Local issues to feature at STC-9

A local flavour relating to issues of sustainability in tourism within the Cayman Islands will feature as part of the agenda during the ninth annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism – STC-9 – Development next month.

The conference, run by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, is being hosted in Grand Cayman from 21 through 24 May.

At a media briefing last week which included CTO representatives, Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford noted that one of the advantages of hosting means that the Cayman Islands has had significant input into the content of the conference to reflect key issue relating to sustainable tourism development in Cayman.

With specific reference to Cayman Islands’ related topics to be held, Chairman of the East End Go East committee Mervyn Conolly will talk about the Go East initiative, Frank Roulstone will talk about the role of the National Trust in tourism development while Peter Hillenbrand of Little Cayman’s Southern Cross Club will speak on the economics of greening a business.

Mr. Clifford said the conference would look at how the CTO member states can design and implement sustainable tourism policies and programmes, offering a regional forum for information exchange.

‘STC-9 will bring together regional and international tourism specialists, development experts from the cultural, environmental and academic spheres as well as members of our own community to share experiences and offer solutions to problems in the development of sustainable tourism.’

Sustainable tourism refers to a level of tourism activity that can be maintained over the long term, for future generations; and it results in an overall benefit for the socio-cultural, economic, and natural environments of the area.

Mareba Scott, CTO’s Sustainable Tourism Product Specialist said, ‘We’re always clearly happy when a destination that is in an advanced stage of development offers to host this conference because it signals a change in philosophy and a willingness to approach tourism in a manner that is more sustainable.’

Developing partnerships

She added that she hoped the local population would take the opportunity to engage with some of CTO’s regional and international partners who have had successes and some challenges in terms of developing sustainable tourism.

DoT’s Deputy Director of Tourism Product Development Sharon Banfield noted the special study tours that would take place on the island. ‘One of objectives of the conference is for us to be able to share our various situations and to see how we are seeking to create more sustainable practices in what we are doing,’ she said.

On 22 May tours to Stingray City and the Sandbar would be facilitated through the Department of Environment. ‘This will be used to create awareness among delegates on plans to manage the attraction better.’

The same day there is also a study tour to the agri-tourism project, and the plans to create a linkage between agriculture and tourism will be presented.

On Wednesday 23 study tours will visit Pedro St. James. Sustainable tourism, she explained, is not just based on the natural environment, but it embraces community and cultural activity, and this will be a way to help people understand that, she said.

The same day a study tour also goes to Botanic Park and Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.

Climate change

Other conference topics to be examined include: recreational carry capacity, integrated coastal zone management and tourism and climate change.

Host hotel is the Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa.

Special social events hosted by the Cayman Islands will be held at the Westin, Ristorante Pappagallo and a cultural night at Rum Point.

Mr. Clifford said the conference would provide the opportunity to acknowledge mistakes made in the past and to talk about future developments and how they can be approached. ‘It fits very nicely with a number of projects including Go East, because the key policy that underlies that initiative is sustainable development.’

Director of Tourism Pilar Bush noted some areas that are to be learned from, including coastal management and the over development of the Seven Mile Beach corridor. Another could be the slow rate at which culture was incorporated into tourism offerings, although great strides have been made with this recently, she added.

The Minister said that 2007 is an excellent time to host the conference because the review and update of the National Tourism Management Policy is taking place, the tabling of National Conservation Bill, the launch the Cayman Islands Environmental Project for the tourism sector.

Noting that sustainability also relates to human capital, Ms Bush said the Minister is going to invite a number of students to the conference, who are currently being selected by DoT.

Ms Scott noted that CTO has been working on a sustainable tourism conference framework, which will be presented during a meeting on the last day of the conference. This is a core of practices it is recommended countries pursue in order to make their tourism more sustainable.

Ms Banfield noted that a lot can be learned from the work in sustainable tourism development that CTO has undertaken.

Health and wellness

The theme of the conference is ‘Keeping the right balance – health and wellness: communities, environment and economies’, and through general sessions, workshops and study tours the conference will stress the importance of developing a tourism product that takes into account the health and wellness of surrounding communities, environments and visitors as well as contributing toward the economic stability of the region.

In tandem with the theme exercise programmes will be available to delegates such as yoga, yamuna body rolling and a fun run.

The DoT is responsible for organising many key events and areas of the conference and has a budget of between $300,000 and $350,000 for this.

As yet sponsorship commitments are not where they’d like them to be, said Ms Bush and she urged sponsors to come forward, stating it would give them exposure and demonstrate a moral responsibility.

As environmental issues are very high on the Chamber of Commerce’s agenda this year, Minister Clifford encouraged Chamber members to make contributions towards the conference.

Keeping with the theme of sustainability, bio-degradable corn-based cups will be used during the conference, along with bio-degradable straws and refillable water containers will be distributed to delegates.

A carbon offset programme is also to be undertaken, and proceeds used to support a renewable energy project.

The registration fee for the conference is US$250 and takes care of the entire conference including, meals study tours and social activities.

Go to www.onecaribbean.org to register.

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