TT remains silent on Sustainable Tourism Zone
By Vernon Khelawan Thursday, January 16 2014
On November 6 2013, a little more than two months ago the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) announced that the Caribbean Region has been established as the first Sustainable Tourism Zone in the world.
It took 12 years to happen, but it has been done. Two months have elapsed since the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Greater Caribbean (STZC) has been in force, but to date not a peep has been heard for the Trinidad and Tobago Government, nor any of its satellite organisations. Even the Chambers of Commerce have been deafeningly silent on the issue, yet the calls continue for the development of our tourism sector. Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to the Protocol to the Convention establishing the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean.
There are many excursions to all parts of the world by local sector agents and/or government agencies purporting to be working towards the development of tourism not only in Tobago, but also in Trinidad, yet local stakeholders seem reluctant to say something about the measure. As a signatory to the STZC, it seems imperative that a comprehensive statement be forthcoming from the Government.
The STZC was developed as a multi-sectoral participatory approach to destination management and adopts the UN’s definition of Sustainable Tourism, which involves the management of all resources, natural, cultural, human and financial in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled, while providing a unique experience to the visitor and at the same time, improving the quality of life for the locals.
The specific objectives
of the STZC are :
• To strengthen the capacities of public and private tourism industry stakeholders of ACS Member and Associate Member States on its principles and know-how of Sustainable Tourism and in this regard foster effective multi-stakeholder dialogue, collaboration and partnerships;
• To synchronise national, regional and international sustainable tourism initiatives and adaptation of best practices;
• Identification of methodologies and common tools for measuring the impact of sustainable development on the economic, social and cultural environment of the area; and
• To deliver the tools, resources and strategies in the areas of tourism and sustainability to facilitate effective planning for the development, upgrading and promotion of tourism sites as well as to add marketing and promotional value.
It is no secret that the majority of island states in the Caribbean Basin, as well as their Central American counterparts depend to a large extent on tourism.
As a matter of fact the tourism sector has gained prominence as the most important economic activity in several ACS Member and Associate Member States of the Greater Caribbean, moreso since persistent turbulence in other economic sectors in the region has served to enhance the relative importance of tourism as an economic development strategy.
Tourism has to be regarded therefore as increasingly crucial for the economic survival of local economies, both as a means of employment and as a source of foreign direct investment and foreign exchange earnings.
As the ACS’ project overview states, “Tourism that is properly developed and well managed can have significant benefits to the destination and visitors alike. Tourism can contribute to the management and conservation of natural and cultural resources.”
“Tourism”, it continued, “has proven to revitalise indigenous skills, traditions and art forms and can provide an economic incentive to conserve these assets. Tourism also represents one of the few economic opportunities available to remote communities and provides real opportunities to reduce poverty, create employment for disadvantaged people and stimulate regional development.”
On the other hand, tourism that is unplanned and unmanaged “can lead to problems such as a rapid, generally unplanned urbanisation, environmental degradation, socio-cultural changes and diverse negative economic impacts such as high import to export ratios, weakening of local industries and leakages due to foreign ownership of assets, imported labour etc. In the Greater Caribbean, incidents of both the negative and positive impacts of tourism development are evident.”
The overview continues, “On a wider geo-economic scale, the tourism industry is undergoing rapid and structural transformation. Demand motivations are changing as nature, heritage and recreational destinations become more important and conventional tourism is forced to meet tougher environmental requirements.
“Additionally, primary source markets such as the United States have been dealing with economic challenges which have slowed travel and in the case of Great Britain, have imposed new tax measures such as the Air Passenger Duty Tax (APD), which has adversely affected tourism enterprises and consequently local economies.”
Meanwhile, according to the overview, “The countries of the region are simultaneously facing increasing competition from new and emerging destinations of Asia and elsewhere, which further add to the volatility of the future regional outlook.
“Moreover, the rich and diverse biophysical environments that supply countries with their competitive edge are in many places being degraded and tourism cannot endure as a useful tool for meeting development objectives, unless this trend is reversed and the resources provided with adequate protection.”
“These combined circumstances present a challenge to Regional governments and private enterprise which demand quick and innovative responses and new approaches to the tourism market in order to maintain and grow market share,” the report added. Protecting and guaranteeing tourism as a long term activity, was the main consideration for establishing the STZC, which was signed by the Heads of State and/or Governments of the ACS in 2001.
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.”