Island Living and its Costs

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SEATTLE – The recent frigid temperatures in the United States is inspiring many to seek refuge, at least for a brief respite, in warmer climates.  Some of the top winter destinations are islands such as Jamaica, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, to name only a few.  These tropical tourist destinations are home to resorts boasting pristine beaches, exotic accommodations and a variety of activities including scuba diving, horseback riding and local performances.

However, the sunny experience of island living is not particularly cheap.  Flights on Travelocity going from Boston, Massachusetts to Hamilton, Bermuda start at $400 in February.  Hotel rooms on Expedia range from $128 to $425 per night, if any are available.  Therefore, why not save money in the long-term and simply buy your own island?  The perks of doing so would include having a vacation resort at one’s beck and call, not to mention avoiding disturbance by other vacationers.  According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC,) this is exactly what a growing number of people are doing, not all of whom are billionaires.

Private Islands Online lists sales around the world and within the U.S. Most non-U.S. properties tend to be upwards of $1 million, with more desirable locations fetching up to $50 million if listed with a price.  Within the U.S. properties can cost as little as $39,000 or over $29.5 million.  The size of the island is hardly an indicator of cost; for example the three acre Little Hawkins Island in Georgia is listed at $20 million, while the 181-acre Diamond Island in Tennessee is listed at $285,000.  The Johnston couple in the BBC article sold their home and quit their jobs to buy the $2 million, 3-acre Wadigi Island near Fiji where they now operate a five-star resort.  Visitors to the three-acre island pay at least $2,459 per night to cover expenses for the owners ranging from boat transportation to food shipments to hired help.

Tourism is a major player in many island nations’ economies.  According to the International Labour Organization, the hotels, catering and tourism (HCT) sector is responsible for over 260 million jobs, or about 12.5 percent of global jobs.  For island least developed countries (LDCs,) tourism accounts for 65 percent of exports.  In 2009 LDCs received 410 million international tourists and over $300 billion in tourist-related revenue, yet the HCT employees are not the major recipients of the income.  Due to the large number of unskilled positions at resorts and tourist locales, employees are typically paid minimum wage, if the host country has a minimum wage, or less.  On average, women, who make up 60 percent to 70 percent of the HCT workforce, receive lower wages than men.

Cancun is the well-known tourist haven in Mexico that caters to the island ideal of secluded partying.  Strategically organized to segregate the hotel zone from the area where employees and locals reside, the resort may pull in billions of dollars each year but the wages leave something to be desired.  In 2006 housekeepers at the hotels earned about $5 per day and McDonald’s employees in the resort zone earned about $8 per day.  At the same time, milk in the non-hotel area cost $3.60 and bread cost $1.40.

The potential for tourism to alleviate poverty is immense, as noted by the ILO.  The industry garners billions and provides millions of jobs.  In one of its publications the ILO points out that for every HCT job, about 1.5 subsequent jobs are created in relating fields such as local restaurants, public service sectors, or shops.  As demonstrated by the amount paid for private islands, private resorts, flights and hotel stays, the money required to pay HCT employees significantly greater wages exists in abundance.

Katey Baker-Smith

Sources: East Carolina University, Private Island Online, International Labour Organization, BBC

Photo: YouTube

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