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Tourism Must Be Sustainable

"The Greater Caribbean This Week"  (1)

Norman Girvan>
About ACS>

The 6th Annual Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference held in Puerto Rico last week provided a timely opportunity for reflection on both the immediate impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on regional tourism, and the long-term prospects for the industry.

The view advanced by Mr. Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, was a mixture of short-term catastrophe and medium-term prosperity. Mr. Baumgarten projects a 13.5 percent reduction in Caribbean tourism for 2001 and 2002 followed by a recovery of 7.1 percent in demand in 2003.

The contraction in 2001-2002 translates into substantial losses in earnings and employment. He estimates that four countries alone (the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Bahamas) will together lose US$2 billion in the two years; while the entire region will lose 365,000 jobs. He believes that about a half of these will be restored in 2003.

Mr. Baumgarten's prediction is consoling but it is not necessarily realistic. It is true that the pattern of short-term reduction followed by steep recovery was observed after the Gulf War of 1990-1991. But the global economic and political environment is marked by much greater uncertainty today than at the end of the Gulf War.

Moreover both world and Caribbean tourism have changed significantly in the last decade. World tourism has become more competitive and travelers more discriminating. Within the Caribbean mass tourism destinations have boomed but smaller destinations are approaching saturation point. The social and environmental stresses of rapid tourist expansion are everywhere evident.

The chief issue facing regional tourism now is its long-term sustainability. Whether or not there is good recovery of the industry in 2003, it will continue to be vulnerable to natural and man-made events such as those of last September.

And the greater the economic role of tourism, the more the effects of its volatility will be transmitted to regional economies.

This was the import of St. Lucian Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony's keynote address to the Conference. Dr. Anthony told the participants that Caribbean tourism is at a cross-roads. It may be at a place of imminent crisis.

Alternatively, he said, the present juncture may be seen as an opportunity to review the options for long-term development and update the vision of where regional tourism ought to go.

That vision must necessarily be one of sustainable tourism. In broad terms, it was set out in the Convention establishing the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean (STZC) signed at the Association of Caribbean States Summit states last December. The STZC has 12 elements:

Culture and Identity 
Community Participation
Technology for Sustainability
Economic policies and instruments
Market development
Legal framework
Sustainability indicators
Air and Maritime Transport
Coordination with the private sector

In other words, market development is just one element in a larger package that addresses economic, cultural, social, and environmental sustainability.

For instance, as Dr. Anthony argued, the desirability of providing incentives to private tourist investors has to be balanced against the need to provide an adequate infrastructure, which requires government funding.

This column will continue to monitor developments related to sustainable tourism in coming weeks.

May 6, 2002

Revista INTER-FORUM is affiliated with (ICCAP)

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Professor Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. 

  The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to




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