From pain to pleasure: Tobago and tourism
News day reporter
DR RITA PEMBERTON
The secular decline of Tobago’s sugar industry, despite its glaring signals, failed to convince the island’s sugar planters that the outlook for sugar was bleak.
Stubbornly, they persisted in the belief that its problems would be solved if they maintained a firm grip on the workforce. They sought to extract profits through their exactions from resident workers, which spurred many unresolved planter/worker disputes that hampered real estate operations. Their unwavering belief that their problem and its solution lay in manpower led to several failed attempts to gain Imperial support for immigration schemes.
Even as the situation worsened and the island’s revenues, which could not meet its administrative expenses, left it with mounting debt, they continued to hope for an elusive revival.
Their reluctance to give up sugar continued until the 1884 collapse of Gillespie and Company, the last firm that would extend credit to Tobago planters, forced them to face the reality that they were whipping a horse. died, and Tobago’s days as a sugar producer were over.
Ironically, the surviving large planters followed the lead of their labor and were forced to accept the need for agricultural diversification. They flirted with a range of crops, including limes, cocoa and coconuts, which failed to deliver the long-term benefits hoped for.
During the second decade of the 20th century, the collapse of the cocoa industry stimulated discussions of the new economic enterprise. Tourism, which provided an opportunity to exhibit and exploit the natural beauty of the island, was readily accepted by the planter class.
The tourism industry evolved from hospitality services provided by middle-class women who recognized the need for these services. By the end of the 19th century they operated small guesthouses providing accommodation to visitors and officials who came to do business on the island and to residents of more remote rural areas who had business to attend to in Scarborough.
The number of visitor arrivals increased as the island was advertised as a prime tourist destination by plantation owners and their associates, and later by the film industry, which found it an ideal location.
Demand for accommodation has increased in and around Scarborough, both for holidaymakers and for people with business transactions. The city, as a commercial and administrative center, the location of the port, the starting point to cross the island and later with easy access to the airport, was ideal for the location of the hotel.
Second, plantation owners viewed their estates as of prime value for tourism because they were either close to beaches and/or had views of striking landscapes and seascapes.
Moreover, the available resident labor could be easily converted into cheap labor in hotels.
In 1924, Tobago’s first hotel, Speyside Inn, was established, led by Harry Hislop Tucker. This was followed by Fontainebleau in 1926 and in 1927 by Burleigh Guest House, owned by Capt RJ Link, which was close to the Robinson Crusoe Hotel and a mile from Scarborough. The Aberfoyle hotel in Bacolet opened in 1929 and in 1930 the Bacolet and Welbec guest houses.
The pace of hotel establishment accelerated from the 1940s with the Tobago Country Club and the Savoy and Samuel’s Guest House in 1945.
The Robinson Crusoe Hotel, which overlooked Rockley Bay, was off Milford Road, about a mile from Scarborough. It offered sports activities that were not practiced by the locals. Included were bridge and poker tables, a nine-hole golf course, which operated until World War II broke out, a tennis court, and a small library and piano. With its well-stocked bar, electric lights and modern sanitary facilities, the hotel has become a meeting place for the island’s wealthy population.
Bacolet Guest House, a mile from Scarborough, was also equipped with modern electricity and sanitary facilities. It offered separate bungalows as well as private bathrooms and balconies. Guests could roam the sprawling 120 acres and play table tennis, and cars were available for hire. The library contained American and English magazines and newspapers.
The Castle Cove Beach Hotel, about half a mile from Scarborough, offered private cottages and bicycles were available for hire. The Bluehaven Hotel, with its 27 double and single rooms, 22 of which face the beach, was billed as the largest hotel in Tobago. It offered tiled bathrooms, hot and cold running water, foam rubber mattresses, and a bedside telephone. In the extension of the living room was a terrace for sunbathing by day and observing the moon by night. There were hammocks on the lower deck, a barbecue deck that offered alfresco dining at night, the air-conditioned Marine Bay, and a wine cellar. The hotel provided services to Buccoo Reef in its open Reef launch, horses and “U drive” cars. The hotel’s flagship cruiser, the Blue Horizon, was available for those wishing to deep sea fish or sail to other beaches not accessible by road.
The Arnos Vale Beach Hotel, 10 km from Scarborough and about 1.5 km from Plymouth, offered guests a sailing boat, horseback riding on the estate and chauffeured or self-drive cars for hire. The hotel advertised a view of the coast and the ocean from the rooms and the private swimming beach, located close to the hotel.
The rapid growth of the hotel industry was aided by the ease with which plantations, with their “Great Houses”, could be converted into hotels.
It is striking that these hotels had electricity and running water before the island was electrified and ordinary residents had running water. Guests slept on spring or foam mattresses while hotel employees and the rest of the population slept on grass or fiber mattresses.
The hotel offered services that rivaled those offered by locals who sought alternatives to low-paid real estate labor, while paying very low wages themselves.
Very notable were attempts by hotels to establish private baths on some of the island’s beaches, to the exclusion of the general population.
Ultimately, the hotels functioned, much like the estates, to restrict access to land for the African population. It is particularly glaring that, in their reincarnation, hotels have covered their brutal past, as they transformed from sites of pain of plantation life to sites feeding the pleasures of tourists’ palates.