Local Accessibility; A tiered pricing system for Cabarete

rev Para leer en español, haz clic aquí. I have often sat on the beach enjoying my lunch only to get the bill and realize that in those meandering moments I had spent more than the average daily wage in Cabarete (for Dominicans). I look up and realize that I am the only, or one of the only Dominicans with that privilege. My other compatriotas are usually the ones making and serving me my food. And I want that to change. Tourism is an interesting and understudied thing. At once, it is thought to lift a community out of poverty, and in other ways it perpetuates the same age-old patterns that emerge when the “global north” descends on the “global south”. The burst of “development” seems to create jobs and improve the quality of life, but it also increases the cost of life and creates a fragile economy that is dependent on the ebb and flow of visitors that sometimes, never come. Paradoxically, a tourist destination becomes more accessible to the outside world while becoming increasingly inaccessible to locals. What is a “cheap” place to visit or live for some foreigners, is all of the sudden expensive for the very people who have always lived in the region.

In the context of tourism inaccessibility can mean physically barring local folks from entry to certain spaces, and it can also mean putting certain things out of their economic reach.

Cabarete is often labelled as a vibrant international community with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists but the part that doesn’t make it into the ads is that it’s also highly segregated. We may kite together, work together (although often wages and roles add to the segregation), and drink together but for the most part at the end of the day, we all go back to our homes in our respective sectors. We go to different schools, we eat in different places, we go to different clinics, and medicine is prohibitively expensive for someone making only 177USD a month, if that. It’s time the very people who enjoy and love our community start subsidizing our access to it in a more meaningful way; a two or three tiered pricing system would be a good place to start. Bali, Cambodia, and Cuba are only some of the places that come to mind that function with similar systems. From menus to hospitals to cultural landmarks, it sends a clear message that nothing in these communities belong solely to those with the money (who often happen to be non-local). It sends the message that we are meant not only to serve, but also to be served, and that we, too, deserve to enjoy our country and all it has to offer. Anyone who believes this system would create “more of a division” between local folks and foreign folks need to realize that tourism already uses foreign dollars to subsidize or pay for people’s lives here. It’s just not trickling down, and that needs to be addressed. The reality is, a tiered pricing system is already in place whether we want to admit it or not. The arguments against it, though, are flimsy at best.
  • Cabarete locals already sell to each other despite the fact that they can wait for a tourist and charge more, which nullifies a popular counter-argument to this type of system. Trying to centre more of the economy on  local spending power means less economic impact during low seasons.
  • Most of the restaurants in Cabarete are foreign-owned. Regulation on discrimination would ensure these restaurants from giving all customers the same calibre of service regardless of origin.
  • Accessibility at the clinic and pharmacy are particularly concerning. Lack of access to proper medical care and medication can cost people their lives. (Ask me about the time I got dengue and went to he more affordable clinic in Cab. Go on, ask me. )
  • A second-tier would encourage expats to get residency and become documented in the country.
Imagine that. A Cabarete first and foremost for Cabaretenses. Visitors could feel good about the fact that their presence didn’t make life wholly inaccessible to the very people are the very spirit of Cabarete. Locals could see themselves not only as servants, but also as consumers. And I could see the rebirth of a tradition I saw throughout my childhood: that of the Dominican family being able to bring their children to the beach on a Sunday to enjoy the sun and a meal. But more importantly, I could go to the pharmacy and not wonder how a local person is supposed to pay for medicine on a local diet. The words in the image above resonate with me. It can easily be easily translated and applied to this situation that nothing that is inaccessible to Cabarete’s people is sustainable, ethical, or just. If we love this community, isn’t it our duty and in our best interest to keep it healthy and accessible to by its people?