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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 24 2013 (IPS) - Tourism, widely regarded as the mainstay of Caribbean economies, is being challenged to remain sustainable in an era of climate change and its impact on beaches, rivers and other attractions.
Carlos Vogeler, regional director for the Americas United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), speaking at a four-day Sustainable Tourism Development conference held here last week, said that World Tourism Day on Sep. 27 will be dedicated to tourism and water.
The goal is to shine a spotlight on water both as an asset and as a resource and on the actions needed to face up to the water challenge.
“Water is one of tourism’s main assets. Each year, millions of people travel around the world to enjoy water destinations both inland and in coastal areas and Caribbean destinations play a key role in this,” Vogeler said.
“Water is also one of tourism’s most precious resources, and as one of the largest economic sectors in the world, it is the responsibility of the tourism industries to take a leadership role and ensure companies and destinations invest in adequate water management throughout the value chain.
“If managed sustainably, tourism can bring benefits to the national and local communities and support water preservation,” Vogeler added.
In his message for World Tourism Day 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled that “one of the world’s largest economic sectors, tourism, is especially well-placed to promote environmental sustainability, green growth and our struggle against climate change through its relationship with energy.”
Vogeler told IPS that UNWTO has been supporting better energy use in the tourism sector for years.
“We have been thrilled with the response we received from the international tourism community,” he said.
“The hotel industry accounts for 21 percent of the carbon emissions from tourism and in 2008, UNWTO launched the Hotel Energy Solutions Project for the accommodation sector and today we can provide hoteliers across the world with a free electronic software to assess their energy consumption and propose them the most profitable investment alternatives in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energies.”
The Sustainable Tourism Development conference was facilitated by the region’s tourism development agency, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO).
Chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty says devoting resources to develop and maintain a sustainable tourism industry for the future has a very strong potential for a high return on investment.
She told IPS that as one of the most tourism dependent regions in the world, it is crucial to ensure Caribbean residents and visitors fully understand that the preservation of its natural resources will determine its success in the future.
“The Caribbean is blessed with natural beauty – rainforests, beaches coral reefs, vistas, botanical gardens and rivers – there is no shortage of natural wonders,” she said.
“Discerning travellers are seeking a sense of the place – a term which encompasses how a destination cares for its environment and for its people. They feel the quality of their stay is linked to a destination’s commitment to sustainable tourism.
“Increasingly, travellers are specifically seeking out these experiences, and we must make a commitment to preserve our environment,” Nicholson-Doty added.
She urged Caribbean leaders to allocate resources to both the preservation of natural resources and the development of a cutting edge hospitality sector driven by high levels of service excellence in order to provide a well-rounded visitor experience.
“We have to pay close attention because it is our very success which can threaten our most valuable assets, and industry specialists tell us visitors are becoming increasingly aware of the potential negative impact of tourism on the natural beauty, cultural and historical offerings of a destination if not managed well.
“They want to feel their visit contributes to the conservation and enhancement of a destination’s environment, culture, health and general well-being,” the CTO chair said.
Co-Director at the Center for Responsible Travel, Dr. Martha Honey, agrees. She told IPS that growth in the tourism industry is being matched by growing interest in sustainable travel and it shouldn’t be a hard sell to get visitors to the Caribbean to assist in adopting environmentally friendly practices.
She pointed to an “increasing recognition among both travel professionals and consumers of the importance of responsible travel” adding that there is “strong evidence” that sustainable travel is “good for the economic bottom line”.
Dr. Honey cited several surveys which she said supported these points.
“Conde Nast Traveler found, in 2011, that 93 percent of readers said that travel companies should be responsible for protecting the environment; and in 2012, 71 percent of TripAdvisor members said they plan to make more eco-friendly choices in the coming year, up from 65 percent last year.
“A 2011 Harvard Business School study found that companies that adopted environmental, social, and governance policies in the 1990s outperformed those that did not. Adoption of these policies…reflect substantive changes in business processes,” she noted.
Nicholson-Doty told IPS many of the CTO’s 32 members were at varying stages of environmental consciousness and it was therefore necessary to “work together to ensure our policy makers provide the enabling environment for an industry seeking to maximise its sustainable tourism development.
“We must educate our industry to the tangible benefits of sustainable practices and how to make those profitable.”
The Caribbean has long been a leader in tourism.
Last year, the region welcomed nearly 25 million tourists, 5.4 percent more than in 2011 and the largest number of stayover visitors in five years. This rate of growth outpaced the rest of the world which saw arrivals increase by four per cent.
Back in 1950, only 25 million tourists travelled internationally. But the latest figures show one billion tourists travel the world in a single year and around five billion more travel domestically within their own countries.
“These tourists generate over one trillion U.S. dollars in exports for the countries they visit every year, which is close to six percent of the world’s exports of goods and services, and 30 percent of exports, if we consider service alone. One in every 12 jobs worldwide is connected to the tourism sector,” Vogeler told IPS.
“UNWTO is forecasting an average annual growth of 3.3 percent to the year 2030 to hit 1.8 billion international tourists,” he added, noting that “not many industrial sectors can claim this level of average sustained growth.”
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