Is Caribbean Tourism Sustainable?

"To deliver the benefits that sustainable tourism promises takes work. It takes work for visitors too."

This article is a discussion of problems with Caribbean tourism and what needs to be done to sustain it, but first lets set the scene:

Tourism, by many calculations, is now the largest economic sector. Its impacts therefore touch upon most countries and peoples, visitors and residents alike. More than 20% of people travel on an annual basis. Mostly, tourism generates benefits but there are negative impacts too. Tourism, like any other economic sector, can reduce carbon emissions.

But, tourism, by definition, will never reduce carbon emissions to zero:

So, what can the traveller do to reduce the carbon load of travel?

airbnb or vrbo villas probably have fairly high carbon footprints:

Taking small steps eventually will bring a substantial change.

Tourism in the Caribbean

Tourism in the Caribbean is the most important economic sector. Even more important compared to other tourism dependent regions in the world. The Caribbean, with its hundreds of islands and cays, is highly attractive and is the go-to destination for most Winter travellers in the northern hemisphere.

At least 1 in 10 jobs, and maybe as many as 1 in 7 in some countries, are directly related to providing services to vacationers. In addition, a large proportion of indirect jobs are also related.

Problems with Tourism in the Caribbean

Degradation of coastal features is tantamount to destruction of the Caribbean tourism industry. This cannot be overstated. Many sea creatures depend on natural coastal features at some point in their life cycle. Mangroves, reefs and turtle egg laying grounds are the most obvious.

Sea level rise, severe storms and coastal degradation are real threats. Since a large proportion of tourism facilities are coastal, this impacts directly on nearly every aspect of Caribbean tourism. All visitors interact with coastal or water based facilities and this also puts additional stress on the same coastal features.

"The emerging destinations are quickly becoming emergency territories due to its rising vulnerability to environmental risks, climate change impacts, biodiversity losses and quality of ecosystems, putting in danger coastal territories and local communities and requesting urgent policy answers. It is also necessary to take into account the long-term trends in tourism production and consumption patterns to anticipate - and influence - growth scenarios and increase resilience to natural, social and economic shocks for local communities and socio-economic structures. " (Blue Tourism Study: Sustainable Blue Tourism, 2019)

This study goes into considerable detail about the impacts of coastal tourism and the importance of protecting and rehabilitating coastal areas. See page 20, 21. A widely based discussion of the Caribbean is found starting on pg 48.

For example, solid waste —which is not a uniquely touristic problem. Both visitors and residents produce huge amounts of waste that literally has nowhere to go except that it ends up everywhere. This problem is going to require a fundamental shift in people's attitudes towards properly disposing of waste material. That, and investments in waste handling methods and facilities that are not currently present. Also, usage of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are causing serious pollution issues.

While coastal degradation is the single biggest threat to Caribbean tourism, foreign ownership is also undermining local development. Foreign ownership leaves little money available to local economies:

The combination of these means that most of the visitor expenditure stays in the source countries and very little of this money actually is distributed to the destination countries. This might be as much as 70 - 80%. In other words, destination countries appear to supply the product but only 20 -30% of the revenue generated actually stays there. That's right, only 20 - 30 cents of every dollar spent stays in the destination. By definition, foreign operators are located far away from destinations, and have limited vested interest in destinations. There is little incentive for them to reduce in destination carbon emissions literally until the local people demand it. Still, these companies have huge economic clout.

The foreign tour companies will argue that they marketed and developed the business, so it is their right to claim most of the revenue. Others might argue that the product the foreign companies market is the right to visit these places and that the destination product is owned by the local people. Either way, local people still draw the short straw in the bargain.

In sum, foreign tour companies that operate mainly in the cruise and all-inclusive sectors are very powerful and comprise very large proportions of the tourism industry in Caribbean islands.

Impacts of the cruise industry:

The problem of 'overtourism', especially in main ports on multiple cruise ship visit days, is already having sizeable impacts. This is not a pleasant experience and can be quite stressful. Island destinations must enable themselves to deal with too many cruise tourists. Stay-over visitors, on the other hand, should be welcomed because they have a much bigger economic value.

The cruise industry is very powerful and negotiates with destinations, on a one by one basis, so from a position of power. Small island destinations are usually in a weaker position and have not formed any sort of unified negotiating block. While these countries accept that cruise ship visits are important to their economies, the result is that most island countries are constantly under threat of losing this business. In turn, this means that most local authorities will do whatever the cruiselines demand, including negotiating low taxes and visitor fees as well as providing expensive infrastructure.

The cruise industry generally seeks out the cheapest possible workers, literally from anywhere in the world. Even though the cruise ships sail in Caribbean waters, they rarely employ workers from Caribbean countries.

Also consider that a stateroom on a cruise ship costs three times less to build compared to a land-based hotel room and usually has a higher occupancy rate. The stateroom moves with the ship and therefore delivers limited benefits to the destination relative to the hotel room.

Impacts of all-inclusive resorts:

There are obvious similarities between cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts because both are motivated only to deliver the maximum profit to shareholders:

Impacts on Local Infrastructure

Industrial level tourist facilities impose heavy costs on small island economies. Although located in distant places, these 'mega resorts' are literally 'branch plants' of the tourist factories in the main or source countries. The traveller travels to a distant place but in reality, they have never left home. The small islands bear all the costs for infrastructure: airports, port facilities, road networks, energy and water systems, etc. This imposes an extra burden on them that the foreign operators do not have.

Available, actually scarce and expensive energy and water supplies often means the bulk of these commodities are sent to tourist facilities as compared to local communities. But the local communities are still paying for the infrastructure. The foreign corporations do not pay any of this cost. They probably also negotiate reduced bulk rates. At the same time, the visitor, unaware of the scarcity, consumes them in the same way as they do when they are at home, where they are plentiful. But locals can't behave this way. If the small economies would factor in these costs into their profit equations, they may take a different view on how development is to take place. Moderating tourism development means protecting local infrastructure as well as social —and eco-systems.

Ship itineraries can be altered to include, or not include, ports at the whim of the cruiseline. This means that there is no guarantee that the infrastructure will be paid for on the basis of the arrangement under which it was originally built. This often leads to overuse and degradation of infrastructure in cases where no money is available to maintain it.

Impacts on Local Suppliers

Cruise lines and all-inclusive companies drive hard bargains for services such as local tour guides and ground transport services. This is an important component of their profit calculation because they mark up this cost by a large percentage. These companies will make more profit than the supplier and they don't do any of the work.

In fact, the local tour guides do all the work from passenger pick up - to guiding - to providing refreshments - to returning the passenger safely - in their own vehicle, with their own liability insurance - but don't get paid a fair price for their work.

In addition, most all-inclusive resorts do not provide adequate opportunities for visitors to venture outside the resort. This 'walled garden' or enclave business model impacts local service providers such as tour operators and entertainers who are frustrated by limited opportunities to deliver their services.

Like the cruiselines, the all-inclusive hotel industry is keen on keeping as much revenue and profit within their businesses as possible.

Caribbean transportation, integration and tourism

No discussion of Caribbean tourism can take place without contemplating connectivity, by air or by sea. In fact, no tourism is even possible without these connections, both between islands but also to the outside World. But it is almost exclusively the outside World responsible for bringing visitors to Caribbean islands; air and cruise lines as well as hotel chains. There is almost a complete reliance on foreign carriers to carry people, and goods, from feeder markets in Europe and North America.

Other problems:

Caribbean countries do gather the most basic statistics regarding arrivals but tend not to go deeper into what visitors do during their stay. Arrival numbers, on their own, do not reveal the activity of visitors after they arrive. More statistics are needed to reveal spending and other tourist activity while in destination. This kind of knowledge of visitor touring, dining and shopping activities would be extremely useful.

The perception of criminal attacks on tourists. The fact is that tourists are rarely the target of criminals but this may be increasing outside main tourist areas which are policed heavily. In particular, locations of private villas may be problematic but attacks are still rare.

Limited facilities for disabled visitors. In fact, some all-inclusive resorts might be better at this than destinations in general.

Limited integration betweeen economic sectors involved in the delivery of tourism services. The most obvious example is the poor integration between accommodations and food producer sectors. Hotels and cruiselines do not prefer to buy locally produced food because of stated unreliability of supply. This extends to light industries such as furniture makers or textile makers who could produce and maintain the furnishings for the hotels.

International competitiveness is lagging relative to other regions such as southeast Asia. The resulting slower growth is a concern because travellers may be choosing alternative destinations.

Debt levels of Caribbean nations mean that a large portion of national budgets and foreign exchange are required to pay for this debt. Also, this means that less money is available for development purposes.

HIgh travel and accommodation taxes make it unaffordable for most Caribbean nationals to travel intra-island easily. Caribbean nationals, especially business owners, should be able to qualify for at least a partial rebate on these taxes.

Media coverage of tourism successes and achievements could be much better. Daily and weekly coverage can be stepped up to include news about local developments in the tourism sector. Successful local projects, hotel upgrades and so on need to be shared, highlighted and praised. Interviews with local tourism leaders also can add awareness and educational value for all citizens. Leadership in this arena will provide much incentive for others to follow.

In light of these problems, Caribbean governments, looking for quick delivery on job creation promises, tend to negotiate with major developers in secret before announcing major projects. This short circuits community involvement and is problematic for a number of reasons:

" [T]he ability of governments to govern coastal and maritime tourism is often hindered by weak municipal authorities as well as illegal or shadow business deals and practices. To gain control over lucrative land-use, developers can be tempted to pay fines by displacing local owners and violating local laws rather than following time-costly bureaucratic procedures. This type of corruption and cronyism is difficult to document; however, it considerably affects decision-making in tourism worldwide." (Blue Tourism Study: Sustainable Blue Tourism, 2019)

The consequences of these practices are enormous. Given all of the above, small island destinations in the Caribbean pay a high price to allow visitors to their shores. The combination of these things creates an apathetic, disenchanted, underdeveloped workforce. Opportunities for advancement are limited to non-existent. So the more talented, better educated people will leave their place of birth to find work in the richer countries. This imposes a heavy burden on local educational systems when the most worthy leave. There is also very little incentive for locals to start their own businesses. This removes these people from contributing to local economies and the related tax income they might have generated. The vicious cycles, both of the way projects happen as well as the undermining of social structures, must be corrected.

So, Is Caribbean Tourism Sustainable?

The reality is, there is no question that it must be so. Many lives —both human and non-human, many jobs, whole Societies and gigantic ecosystems depend not only on Caribbean tourism being sustainable but actually reducing its impact and doing so for the long term. The sea and coastal areas underpin the attractiveness of the Caribbean, failure is not an option.

Thinking of the Caribbean region as existing within its own kind of 'fishbowl' helps to focus the mind on the deeply interrelated, delicate balances that are at play on a daily basis.

Protecting coastal assets

Action on protecting coastal resources is more and more being taken with projects such as The Caribbean Challenge Initiative. This important project brings together governments, companies and many partners to address coastal protection in a big way.

"For the first time in history, visionary leaders of Caribbean governments have come together with responsible business leaders to take collaborative action to protect and sustainably manage their marine and coastal environment. Island nations across the region are committing to protect at least 20% of their waters by 2020.

Map with stars for participating CCI Governments and Territories

Eleven Caribbean countries and territories have committed to accelerating and expanding efforts to safeguard the Caribbean region's marine and coastal environment, further promote the sustainable use of natural resources through new commitments to conservation and / or scaling up of existing actions while continuing to engage the private sector and development partners of the CCI. Based in St Lucia.

Conservation Commitment to protect at least 20% of the near-shore marine and coastal habitats by 2020
Participating in Caribbean Biodiversity Fund that will provide sustainable financing for national protected areas
Parties to the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention)
Parties to the Protocol on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) of the Cartagena Convention ... "

Related local entities include: Caribbean Biodiversity Fund, Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) and The Caribbean Marine Protected Area Network and Forum MPA (CaMPAM).

Sustainable projects are supported by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

As well, numerous citizen initiated local projects are now active in many locations around the Caribbean to protect local ecosystems. These projects have economic value in that sustaining resources keeps them attractive and promotes public awareness and education. Visitors like it because of the opportunity to experience something truly 'Caribbean'.

Cruising and all-inclusive travel

Cruising and all-inclusive types of travel are almost certainly not sustainable, at least in their present forms. Since these types of travel are a massive component of travel in the Caribbean region, much needs to be done to reduce their relatively high carbon loads as well as to develop local workforces:

Indeed, walking the talk means making major investments to reduce carbon output and to develop local human potential. Many large resorts might be better off to invest in their own energy production directly.

Cruise ships, specifically, must be held to higher standards and need to stop damaging delicate ecosystems. Period. Now. These floating cities are a menace but they're also unshakable in their popularity.

Again, these companies need to generate more opportunities for locals. Cruiselines and all-inclusive resorts may need to be forced to ease some of their control on their clientele in order to allow more interaction with locals. For example, all-inclusives might not offer dinner included on one night during the stay so as to allow visitors to experience a local restaurant. Cruiselines might allow an overnight stay, once again to encourage passengers to take in local night time entertainment. Cruiselines, sailing in Caribbean waters, might also be required to hire Caribbean workers and be held to fair employment standards. The ships are not built in the Caribbean and there is no industry there to build them. However, it might be possible to do at least some of the refurbishment work employing Caribbean nationals, such as painting, replacing bedding and other in-house linens, etc.

These steps might also help to remove at least some of the local resistance to these tightly controlled industries.

Recently, sub-sectors of tourism such as community tourism, eco-tourism, home stays and slow tourism are beginning to take a larger portion of travel expenditure. This is important because these forms of travel generate more income for local producers. And there is no 'eco-cruise' industry as things currently stand.

This is a slow process. Because it is still a relatively small sub-sector, local suppliers are hard-pressed to make the necessary investments to attract visitors. By supporting their efforts, many will be in a better economic position to develop their assets. However, this also has a side benefit of contributing to their rustic charm and delivering an authentic experience. In some ways, the ability to visit the less developed sites means that visitors will see the place in a more or less unchanged form. This is especially true in Cuba but also in Dominica and Tobago, as examples. Belize and Guyana also are still early in their development cycles.

However, even within more developed destinations, there are eco-tourism sites that are taking significant steps to protect their attraction as low carbon emitters. This is an important sub-sector and will continue to develop. As time goes on, lower carbon tourism will —must become more and more in demand.

Can the Caribbean act as a single destination and market?

Certainly, the Caribbean acting as a single destination and market has many benefits in lowering costs, improving competitiveness, increasing marketing reach and ultimately delivering a higher value relative to the amounts of money spent. Especially, for the smaller Caribbean countries which stand to gain a lot of marketing heft by pooling resources. This would also enable stronger negotiating positions when dealing with cruiselines and other large foreign operators.

There are numerous regional organisations advocating for a higher level of economic cooperation and connectivity: ACS, CARICOM, CDB, ECLAC, IDB, OAS, OECS and even external organisations like USAID and the EU. But the execution on the ground is, sadly, lagging.

Take the interstate highway development that happened in the US in the 1950s. This project gave an incalculable —and perpetual boost to the US economy. And this boost was entirely internal. The interstate highway system lowered the cost of distribution for local producers to vastly expand their markets. Combined with the automobile, suddenly people could travel around at next to no cost. Hotels and motels suddenly became an industry for the masses. It obviously worked and is still delivering results to this day. What it cost is now just talk because the ongoing economic benefits are clear. A similar opportunity awaits the Caribbean region.

But, why doesn't this happen?

Well, it has started to happen. The OECS countries recently undertook a combined marketing program. And we've seen some progress in the Single Market Economy as put forward by CARICOM. However, these trends need to become more developed. Also, marketing within the Caribbean region also needs to improve by supplying better intra-island transport and internet network.

But the above mentioned organisations might still be held accountable for not pooling their own resources or making cooperative investments that will deliver demonstrable results. These organisations also need to walk the talk.

By providing strategically placed startup and seed money in transport and communications as well as energy and water supply could have an impact like the interstate highways. This would dramatically lower the cost for Caribbean producers and provide cheaper travel options for locals and visitors alike to travel within the region. Does it really matter how much it costs when the benefits are delivered for generations yet unborn?

The hotel industry in the Caribbean largely caters to foreigners. There is no motel industry, as such, to cater to intra-island travellers in their own automobiles but guesthouses are pretty close. This represents a nascent economic opportunity yearning to be realized.

Then, alongside these suppliers might develop more service providers like food outlets and entertainment venues. And on and on. Again, why this doesn't happen is not obvious.

Caribbean tourism dependency

It is often said that the Caribbean is the most tourism dependent region in the world. While, this may be true, the industry delivers profits mainly for foreign corporations. Money doesn't stay in the Caribbean any longer than it takes to go through the payment terminal. There is little left for Caribbean peoples. But the Caribbean countries are locked into an economic pattern that continues to promulgate this dependency and does not seem capable of breaking it.

Some may argue that this is the major dis-incentive for local tourism businesses to flourish while others may argue that this is exactly why this development must happen. It is difficult to argue against tourism that enables job creation in the Caribbean and for the poorer segments of Society, ultimately leading to social and economic inclusion.

Further to this, Caribbean tourism is completely dependent on the sea. For tourism, the sea also is the platform for many visitor activities: beach visits, reef tours as well as activities such as water sports and simply —observing the beauty of the sea. But also for whatever can be fished for food. Seafood is an important source of protein but it also has a real attraction to visitors who want to experience local cuisine at its finest. Unfortunately, some of the more desireable fish species for food are already close to being fished out, among them, kingfish and red snapper. Can farming these species be done, like for salmon and tuna.

The thrust towards sustainable tourism is both from official organizations and from private actors and it appears that private actors are taking it very seriously. But there is still not enough to make it mainstream in awareness as well as in actual action on the ground. Triggering this action and perpetuating this awareness are vital to the future of Caribbean tourism.

Build the 'human' side of tourism

As many contributors have said, the development of local peoples needs to be from the grassroots. Community tourism along with related production of tourism services must be encouraged and promoted. It is a quest to 'humanize' the tourism industry rather than dealing strictly with numbers on a spreadsheet back at head office. Tourism, in its most essential form, is a people to people business.

Along with protecting marine and coastal resources, building on the 'human resource' —is equally as important an asset that Caribbean islands have to offer. Many visitors when asked what was the best part of their vacation will invariably say that it was interaction with a local person they remember most.

Local tour guides, food producers, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues would all flourish and the jobs would be better paying and more permanent. Local business owners would be in a better position to invest and create better, higher paying jobs with more opportunities for advancement. Contrast this with the current situation.

Its really not possible to look back once the local communities have made the transition. This is what truly sustaining tourism is. And while tourism will never be 'zero emission', this form of tourism will be much lower. Because locals will see the direct impacts of the carbon load, measures to mitigate it can now be dealt more effectively at a local level.

Diversity and awareness of world heritage and cultures is also better. As communities interact with visitors, cultural sensitivity improves, reinforcing the notion that tourism is a major factor in creating better understanding between peoples.

In addition, awareness of the value of biodiversity is improved. Biodiversity is the foundation of Caribbean tourism, without which tourism would not exist. Pristeen beaches, crystal clear sea water, clean air, healthy animals and lush vegetation contribute enormously to the visitor experience and spiritual uplift. This is what underpins the 'holiday experience', and if it wasn't so, then people might just stay at home or go elsewhere where they will find the healing properties that Nature imparts.

Once again, it is locally based suppliers who will be best at delivering these important experiences because they live there and also want to experience the value of a clean and healthy biosphere on a daily basis, especially when the tourists are not there.

As people become more seasoned travellers, the quest for experiences becomes a higher priority. Many people demand experiences on top of simple sightseeing, although this is still important. Delivering experiences is a major underdeveloped sub-sector of the Caribbean tourism industry.

For instance, this article by Lorraine Headley from the Caribbean Insider blog from 2011 says it very well.

Low season, meaning Summer in the northern hemisphere, is high season in the southern hemisphere. Many Caribbean destinations are realizing that bringing people to their shores in southern hemisphere Winter is an under-developed market.

Sustainable Energy Underpins Economic Development

Similar to the interstate highway system described above, sustainable energy production will reduce costs, liberate operating money and expand opportunities for Caribbean businesses.

The time to invest in sustainable energy production has arrived. The cost to install and operate wind, geothermal and solar energy production has dropped to the point where it will save money for most users. The green energy industry is a huge opportunity for local companies. Development banks need to encourage this green industry.

"Every business can find at least some way to be sustainable," Kiven Pierre says. "It’s not going to be cost efficient for everyone to do it on the same level, but every little bit can go a long way." (Bringing Sustainable Initiatives to the Caribbean - Profile of Kiven Pierre by Kathleen Haley, 2013)

Critiques of Caribbean tourism development

The reality of Caribbean tourism development is all too clear for everyone to see. While the stated aims of this development, jobs creation, protection of biosphere, and so on are lofty, the reality on the ground is quite different. See, for example this critique:

Sustainable tourism and the research it requires by Ian Bethell-Bennett, The Nassau Guardian, 2019**

Mr. Bethell-Bennett is as clear as the Caribbean Sea on his assessment of the process of undertaking sustainable tourism development in The Bahamas, he states:

So, whereas, the tourism industry has become highly developed in The Bahamas, it would appear that local social conditions are not improving and the quality of the environment is being compromised. Many writers share Mr. Bethell-Bennett's views.

This description holds truth in many other islands. So much so, that the general stated objectives are seen as hollow promises to many islanders Caribbean wide. For now, cruise and all-inclusive resorts insulate visitors from contact with locals who may be more than willing to share their views. But, this won't last forever.

Another angle on the current state of the development of Caribbean tourism is that it is viewed simply as a continuation of colonial practices. Authors, like Polly Pattullo, with her landmark study, 'Last Resorts' are clear that the colonial exploitation of Caribbean sites hasn't ended. Since most Caribbean destinations are bound to their metropolitan masters —and send most of their profits there, it is unlikely that this will change anytime soon.

Despite all of these things, the Caribbean is, and hopefully will continue to be, one of the most attractive and captivating regions in the world. Each island is unique and one will never exhaust all of the available travel choices. However, to deliver the benefits that sustainable tourism promises takes work. It takes work for visitors too. To be fully aware of the best ways to support local Caribbean communities and peoples requires study and committment. It requires looking under the hood of the reality of what is happening there. It requires getting to know the people and their problems and their needs. The rewards are easily worth the effort. Sustaining them is essential.

Further reading:

A Century Of Unsustainable Tourism In The Caribbean: Lessons Learned And Opportunities For Cuba, by Melissa Mooney Walton, Rachael Hughen, David E. Guggenheim, Ximena Escovar-Fadul, April, 2018

Blue Tourism: The Transition Towards Sustainable Coastal and Maritime Tourism in World Marine Regions by Tonazzini, D., Fosse, J., Morales, E., González, A., Klarwein, S., Moukaddem, K., Louveau, O, 2019

** Also, read: Hard Questions Which Demand Answers by Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett, The Tribune, 2018

There were a number of points that stood out: a major one was that in the space of colonialism, can a culture really be sustainable? The second was, can an island be sustainable when it is controlled by a last-century vision?
Sustainable Tourism: Discussion demonstrated that rather than focus on numbers of tourists arriving, one must consider the quality of visitors. The quantity of visitors only leads to a diluted and exploited product that undermines the infrastructure of the place. While, attention is paid to the quality of visitor, the destination can charge higher prices for the product and the environment less degraded. Environmental degradation is a serious concern with large scale, quantity-driven tourism developments. Tourism cannot be allowed to destroy the environment tourists come to enjoy. ...

In this Op Ed: Transforming the Caribbean tourism ecosystem, published in Caribbean Journal in 2016, Prof. Dr. Ryan R. Peterson views transformational leadership as imperative to moving forward.

"In effect, the acclaimed sustainability triangle of economic, social and ecological developments and impacts is pointless, if tourism governance and transformative leadership do not co-evolve within and beyond the tourism ecosystem. More importantly, the tourism ecosystem involves more than the traditional public-private tourism gaze of small-island tourism societies. Without shared values, ethics and integrity, sustainable tourism will remain flawed in conceptualization, futile in execution, and fleeting in sustainability. In a culture of crusading disciples, drowned in disjointed policies and politics, creative deconstruction and transformative leadership of tourism ecosystems is not only necessary – it is imperative for Caribbean prosperity and achieving resilience of small island tourism societies. No island is an island by and of itself… . "

Slow Tourism At The Caribbeans Geographical Margins by Benjamin F. Timms and Dennis Conway, 2012

"The Caribbean tourism industry owes much of its success to beneficial geographical site and situation factors. Yet these geographical advantages have also contributed to the mass tourism-related pressures of economic dependency, social division and environmental degradation. We argue geographically marginal locales in the Caribbean have the potential to develop alternative tourism models that ameliorate these negative repercussions. With its conceptual roots originating from the slow food movement and theoretically rooted in Herman Daly's ‘soft growth’ development, we propose slow tourism as a viable soft growth model that is a more culturally sensitive and sustainable genre of alternative tourism. This new model and its locational appropriateness appears eminently suitable since it diversifies and revitalizes mature tourism offerings, redirects tourism away from ‘hard growth’ maxims, and thereby contributes to more sustainable tourism ensembles. In a maturing industry that requires innovation, revitalization and significant change in offerings if it is to survive and prosper, we argue the best places to promote slow tourism lies in the Caribbean's overlooked geographical margins where diversity and authenticity still persist."

SUN, SAND, AND SUSTAINABILITY: A Way Forward for Caribbean Tourism: Lead Researcher: Ishtar Govia, PhD, CaPRI Caribbean, 2021

"It’s not about your physical hotel plant. It’s about your community, and it’s about the destination. It’s about starting to work together. Why should someone protect something that they don’t know?" – Academic, Trinidad & Tobago

This report seeks to present the shared and varied perspectives, experiences, and recommendations of stakeholders in the Caribbean tourism ecosystem regarding COVID-related survival, recovery, and transformation of the sector.
Policymakers’ and governments’ emphasis on the need for sustainability in conversations around tourism sector recovery and development is validated, but there is an urgent need for greater action in moving towards this goal.
Stakeholders, especially operators, seemed to believe that the future of a sustainable tourism product lies in a more diversified, community-based style of tourism and that for this to be successful, capacity building within the sector needs to be relevant and consistent. Such capacity building, they argue, should also occur on community, national, and regional levels.

The Sustainable Tourism Zone of The Greater Caribbean (ACS)

The STZC has been identified "as a geographically determined cultural, socio-economic and biologically rich and diverse unit, in which tourism development will depend on the sustainability and the principles of integration, co-operation and consensus, aimed at facilitating the integrated development of the Greater Caribbean".

Member Caribbean countries: CARICOM: Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago
Associate Members: Aruba, Curaçao, France (on behalf of French Guiana, Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin), Guadeloupe, Martinique, Sint Maarten, The Netherlands (on behalf of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius)
+ Cuba, Dominican Republic
Central America: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
G-3: Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela

And, consider this: As a rough calculation, the economy of the insular Caribbean + Belize + Guyana was about $485B USD in 2019. These are the Caribbean countries listed by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. The population of these countries is about 42 million people. Compare this GDP to California with 39.5 million people and a GDP of $3.4T USD or Canada with a population of 38 million and a GDP of 1.64T USD. So, this estimated Caribbean GDP is about 7X less than California and 3.4X less than Canada without correcting for the difference in population. This infers that there is plenty of room for growth given the right combination of investments and economic stimulus.
It is not a fair comparison because of differences in infrastructure, resource base, education levels, etc. It is used here only as an indication of the potential of populations with roughly similar sizes.