In 1997, the service sector in Guadeloupe constituted a whopping 85 percent of GDP and provided employment for 68 percent of the labor force. Similarly, in the same year, the service sector in Martinique constituted 83 percent of GDP and engaged 73 percent of the labor force. Many of the people employed by the service sector in the CDF work for the government in bureaucratic positions. Government and parastatal employees are paid, on average, 30 percent higher than their metropolitan French counterparts. The generous salaries, intended, in part, to boost consumption and stimulate the economy, provide an essential form of transfer to the highly dependent economies of the CDF.
According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade French Antilles Fact Sheet 2000, tourism, which accounted for 7 percent of GDP in both Guadeloupe and Martinique in 2000, has been the fastest growing sector of the economy in the French Antilles throughout the 1990s. In 2000, the number of tourists to Guadeloupe reached 623,000, a significant increase from the approximately 500,000 tourists in 1997. Unfortunately, more recent trends in tourism in Martinique have not been as positive. Indeed, the total number of tourists visiting the department declined from 993,441 in 1999 to 928,197 in 2000. This sharp downward trend illustrates the insecurity of a tourist economy, which depends on the economic well-being and whims of individuals in developed countries for revenue. In both departments, the vast majority of stop-over tourists are from France (80 to 90 percent), while most cruise ship visitors are from North America.
Tourism is an important economic activity in French Guiana with much potential for growth. The major tourist attraction is currently the space center, which received 27,293 tourists in 2000, when there were a total of 12 rocket launchings. With its exotic rainforests and beautiful mountainous scenery, however, eco-tourism could very well surpass the space center in tourist importance. Unfortunately, promises made by former French president Francois Mitterand in 1992 to create eco-parks have failed to materialize. Impediments include conflict over land with gold prospectors and, to a lesser extent, debates concerning whether restrictions should be placed on Amerindians using slash-and-burn agricultural techniques (which are detrimental to the environment). French Guiana received 451,805 tourists in 2000, a significant increase from the 422,075 tourists that visited in 1998.
With several shopping centers, markets, and restaurants in the major cities, the retail sector is relatively well developed in the CDF. Foreign direct investment in services has also become more prevalent, and American companies such as McDonald's, Baskin Robbins, and Subway have established operations in Martinique. The real area of growth is in the number of small and mediumsized retail outlets, however, which have increased exponentially. In 2000, there were a total of 10,324 retail outlets in the CDF. Three hundred new outlets, mostly in the leisure and supermarket sectors, were created in Guadeloupe alone. In French Guiana, 900 small enterprises were established in 2000, many of which specialized in commercial or reparation-related activities. According to INSEE, a French government statistical institute, the small enterprise commercial sector is the most dynamic engine of growth in the CDF economies.
The unemployed that do not have the resources to establish small-scale enterprises often find retail work in the informal sector by selling products such as fruits and small consumer commodities on the street corners. The informal sector, which is neither taxed nor regulated by the government, also offers services such as machinery and equipment repairs. Incomes acquired through the informal sector are exceedingly low.