Recently, category five hurricanes Irma and Maria clearly demonstrated the region’s environmental vulnerability. In Dominica alone, a post-disaster assessment by the World Bank Group estimated there were US$390 million in damages and 1.8 million work days lost across tourism, agriculture, and commerce. There is now a public-private effort underway to rebrand the region, to mitigate the perception of risk that all Caribbean destinations were devastated following the hurricanes, and to show that the region is open for business. It is then timely that the closing event for the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development—The Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism-was held in the Caribbean, in Montego Bay, Jamaica from November 27 to 30. Speakers at the conference emphasized three key themes: Resilience, sustainability, and inclusion.
The key word for the conference was resilience: not only how to build back better, but also how to build resilience into the everyday management of tourism, how to be better prepared, how to manage a crisis, and how to ensure greater shared economic and social benefits from tourism in the region.
At the conference, three important stakeholders contributed on the topic of resilience:
- The Jamaican Prime Minister, the Most Honorable Andrew Michael Holness, emphasized that harnessing the power of tourism for development can create a win-win for natural assets and the economy, stating: “tourism can move nations from poverty to prosperity.”
- Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, explained that building resilience is about building strength, it is about people and infrastructure, and about being proactive not reactive.
- The Minister of Tourism for Jamaica, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, used the occasion of the conference to announce the launching of the Tourism Resilience Center in the Caribbean, including a Sustainable Tourism Observatory, to assist destinations’ preparedness, management and recovery from crises that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods. The center will be tasked with producing toolkits, guidelines and policies to handle the recovery process from the minute a crisis takes place.
Sustainable tourism development can help build resilience and can also offer destinations many additional benefits, including environmental conservation and jobs for women, young people and indigenous communities. Updating infrastructure to more modern and disaster-resilient designs help destinations remain competitive, and more quickly recover after a crisis whether this be climatic or economic.
Saint Lucia is one country that has been proactive in this regard, working the World Bank Group to improve its tourism offerings. Saint Lucia was highlighted on a panel led by Galina Sotirova, World Bank Group Country Manager for Jamaica, on the role of multilateral development banks in tourism. The Minister of Tourism for St Lucia, Hon. Dominic Fedee, explained how Saint Lucia lost market share following the global financial crisis. The country was not attracting the new investment it needed to remain competitive. In response, the World Bank Group worked with Saint Lucia to create a system to attract international investment with a focus on financing important hotel properties in default. The team implemented an investment strategy in partnership with Invest Saint Lucia (ISL), the official investment agency of the Government of Saint Lucia, which ultimately resulted in $250 million in new tourism investments that provided jobs for local people and built economic resilience. Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have also just launched the OECS Regional Tourism Competitiveness project, financed by the World Bank, which will further strengthen the environment for tourism investment and growth. The project will facilitate the regional movement of tourists using ferries among these islands; improve selected tourism sites; and strengthen the implementation capacity for regional tourism market development—ultimately aiming to increase tourism spending and generate value-added jobs in the region.
Inclusion is another ingredient to successful tourism industries in the developing world. Program Leader for Latin American and Caribbean region, Cecile Niang, reiterated the World Bank Group’s commitment to tourism as a poverty alleviation tool, and many of the delegates recognized the role of women and SMEs in tourism: for instance, women make up 60-70% of the labor force in the hotel sector, and in some countries, tourism has twice as many women employers than other sectors. Tourism is linked to all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and speakers at the conference stressed the point that more needs to be done to ensure the positive benefits of tourism reach local farmers and fisher folk.
More than 1,000 delegates from across the world attended the November conference in Jamaica, including three Heads of State; Ministers of Tourism, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Culture, Education, Gender, Entertainment, Sports, Youth and Information; private sector leaders; NGOs; academics; and multi-lateral and bi-lateral development partners. The event was organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Government of Jamaica, the World Bank Group and the Inter-American Development Bank in collaboration with the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, George Washington University, Chemonics International and the World Travel & Tourism Council.
The three-day event culminated in the launch of the Montego Bay Declaration—a 15-point commitment to action that outlines the need for greater regional cooperation, improved crisis preparedness, and a Blue Economy approach to growth that recognizes and values ocean health for all economic activities in the region, particularly tourism.
The conference marks an important shift beyond the acknowledgement of tourism as a development tool and job creator to the responsibility to build more resilient and inclusive tourism sectors that sustain both the environment and people of small island states. The role of tourism as driver of shared prosperity in the Caribbean is all the more relevant as Caribbean leaders devise their vision for a more climate-resilient Caribbean, ahead of the One Planet Summit convened by President Macron on December 12 in Paris.