much is too much?
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
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
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
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
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]