Meetings in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, May 30 – June 4, 2005.

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Jerome L. McElroy The Three Cs of Caribbean Tourism: Contexts, Characteristics, and Consequences*

Extensions to Cuba

Finally, in the case of Cuba, the Caribbean tourism leader in the pre-Castro era, the key context features in the rapid drive to create foreign exchange and employment through large-scale, all-inclusive, European investment have been the absence of local capital/entrepreneurship, an abundance of unexploited coastal and interior biodiversity assets and, most importantly, the massive loss of assistance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In conclusion,


the success of the model in highlighting the underlying determinants of tourism evolution in these three islands suggests further applications are warranted. These might include the contrasting profiles of upscale Bermuda with all-inclusive St. Lucia, and perhaps Nevis with its sister island of St. Kitts.

Although Cuba was the dominant insular destination in the Caribbean in the late 1950s (Maribona, 1959), tourism became “a capitalistic vice” under Castro. It virtually disappeared in the early 1960s. In recent years, new context factors have surfaced for Cuban tourism. These include Cuba’s re-emergence as a “new” destination, its vast and semi-unexploited resources and biodiversity, its relative poverty of income, and a desperate need for capital. In addition, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the subsequent loss of $6 billion in annual Russian subsidies contracted the economy by one third (Gonzalez, 2002). These factors contributed to the re-emergence of tourism in Cuba. Castro’s reluctant but aggressive pursuit of European and Canadian investors to develop large-scale beachside resorts (many all-inclusives) yielded rapid returns. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of visitors rose 120 percent and hotel rooms by 65 percent (WTO, 2008).

As a result, tourism has become the second foreign exchange earner behind remittances from Cuban-Americans. Currently, over two million tourists visit annually and spend approximately $2.5 billion. Cuba ranks second in the Caribbean behind DR in capacity (hotel rooms) and third in arrivals and total expenditure (WTO, 2008). However, the industry has not become the hoped-for solution, for several reasons. First, extreme dependence on vertically integrated foreign hotel chains has resulted in large income leakages estimated at over 80 percent and capital-intensive stresses on local utilities. For example, it is estimated that the average tourist uses ten times more water daily than the average resident (WTTC, 1995; Davies & Cahill, 2000). Strains on the infrastructure are magnified by the lack of funds available to improve it.

In addition, centralized control has reduced cost efficiencies in industry and allied services and limited the growth of local entrepreneurship and management. The government’s policy to practice “apartheid” tourism keeps local populations away from visitors to minimize cultural and domestic political impacts. Similarly, the placing of large-


scale resorts on offshore keys and deserted islands further tends to mask local concerns or disagreements arising from mass tourism’s impact on the socio-economic structure. All such practices further reduce the local tourism income multiplier. As a result, Cuba typifies a middle-and-down, mass market Caribbean destination. There is heavy dependence on non-US tourists who stay roughly ten days and spend on average of $1,082 per trip and $103 per day. Overall, net tourism revenues, even when augmented by remittances from Cuban-American exiles, represent less than one-third of the peak Soviet assistance (Perez-Lopez, 2001).

It is more difficult to discuss the Three Cs model under conditions that might exist after the Castro brothers depart. A great deal depends on how much and how fast the economy and the political systems evolve during the post-Castro era. A rapid transition toward democracy and private property rights under a new or revised constitution would generate the most impact. This outcome, a relatively rapid turn toward democracy and capitalism, seems increasingly unlikely (Padilla & McElroy, 2007). However, even with a transformational political and social reform after the Castro brothers, there would be still need for major improvements in the quality, value, and diversity of the island’s tourism product (Sharpley & Knight, 2008). In addition, similar pressures and challenges highlighted above for the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos would likely obtain in Cuba, though perhaps with greater force. The “forbidden” aspects of Cuba travel by US residents are likely to uncap an avalanche of interest in the island, at least for the near term (Padilla & McElroy, 2007). In such a case, a particular emphasis on two aspects might avoid some of the problems plaguing Caribbean destinations today: an international effort to “jump-start” the development of strong local governments and significant strengthening in the preparation of environmental scientists and regional planners with independence of action and support from government leaders.

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The relatively simple but analytically powerful Three Cs framework brings a multi-disciplinary, general framework to the analysis of tourism problems, enabling a more sophisticated understanding of the issues and challenges. The model is broad enough to fit the wide variety of destinations and can therefore result in better regional policy conclusions. In summary, the model is a broad-based descriptive attempt to argue two points. First, the specific tourism style or character in a given destination is largely a function of a complex interrelated set of macro socioeconomic and historical forces -the contexts -that differ from island to island. Second, the interplay between the contexts and characteristics largely conditions the consequences, both positive and negative.

In the model’s application, contrasting cases were drawn between the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos. The former’s propensity to create large-scale, mass-market, environmentally intrusive, all-inclusive resorts reflects several factors: failing non-tourist sectors, widespread demographic and unemployment pressures, weak government planning oversight, and a legacy of ecosystem neglect. The Turks and Caicos preference for upscale or boutique tourism is predominantly a function of viable non-tourist sectors (fishing and finance), a cadre of civil service professionals, and a unique natural patrimony of reefs and wildlife conducive to high-end and high value-added ecotourism. The sense of civic government and local involvement in tourism issues (buttressed by the oversight and resources of Great Britain) are also more highly visible (or developed) in the Turks and Caicos.

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Biographical notes

Jerome L. McElroy is Professor of Economics in the Department of Business Administration and Economics at Saint Mary’s with a research specialty in small-island development, sustainable tourism, and the socio-economic and demographic contours of the small island tourist-driven economy.

Contact details:

Art Padilla is professor and head of theDepartment of Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at NC State University in Raleigh, NC. He has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean, most recently as a Fulbright Scholar, and writes about leadership and management. He is currently writing a book on leadership for Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Art Padilla Department of Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship College of Management North Carolina State University Raleigh NC 27695-7229, USA E-mail: art_padilla@ncsu.edu

Jerome L. McElroy Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership Department of Business Administration and Economics Saint Mary’s College Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, USA E-mail: jmcelroy@saintmarys.edu

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