Caribbean moves to ensure a sustainable tourism productListen /
The economies of many Caribbean Islands depend on tourism. As a result, there's been much emphasis on sustainable tourism.
The region's umbrella body for tourism – the Caribbean Tourism Organization –CTO recently held its 14 Sustainable Tourism Conference –STC-14 in Trinidad and Tobago.
So, I asked the Chair of CTO, Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty of the US Virgin Islands, what came out of that meeting.
Nicholson-Doty: I think you had several main points. I think that sustainable tourism through the region is so important. The very aspects that make us unique and special are our success. Our success can be endangered if not carefully managed. And I think that was one thing that was common, a common thread, both from a cultural, a historic, an environmental perspective that we have to look carefully at how we preserve those elements that make our region so unique, especially as we are the most tourism-dependent region in the world.
BOBB: The US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix – they all depend to some extent on tourism. How important is sustainable tourism to those destinations?
Nicholson-Doty: It's extremely important and I think that there are several initiatives that we've taken both in collaboration with the private sector and some that are government-led initiatives. The entire area of water and air quality control and testing is something that we've led in. We are certainly looking at initiatives that allow us to … the Governor has a major initiative that reduces our dependence on fossil fuel by 20 percent by 2020. So it's a government-wide initiative that we are looking at. How do we move from fossil fuel to alternative energy sources?
But then on the public private sector partnership side, we are looking at initiatives like Blue Flag. And we now have more than seven beaches and marinas that are in the programme where there is consistent water quality testing that really shows that we are really paying attention to maintaining the environmental aspects of our community.
BOBB: The idea of green tourism, sustainable tourism, it is not new. CMEX – Caribbean Media Exchange – has been touting that for several years now. But for reason it seems to have caught on in the last couple of years. What would you say took so long for many countries, destinations to get the idea?
Nicholson-Doty: We have 32 island nations within the Caribbean Region and getting us all on the same page sometimes takes a little longer than we'd like. I think what is really important is that we have recognized that the sustainability of the qualities that make us unique is critical and managing our resources so that we hold onto those things that are particular to our region. The cultural, the historical aspects are as important as maintaining our environmental resources.
Donn: Besides sustainable tourism, what can one get from the US Virgin Islands?
Nicholson-Doty: We just completed our 61st Carnival on the island of St. Thomas. I think that a combination of elements of the culinary experience, the historical – we are going to be celebrating our 165th anniversary of emancipation in July. SO I think that the arts and crafts – the ability to integrate your culture and history into the overall strategy of how you market your destination is something we've working hard at. So it's being able to look at all the senses –your taste, your smell – certainly the rhythm of the music and dancing, entertainment and I think maintaining all of those things are very important to us as a destination.
Donn: You've spoken of 32 islands in the region, what of US Virgin Islands/CARICOM cooperation?
Nicholson-Doty: Well, I think that our governor just recently went to St. Lucia to meet with Prime Minister Anthony and I think we certainly have made headways in terms of our relationship with both CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. I think that although we can only have observer status at this point, which is something that we are working on, we certainly recognize that as our geographic location makes us so very co-dependent with the region in terms of the success, so working together is a very important initiative and the fact that the governor supported my desire to be Chairperson of the Caribbean Tourism Organization speaks to the fact that we recognize just how important we are t the region and the region is to the Virgin Islands.
Donn: The question of trade, should Caribbean Islands work with the US Virgin Islands on trade to the United States?
Nicholson-Doty: I think that as a region, we have to take best practices and work together as much as possible. I think that it's extremely important that we look at our resources and find the commonality where we can align ourselves so that we can work with the big nations such as the US and the UK.
Donn: What does the future look like for Caribbean tourism?
Nicholson-Doty: I think the recent statistics that came out from the Caribbean tourism Organization indicate that we are up year over year by 5% and we were up last year as well, so that means that we are rending in the right direction. We are certainly beginning to see rates come back which is extremely important for the region, we don't just want ass tourism; we want quality tourism and we want people that are going to be able to spend money in our community so I think that that's extremely important. As the Caribbean Tourism Organization, we are certainly looking at aviation both from major gateways in the US and the UK, but also inter-Caribbean connectivity and affordability of aviation is extremely important because I sometimes I we look externally for visitors and often times, overlook the importance of intra-Caribbean tourism and the impact that it can have on our destinations.
Donn Bobb, United Nations.