That’ll be 300…err, 400 dollars, Sir

The law of supply and demand is the basis on which every capitalist economy works and, to those who live and thrive in free-market nations, it is the ‘religion’ of business.

To those people struggling to make ends meet or even find a job, it is a ruthless and cruel system with a retarded sense of social responsibility and a woeful lack of care for the less fortunate or those without a flair for entrepreneurship. Especially in countries which the privileged, ‘industrialised’ nations refer to, condescendingly, as ‘third world’.

The Caribbean nations are ‘third world’ which means, like the African trader with the last fifty-litre can of diesel for 500 kilometres, he can charge pretty much what he likes when the luxury 4×4 comes limping into his village with an intrepid, first world explorer behind the wheel.

Within reason. The driver would, hopefully, choose to use his satellite phone to summon help rather than pay, for example, with his wife. Or $10,000. Some times the price really is too high. In which case the man in the village is left with nothing instead of an extremely good profit. But rarely, I believe, will the African man be left empty-handed. He may ask initially for $10,000 but he will know the right price and will quickly settle on it if he thinks the deal is slipping away.

And I believe the mean and women of the Caribbean will do likewise. For many hotel owners, cruise ship operators and travel agents, the 2007 World Cup represents an “opportunity of a lifetime.” That is a direct quote from a hotel owner on one of the islands on which I stayed on South Africa’s tour of 2000.

I paid $75 per night back then and the price, according to the website, has increased – perfectly understandably – to $110 per night in 2006. For the World Cup, however, guests will be required to pay $395 per night. I called to confirm and that’s when I was given the explanation.

For most of the nations involved in the World Cup, tourism is at the hub of their economy. For others, tourism IS their economy. So why not cash in?

I could be wrong, maybe even very wrong, but I honestly believe many of the locals are pricing themselves out of the international market. We have all, surely, done that at some time or another. I know of a man who moved his wife, children and pets out of the family home in Newlands, Cape Town, during the 2003 World Cup in complete confidence that his asking price of R5000 per day would be snapped up. He ended up settling for R1,200. And that was at the last minute.

I’m moved to tell this tale by the number of people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks who are bewildered, angry or confused by the astronomical prices they are being quoted for 10, 15 or 20 days in the Caribbean during the World Cup. Almost all would be first-time visitors, lured by the temptation of watching the World Cup in what many South Africans still regard as the ultimate in romantic, alluring destinations – at least, in the cricket playing world.

My advice has been simple: “You cannot afford those prices, so don’t pay them.” If people are desperate to visit the West Indies, I tell them, then go another time. Watch the tournament on television.

Seriously, there are very, very many ‘reality checks’ in the Caribbean to counter the beaches, rum punches and palm trees. Travel is difficult and prices for the most important of necessities (beer and food) can be extremely high at the quietest of times. Goodness knows what they’ll be during the World Cup. I paid the equivalent of R125 for a beer and sandwich in Barbados six years ago.

Finally, this is NOT a criticism of anyone in the Caribbean, so please don’t write to me. I have already said you need to make the best of this opportunity because it won’t come your way again for another 24 or 28 years. But, as far as I can tell, bookings are very thin at the moment. It’s one thing when South Africans can’t afford to come, but quite another when Australians and the English baulk at the prices you are charging.

Remember, you’ll be much better off filling your hotel at $175 per room than being a quarter full at $395. And besides, just think of all the extra food and drink you’ll be able to sell the people.

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