Ex Environment Minister Cautions Region to Tread Carefully in Developing Tourism Sector

Sustainability consultant Elizabeth Thompson has sounded the alarm that increased tourism numbers could also spell higher environmental degradation.


ORANJESTAD, Aruba, Thursday December 7, 2017 – A former Barbados Environment Minister is cautioning the region to tread carefully with their tourism development.

Sustainability consultant Elizabeth Thompson has sounded the alarm that increased tourism numbers could also spell higher environmental degradation.

Addressing the opening of the sixth annual Statia Sustainability Conference in Aruba yesterday, Thompson said the primary objective of traditional tourism policy in the Caribbean had been to attract as many tourists as possible to the islands.

However, she said, with this success has come environmental harm. Thompson told the seminar, which is being held under the theme ‘Sustainability: A Tool for Development’, that regional destinations needed to guard against the environmental impact of the “bring more tourists model”.

“The model of bringing more tourists, which the islands pursue, is putting pressure and pollution on fragile eco-systems which tourists have come to enjoy. It is a classic catch-22. The belief is if we bring more tourists we will make more money, but this thinking is flawed. The more tourists who come the more environmental harm is done and the greater the level and rate of environmental degradation, thereby compromising the quality of the product and putting the product at risk,” she warned.

“We seem to believe that these eco-systems will last forever or remain pristine no matter how or by how many people they are used,” she said, while suggesting that a new approach be taken to the development of tourism in the region. “We should move to approaches where we are selling quality and exclusivity and limit access to the numbers we allow into the islands every year, as this will limit the stress and the burden on the islands’ ecosystems.”

Using the Turks and Caicos as an example, she said the country continued to be in extremely high demand even though it has limited the number of cruise ships and yachts that could use its port on any given day.

“They have tapped into the notion of selling exclusivity and as soon as you sell exclusivity people want it irrespective of how you price it,” she said.

In her address, Thompson also advocated for better treatment of local investors and workers while lamenting that far too often the region’s focus was on getting tourism revenues, and the needs, preferences and comfort of tourists are given precedence over those of the nationals who must welcome, entertain serve and service these tourists.

She also took a swipe at the all-inclusive hotel model in the region, stating that it allows money to remain on property while domestic shops and service providers are shut out from the benefits of the financial receipts.

“Statistics also show that because of the high degree of foreign ownership of hotels, the region retains only 20 to 30 cents in every dollar with the bulk of the tourism dollar for rooms, resorts, recreation and even food, going to companies outside of the Caribbean,” Thompson said, adding that “unless we change the fundamentals and have more local ownership and investment, regional earnings will continue to be minimal relative to the revenues generated on the islands but banked elsewhere”.

“Rarely do local businesses get anywhere near the concessions, tax rebates and incentives given to foreign investors to do business here, and the cost to the locals doing that business is much higher. Although their contribution to the tourism product and the tourist experience is a higher value, domestic investment is not recognized in the same way as foreign investment.”

Thompson also urged regional authorities to pay closer attention to the regulation of activities such as jet ski operations and whale watching and to ensure better management of garbage and sewage disposal, as well as other forms of pollution, since these activities could present severe threat to sustainable development of the region’s tourism product. (Barbados Today)

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