February 16, 2011 / 5:34 PM / 8 years ago

Guadeloupe fights uphill battle to attract tourists

LE GOSIER, Guadeloupe (Reuters Life!) - Six voracious, brown pelicans put on a show of power fishing for visitors taking a leisurely breakfast on Guadeloupe — France’s “Butterfly Island” in the Caribbean.

General view of the Soufriere volcano, in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe November 10, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

As the ferry from the main town, Pointe-a-Pitre, heads across the bay to the offshore island of Marie-Galante, the birds launch a dive-bomb plunge to catch their prey. Not one resurfaces without a fish.

But despite aerobatic pelicans, 2010 was a bad year for Guadeloupe, one of France’s four overseas regions with some 405,000 people.

During a brief visit earlier this year to Guadeloupe and its neighbor Martinique, French President Nicholas Sarkozy unveiled a plan to lure more foreign, and French, visitors to their sun-soaked beaches and other attractions.

“Tourism is obviously vital for your development,” Sarkozy said in Martinique, adding that France would help the region but only if there were matching local efforts on the islands to improve the situation.

Only two percent of tourists going to the Caribbean head for what France calls the French Antilles — Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy.

During his visit Sarkozy cited a less than vibrant tourist sector with a run-down infrastructure.

“The more you take charge of your own future, the more we will come in with you,” he added.

Although there are unattractive hotels dotting Guadeloupe’s linked but very different main islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, there are also some gems including a cliff-top five-star hotel and top-class restaurants

Last year tourist numbers tumbled sharply in Guadeloupe, pushed down by the global recession, a 44-day general strike and an outbreak of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease.

Ash from the volcano of Montserrat, a tiny former British colony just to the north, poured down on Guadeloupe early in 2010, causing havoc with the banana crop, the mainstay of its exports.

But Guadeloupe also has stunning attractions. The cliffs at Pointe de la Vigie in the north of Grande-Terre, a largely low-lying reef-based island traditionally home to the sugar-cane and rum industry, and the Atlantic-battered Pointe des Chateaux rocks in the south are just two of them.

In Pointe-a-Pitre, by the bridge which links the eastern island to Basse-Terre, there are seven daily markets.

Basse-Terre is dominated by the Souffriere volcano, which last erupted in 1998, and the rain forests and thundering waterfalls of its slopes.

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