Thursday 23rd June 2005

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How much is too much?

Last year, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation reported increases in Caribbean tourist arrivals of 7.2 per cent and improved occupancy rates of 7.9 per cent over 2003.

Cruise passengers to the region also increased by 13.9 per cent over the same period, maintaining a trend in the sector which started in the late 1980s.

Since then cruise tourism to the region has increased steadily at an average annual growth rate of 7.3 per cent versus 4.9 per cent in land tourism.

Over the period 1995-1999, 44 new cruise ships were commissioned and existing contracts will increase existing cruise berths by a further 16 per cent by 2007.

Cruise ships will therefore be getting larger and most of the new ships will be deployed to the Caribbean. As it stands the Caribbean currently receives nearly 50 per cent of all North American cruise capacity.

In two of the Caribbean destinations surveyed, statistics reveal that already, the average number of cruise visitors a day represented 19 per cent and 26 per cent of the total population.

In addition to the mainstream tourists seeking sun, sea and sand vacations, the numbers of special interest travellers to the region, such as eco-tourists, are also increasing.

Countries that have experienced difficulties in developing a traditional tourism industry have had new opportunities to woo the growing niche of eco-tourists. Destinations like Costa Rica, Belize and Dominica are now implementing strategies to develop this alternative type of tourism.

The efforts of the government of Belize have had significant success. In 1999, 49.4 per cent of the 172,292 tourists visiting that country visited Mayan sites, 12.8 per cent visited parks and reserves, and 87 per cent visited caves and barrier reefs.

Because eco-tourism activity traditionally takes place in areas of fragile and sometimes rare ecosystems, this type of tourism can be even more harmful if it develops without regulation.

The World Travel and Tourism Council projects that Caribbean tourism will experience an annual growth rate of 5.5 per cent between 2000 and 2010. While some view these figures with jubilation, the question of visitor density arises.

For smaller destinations the increased arrivals pose an even greater dilemma and some policy makers are concerned about “how much is too much.”

Recognising the mixed blessings which tourism in general can bring to a destination, planners must seek to employ tested and proven techniques to facilitate sustainable tourism development.

Some of these “tools for sustainability” fall into several categories and have been used successfully across the region.

They include industry regulations, which are imposed by government in the form of planning restrictions, and laws governing business practices. Some are regulations, which also emanate from professional associations and international bodies in the form of international agreements and guidelines to government, while others are imposed on the industry by the industry itself.

Most countries in the region have employed resource-protection measures and have enacted legislation and established institutions for land-use planning, development control and parks and protected areas systems.

In some cases regulations to strengthen the management of protected areas are needed.

There is also a need to update legislation and to improve levels of technical monitoring and enforcement personnel to enforce existing legislation.

Visitor management techniques exist to control movement of tourists and environmental impact assessments have become valuable tools for decision makers in preventing environmental degradation. There is a view, though, that EIAs can be manipulated, as the results are responsive to the inputs.

The concept of carrying capacity is generally accepted as another useful tool in determining acceptable tourism levels. The idea is to establish the number of tourists that an area can accommodate before the volume begins to create problems. This determination will enable authorities to manage and contain tourism within acceptable limits.

Numerous other techniques exist and emerging destinations can benefit from the experiences and best practices of more mature destinations in the Greater Caribbean region.

Jasmin Garraway is the Sustainable Tourism Director of the Association of Caribbean States. The opinions expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Comments and reactions can be sent to [email protected]

©2004-2005 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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