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French Caribbean – interview

Quiet Mardi Gras in Guadeloupe as strike negotiations are postponed, and tourists stay away

by Sarah Elzas

Article published on the 2009-02-25 Latest update 2009-02-25 08:01 TU

The beach at Bas-du-Fort, Guadeloupe(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

The beach at Bas-du-Fort, Guadeloupe
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

The streets of Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, were deserted Tuesday afternoon, which these days is not so unusual, since the French island has been shut down by a general strike for the past five weeks. But this was not just any Tuesday: it was Mardi Gras, usually a day of Carnaval marches, but this year it was silent, because the mayor cancelled the festivities.

Monday, strike leaders and employers sat down for negotiations over a salary increase for low wage workers. As they talked, people gathered outside and played music until they finished for the evening. But there was no music in the streets Tuesday, and because Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday are holidays, negotiations were suspended until Thursday morning.

People usually have these two days off, though every day since the strike began on 20 January has been a day off, so nothing much changed. Some stores and cafes were open, and people walked slowly from one shaded spot to another. Conspicuously missing were the tourists.

The vast majority of visitors to Guadeloupe come from France, but this month they have gone elsewhere. Most hotels are closed, and even those that are open have been hard to access because of road blocks. “Most of the personnel was on strike,” explained Alain Salzedo, a tourism consultant based in Gosier, a Pointe-a-Pitre suburb with a lot of hotels.

Interview: Alan Salzedo, tourism consultant

25/02/2009 by Sarah Elzas

“If you cannot serve breakfast, lunch or dinner; if you can’t have the laundry cleaning, what’s the use of staying open?” “When most of the hotels are blocked and people can’t get in, what decision can the tour operator take?” he asked. “They will say ‘OK, we are not sending our people to Guadeloupe’.”

While the financial effect of the strike on the tourism industry is still unknown, it is likely to go into the millions of euros, according to Salzedo. He says it will take three to five years to recover.

However, it’s not all bleak. “It’s a big opportunity to say 'let’s stop for a while, and think about what we can have',” he said. “I won’t say it’s a very good thing with the strike. But I’m saying, we have the strike, and now we have to think about what is the future of tourism in Guadeloupe,” he continued.


a man prepares coconuts for a crowd that never showed up(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

a man prepares coconuts for a crowd that never showed up
(Photo: Sarah Elzas)

Guadeloupe does not have very high-end, luxury hotels, he said. And those travellers looking for a deal tend to go to places like the Dominican Republic or Cuba, which have lower operating costs.

Salzedo says Guadeloupe needs to develop its luxury market, especially because the pay raise being negotiation by strikers will apply to hotels, too, which will drive up costs.

“If you have a higher cost to pay your employees, you won’t make it with the mass market,” he said. Hotels need to upgrade to attract more affluent travellers, who can offset the cost of the strike demands.

As it stands, strikers are still demanding a 200 euro pay increase for low-wage workers. Employers have offered to put in 50 euros, with the rest made up by the local and state government. All parties are due to sit down and talk again Thursday at 11am local time.