Once upon a time, every Caribbean island looked like this. Deliciously adrift from the 21st century, the road-free, white sand-ringed Little Corn is a single square mile of castaway fantasy 70km off the mainland. Tourism is taking its first steps here, and in the hands of local families and a few hippy-ish European expats the small hotels, beachfront bungalows and no-shoes-allowed restaurants maintain a sleepy pace and low prices. If you absolutely must get out of your hammock, snorkelling and scuba diving are on offer in balmy turquoise waters shared with green turtles and spotted eagle rays, while the dirt dancefloor of the Happy Hut reggae club takes care of your nightlife needs.
Most development on the island is discreet. Pictured: Derek’s Place (photo/ John Morgan)
“Over the last two decades, a slowly growing number of intrepid American, European and Israeli travelers have found their way to these Creole-speaking islands, which are free from the designer boutiques and sprawling resorts that are ubiquitous in the Caribbean,” reads a travel article published last November in the New York Times.
The Yemaya resort could start to change that. Some are concerned that it will just be the first of more luxury resorts to follow, driving up land prices and increasing the cost of living for the locals.
There are already signs the forthcoming hotel is affecting prices on the island. “Other locally owned hotels have increased their nightly rates as a result of our proposed rates,” Lesesne says.
Efforts to expand the airport on Big Corn Island could also facilitate the arrival of wealthier tourists—a move some fret might displace the backpacking eco-resorts. The owner of an eco-hotel, who wished to remain unidentified, said when he saw construction begin on the Yemaya project, his first thought was to sell his property and move on for fear that the new resort will mark the beginning of drastic change to the island.
Others have been warning of change for years. In 2010, then-mayor Alex Dixon, of the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), warned of such large-scale constructions on the islands. “Tourism is an alternative to the traditional sources of employment, but not the solution,” he said. “We want to develop small-scale projects, with the involvement of local people, that complements their other activities and not just have large hotels and big capital take over.”
Dixon lost reelection to the Sandinista candidate Cleveland Webster, who Lesesne says has been very helpful “offering both logistical support and guidance.”
As Little Corn Island experiences the growing pains of development, islanders will be challenged to make sure the rising tide of tourism lifts all boats, and doesn’t flood their tropical paradise in the process.
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