Atlantic: Beware The Luxury Beach Resort

A review of Sarah Stodola’s new book, The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit, and Peril at the Beach, a sharp and exhaustive examination of the history and pitfalls of luxury beach resorts all over the world.

These ostensible paradises have a dark side.

By Lauren Groff JUNE 21, 2022, 6 AM ET…

A more decadent understanding of seaside entertainment caught on in the mid-19th century, when the tiny principality of Monaco was nearly bankrupt, and Princess Caroline, the enterprising wife of the hapless Prince Florestan, of the ruling Grimaldi clan, had an idea. Amid rumors that gambling might soon be outlawed in the landlocked spa towns of Germany (as it had been for years elsewhere in Europe), she persuaded her husband to legalize it, and they hurriedly built a casino in Monte Carlo. Meanwhile, they took a different cue from the French Riviera, which for a time had been attracting the rich with the promise that the warm and salubrious Mediterranean airs would cure such ailments as “consumption, weak nerves, obstructed perspiration, languid circulation, scurvy, chest pain, general weakness, faintness, low spirits, fever, and loss of appetite.” Though the cover was health, vice was the true draw, no longer just a sport of the idle rich, but an aspirational avocation for ambitious men of the middle class. Monaco was soon thriving, and a new age of hedonism at the seashore had begun.


Stodola is, like me, skeptical about the beach idyll, constantly seeing the darker forces of environmental and cultural degradation amid all the luxury she describes. She is at her most incisive when she calmly, clearly lists what is lost when beach resorts take over a place. For instance, she describes the Fijian village of Vatuolalai, where two clans used to live as equals, one owning the beach where they fished, the other the acres inland where they grew crops such as taro, coexisting according to solesolevaki, which means that “everyone in a community is obliged to work together toward common ends.” Then, in the 1970s, the resort developers crept in, renting the land from the beach owners, who now had the funds to buy nontraditional foods and goods. The Polynesian chestnut trees were ripped out and non-native coconut palms put in. Fiddler crabs and the golden plovers that ate them disappeared; turtle-nesting on the beach became rare. Silt built up in the local river and blocked the trevally fish from swimming and spawning there, and the coral reefs were damaged first by river silt flowing into the bay and then by the fertilizer runoff from the golf course, as well as by the sunblock that washes off tourist bodies.

Diminished coral reefs meant far fewer fish. Faced with scarcity, Vatuolalai’s inhabitants started working for themselves, not for the collective good. Ninety-two percent of them became involved in tourism. The knowledge of how to make oil and traps and mats was lost, as were traditional dances, supplanted by those from other nations in the Pacific, which young people performed for tourists. The provisions that since time immemorial had been saved up in case of emergency were no longer there for the villagers. When Cyclone Kina hit in 1993, the residents had to rely on the government to survive, instead of on their own stores. Diabetes became endemic, the result of a new diet of processed foods. Stodola watches happy families from Australia in the resort’s pools, the adults bellied up to the bars set into the water, and feels certain that none of them sees any of the trade-offs that went into making the resort they’re enjoying.

From 9 JUN 22 on this board a post which relates to this book:

Bloomberg headline: Larry Ellison’s Lanai Isn’t for You—or the People Who Live There

Subheadline: The Oracle billionaire is making his Hawaiian island more hospitable to the super-rich and pushing out families that have been there for generations.

Story by Sophie Alexander
Photographs by Elizabeth Weinberg
Graphics by Jeremy C.F. Lin
for Bloomberg Businessweek + Equality
June 9, 2022…

These stories remind me of what is happening in the Florida Keys, which continue to overbuild with new resorts springing up where trailer parks or housing for blue collar workers once existed. It also reminds me of this Little Village Song (written by John Hiatt, Jim Keltner, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe) - “Do You Want My Job?”

Cool breezes from the mountains blow
As I wake up and dress to go
On the island, dawn is breaking
In the harbor, tanker’s waiting

From the land of the rising sun
They bring their old plutonium
And we unload it in the bay
For two dollars forty cents a day

Do you want my
Do you want my
Do you want my
Do you want my job

I hump the stuff, I take the cash
So my kids can wear Adidas
And if you live here, home, you know
We ain’t got no place else to go

I remember when the air was sweet
And I brought home the fish to eat
Now we buy Spam from the grocery store
'Cause you can’t eat the fish no more.

Do you want my
Do you want my
Do you want my
Do you want my job

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Jim Keltner / John Hiatt / Nick Lowe / Ry Cooder


The last 3 paragraphs of Lauren Groff’s book review:

I am glad that The Last Resort exists, because it gives me ammunition to shoot down the next island-vacation proposal. (Let’s do a family hike! Better yet, a staycation where we all read books in separate rooms!) At the same time, I am afraid that I am the book’s custom-built audience, given my wariness of beaches. The people who might most benefit from this book—those who have bought into the myth of paradise with an ocean view, deleterious impact be damned, and have the means to regularly experience a version of it—don’t want their illusions destroyed. If they were to receive The Last Resort as, say, a (passive-aggressive) birthday gift, they might well immediately fling it into the giveaway bin.

I don’t say this to condemn those who hesitate to listen to the climate Cassandras among us, or who at any rate fail to act on warnings to desist from this or that treasured activity. I also choose to ignore many inconvenient truths, and the sacrifices that they should inspire but that would dampen my own pleasure in living: Forswearing fancy beach resorts just happens to be no skin off my sun-blistered back. If I can’t help feeling that Stodola tries to have it both ways, which I read as a kind of hypocrisy, the reason I find it hard to swallow is that I so often do the same.

Or, rather, we all share in the hypocrisy, save for those few Earth angels who live off the grid and use no plastics. If we all paid attention to what is happening to the planet in the Anthropocene, we’d be running around with our heads on fire. Instead, we churn on in our lives, ordering stuff for next-day delivery when we could shop locally, driving to the grocery store only half a mile away instead of biking, and flipping the radio dial when another instance of extreme weather strikes, because we just can’t bear what another fire or hurricane portends. All the while, we’re nagged by conscience, which slowly drags our spirits down. Perhaps we need a nice beach vacation to recover! And so we go on, with our tidal cycles of unbearable guilt and panicked complicity, in and out, just like the ocean, where we sit and watch the sunset in our near-nakedness, drinking mai tais, in order to forget all the ways we are failing the Earth, in our vicious circularity, in our infinite regress.