Written by By Tom Walker, CNN
With a projected population of more than 12 million, the French overseas department of Réunion is one of the largest of the 10 French Overseas Territories — an umbrella term for the country’s far-flung overseas territories, also including Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Martinique.
But the island, part of a peninsula in the western tip of Réunion, is no longer showing signs of an explosive economy.
Réunion’s economy, like the rest of the French Overseas Territories, has been locked in a downward spiral for more than a decade, with the island facing a long-term decline, according to a report published in March by the British charity Oxfam France.
In 2016, the largest number of people have arrived on the island in over 30 years — two million total — with foreign tourists driving up the price of the affordable food, hotels and flights the island depends on. A good portion of this influx comes from overseas migrants from other former French overseas territories such as mainland France and its overseas islands.
A giant red rock on a tiny seabed | The famous yellow beak of the red star obelisk is at the center of the island’s mythos. Credit: Ozsy Jovanovski via Wikimedia Commons
There are currently fewer than 40 hotels, cafes and restaurants across the island, and more than 90% of shops sell groceries.
Some islanders have been successful in adapting their culture to survive the recession, adding multilingual signs and changing focus to the island’s cuisine from a more traditional Creole-based cuisine to more Mediterranean dishes.
“We’ve shifted to food that is more suitable to the international food market, for example kebabs and pate, that can be put out for tourists who can’t cook,” one local said.
Shops on the sunny island feature popular European chains, such as Oasis and Active.
“We sell takeaway food and don’t really have a traditional way of cooking,” a shop owner said. “This is a cost-cutting strategy, it’s a way to remain viable. You can’t always be curing sweetbreads and making ptoule.”
Réunion is one of the most rarefied enclaves of the world, and its vistas include a ring of warm azure blue waters at the northern tip and deep swaths of brown forests around the southwestern corner of the island.
Estate minister Alexandre Florez told the French news network Paris Info that the lack of infrastructure “leaves us with no possibility of protecting our beaches. There’s no good recreational beach here, nothing to do in the evenings.”
Les dunes of Labriz, a tiny beach on Réunion’s north coast. Credit: Oleksiy Mark/AP/REX/Shutterstock
Paris Info reported that the tourism industry lost about 35 million euros ($40 million) in 2015 and has lost 500 million euros since 2009.
The territory’s minister also lamented the lack of a long-term solution for Réunion’s dependence on tourism.
“I want to put an end to the incandescent fires which dominate our territory, to reach a sustainable solution with our partners and our own people.”