Sustainable tourism brings Caribbean together

Keeping the Right Balance is the theme of a major conference taking place in Guyana. 

The Sustainable Tourism Conference is built around issues to do with how tourism sustainability and engaged communities may better interconnect with biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation initiatives, but will also bring new insight into advancements in evolving special interest tourism niches, such as adventure tourism. 

Gail Henry, a sustainable tourism product specialist at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, told the Caymanian Compass that the event, which takes place from 15-18 April, covers some vital issues. 

“Sustaining our Resources is the sub theme for our 13th annual conference,” Ms Henry said. “We always focus on key tourism sustainability issues. There will be a heavy focus on biodiversity, climate issues from different perspectives and conservation. How can we engage stakeholders in terms of understanding and how can they go about addressing some of the impacts?
“So we look at messaging and communication and also from a tourism infrastructure perspective. We will have a mix of sessions, panel discussions, workshops on many issues including culinary, adventure and agrotourism,” she said. 

Other issues include how to integrate biodiversity principles into hotel location, design and operation; youth sessions; green investment opportunities in the region; exhibitions and the sustainable tourism awards presentation. Delegates will also go on a full-day study tour of rivers and indigenous communities. 

“Our natural resources in the region are a key, core element of our tourism product: beaches, coasts, coral reefs, forests and so on. It is very, very critical and we are trying to highlight that these resources need to be protected, not just for tourism but local populations,” Ms Henry said. “Industries depend on these resources, which impacts on development from a social-economic perspective. We try and highlight best practices for resource management and retaining them for future generations which is what sustainability is all about.” 

Local, regional and international experts are key in sharing their ideas on these issues at the conference; Guyana’s own issues in biodiversity and conservation will also be highlighted. 

The public now seems increasingly sensitised toward ecotourism, Ms Henry said. 

“We see incidences of things like coral reef bleaching, which shows what is happening in the environment,” she said. “We also have trends in sustainable energy and renewable energy, so the public can see how it can impact costs in business and at home. 

“But a lot more needs to be done in terms of awareness, hence this conference, whatever private, public or student sector you may be in,” Ms Henry said. 

She added that she has seen reports which suggest “a growing segment of the market actively looking for green products”, who are also concerned about their carbon footprint. 


Energy costs rise 

From a business standpoint, green technology, renewable energy and energy efficiency could potentially assist the bottom line. 

“We see that energy costs rising have impacted businesses extensively through the region. Our energy efficiency project in collaboration with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association enables energy audits on hotels to identify problem areas and possible solutions,” Ms Henry said. 

“Of course, you do need a policy framework and various incentives and so on. Barbados is one of the leading destinations, as is Curacao, looking at solar and other forms of energy. People will soon see the impact on their cost of operation. We need to encourage governments to put policies in place, and incentives if necessary, to encourage the business sector and private homes to implement this equipment. When there is demand, then the costs will go down,” said the sustainable energy professional. 

And whilst a region-wide policy may be a while off, CARICOM has been looking at this and the Caribbean Tourism Association and Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association have drafted a policy which could be a starting point. 

“There is a long way to go but we are trying to have pilot projects so people can understand the potential of renewable energy and the carbon footprint,” Ms Henry noted. 

In the case of smaller islands such as Cayman, there could be “quick wins”. 

“In Barbados there is a smart energy fund in which the International Development Bank is involved. It is providing the additional impetus to the business sector to invest in energy efficient equipment and that kind of thing. 

“I also recently had a meeting with some consultants about the Caribbean Carbon Neutral Tourism Project, which is being executed by CARICOM Climate Change Centre. They are looking into what kind of financial instruments the region could tap into in order to facilitate management of carbon footprint for the business sector, as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy resources,” Ms Henry said. 

Gail Henry

Gail Henry is the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s sustainable tourism expert. – Photo: Submitted