A partnership with academia

Building knowledge for trade and development


altVi member, Keith Nurse, of the University of the West Indies (UWI), screened his documentary, "Forward home - the power of the Caribbean diaspora," at Geneva’s Graduate Institute on International and Development Studies, November 13.H. E. Marion Williams, ambassador and permanent representative of Barbados in Geneva, and Vincent Chetail, Director of the Institute’s Programme for the Study of Global Migration, introduced the Swiss premier of the film.

The film, based on the findings of a two-year joint research project between Vi core members, UWI and Canada’s Centre for Trade Policy and Law, reveals the power of people of the Caribbean diaspora – migrants with strong national ties -- to contribute to the economy of their homelands.

Shot in nine locations in seven weeks, the 50-minute film showcases the “diasporic tourism” of people from the Dominican Republic living in New York, the Guyanese in Toronto, the Surinamese in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, and the Jamaican diaspora in London.

“There are still not many studies about the diasporic tourism,” Nurse said. “One reason for this is that many people find it hard to think of the diasporic tourists as tourists.”

He explained that there is a difference between diasporic tourism and the one considered “normal” because diasporic tourists spend their money on different things than foreigners. For example, they don't book expensive tours, but buy food at the supermarket, sometimes to take with them.

“Many of the diasporic tourists themselves don't feel like tourists, but at home, at their country of origin,” he added.

The film shows how important it is for the tourism industry to orient itself more toward diasporic tourism, which has different needs from those of traditional tourism. According to Nurse, it is an error to think that diasporic tourists will always come, no matter what. He emphasizes that the market has to adapt to them.

“They are like Trojan horses because they come into the country disregarded, but they can attract other people toward the Caribbean,” he said.

One of the commodities diasporic tourists are interested in is food from their countries. Dominicans in New York, as well as Jamaicans in London, run specialized shops and restaurants to satisfy the needs of their people.

But the trade industry is not the only branch which profits from the Caribbean diaspora, Nurse said. The telecommunication, tourism and banking industries have also begun focusing on the Caribbean diaspora. Some examples are banks which specialize on money transfers from the diaspora to their home countries and telecommunication enterprises which sell phone cards to call the homeland and pay as if it was a local call. And a growing role is being played by new media and the creative industries.

“We now have empirical data to back up what we have always known anecdotally --  diaspora tourism is a significant component of Caribbean tourism,” he concludes. “Coming out of the research, we are trying to emphasize that there are investments that entrepreneurs are engaged in both in the diaspora and back home to facilitate this trade, and what we need to be doing is strategically looking at how we can expand this trade.”

The research was published in a Special Edition of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal (2011: 17.2).

Watch a 10-minute version of the film