Sustainable tourism Conference highlights Caribbean’s needs

Keeping the right balance in sustainable tourism through partnerships, products and profitability is the theme of a major conference coming up.

The 14th annual Sustainable Tourism Conference takes place at Port of Spain, Trinidad from 15 to 18 April, said Gail Henry of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

“It is a mix of panel discussions, workshop sessions and special presentations,” Ms Henry said. “There is also a whole day of study tours where experts will see different tourism products and approaches in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The sessions, she said, will look at the issue of creating and managing sustainable destinations; keeping a balance between the businesses’ needs and tourism stakeholders coming together to promote the sustainability of tourism destinations.

“It will also ask the question of whether we need to re-market our destinations, how we brand and the image that is portrayed. We need to look at the issue of getting our stakeholders to work together in order to achieve sustainable destinations in the region.

“We also have our yearly youth forum and the presentation of prizes to winners of the annual Sustainable Tourism Awards during the event,” she said.

The conference presents an opportunity for region-wide delegates to learn from expert speakers from the UK, US and Latin America about latest trends in sustainable tourism and the effects thereof. Delegates will also network and share information about specific issues within their own islands or countries.

Tourism industry, public sector, policy, marketing, students and more will be in attendance, Ms Henry said.

These days, a potential visitor to the Caribbean is clued up on the eco-tourism world, she noted.

“We are focusing a lot on the growing segment of the market – responsible or sustainable travellers. They often spend a lot more in the destination as they get to a level where they engage with communities and really want to experience a destination. That is cuisine, culture, heritage – they do not want to stay in the hotel, they want to engage with locals and meet people,” she said.

“Some travel on their own and some in groups and they are in simple language a lot more adventurous. You find that they tend to want to give back to communities and are at the higher end of the spending market. That money goes directly into the community and the businesses they interact with.”

In the case of Cayman, the marine environment and cultural and heritage sites are part of this plus things like sourcing sustainable food for restaurants, added the tourism expert.

“That is a growing trend. One of the recommendations of last year’s conference was that we will to pursue the Caribbean as a food tourism destination. We are developing a regional strategy as well as developing the health and wellness with the Caribbean Spa and Wellness Association and Agro-tourism with various agencies including ourselves, CARICOM, etc.

“This is what we are looking at in special interest tourism,” she noted.

Linking locally

Another concept is that of sustainable consumption and production, in which businesses such as hotels are being encouraged to create linkages with local suppliers such as farmers. This cuts down on importation costs, carbon footprints and more.

“Exposing visitors to local cuisine is very much encouraged when we talk about sustainable and responsible tourism,” Ms Henry said.

The conference features speakers including Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon, a destination known for its green focus, plus a case study of St. Petersburg in Florida which is an approved green city in Florida.

“We will be giving examples of best practices within the region and have a whole panel on that. We are highlighting many aspects of green tourism and it will be a very insightful conference.

“There is also the first-hand contact with those who are actually running the green initiatives there in Trinidad and Tobago and talking about the way they do things,” she noted.

There is no off-the-shelf solution or model in the efforts to become truly sustainable, Ms Henry said.

“Trying to become a more sustainable destination is a process you continually work at. We will be starting projects with our member countries which involve measuring where they currently are and how they could get to where they see themselves in the future,” she said.

“We will be working with countries in that area. These things come out of the conference itself. There are global tourism criteria at a UN level being developed which we are involved with. They are looking at criteria for destinations which is very much linked with what we are focusing on. We are aiming at not just focusing on sustainability of businesses greening themselves but entire destinations or regions within a country. We are moving towards that goal.”

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