How tourism can impact developing island nations

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Anyone who has taken a Caribbean cruise has been to a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), but most of the time tourists are unaware of this and the impact they have on these destinations.

SIDS, comprising 38 United Nations member states and 20 non-UN member states, include islands and island nations such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti and Saint Martin in the Caribbean, as well as others like Papua New Guinea, Samoa and even Singapore.

But why are they called SIDS? The term was coined by the United Nations to categorize small island nations facing unique challenges, such as increased dependence on imports, geographic isolation, a fragile local ecosystem, and dependence on imports. tourism, which, together with fishing, can account for more than half of a SIDS. ‘Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Often caught in the tracks of hurricanes, like much of the Caribbean in 2017, or losing land mass and biodiversity due to climate change and pollution, SIDS are often always the first to feel the impacts. impacts of climate and global change, as well as economic and other recessions. world-changing events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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I myself saw the aftermath of the vicious 2017 Caribbean hurricane season when I visited St. Maarten on a cruise and found many buildings still in ruins many years after the hurricanes. destroyed communications, power and other key infrastructure, not to mention people’s homes.

Tourism can often be the main economic driver of SIDS, especially those in the Caribbean. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the pandemic caused a 70% drop in travel to SIDS in 2020, with around four years to fully recover from its effects. With tourism often being one of the largest industries on these islands, the effects have been devastating.

Before that, tourism also had negative effects. With overtourism comes the loss of biodiversity, the commodification of local culture, and the exploitation of both culture and resources, as the infrastructure of SIDS cannot balance the abundance of tourists with it. the needs of its own inhabitants.

Boracay, once a popular destination in the Philippines, is now virtually unknown after the region suffered from overtourism, raw sewage flowing directly into the sea from resorts, and destruction of local beaches and coasts due to the pollution of human origin. The region began cutting back on tourism in 2018 after decades of uncontrolled tourism operations devastating the region.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization writes: “The major challenge and opportunity for island tourism is to support economic growth while protecting and benefiting island environments and communities. “

So how can tourism, as it reboots in many SIDS as more people are vaccinated and countries start or have already started to reopen, can have a more positive impact and help address other challenges in the world? SIDS?

A sustainable tourism consultancy, Sea Going Green, believes that sustainability initiatives and local empowerment can help developing countries solve their biggest problems. The Amsterdam-based company works to address the negative impacts that tourism can have through partnerships with hotels, tour operators and even the islands themselves. He partnered with Bonaire to create Trasame ‘, a community empowerment initiative that aims to advance political engagement among its young people.

But as governments, organizations, and nonprofits strive to develop these inland island nations, how can travelers like you and I help make a more positive impact as we travel to these? destinations?

The answer is complicated, but ultimately it is about mindfulness. If you’re traveling to just one island country, ask your travel advisor about sustainable accommodation. Iberostar is just one of many who have worked to create coral nurseries and have banned single-use plastics in its resorts.

If you do use a tour operator, choose one with a clear sustainability initiative and one that offers local experiences that help empower communities and cultures. For example, G Adventures employs local tour guides and has worked to promote community empowerment with its G for Good programming, connecting travelers with programs that benefit women, people with disabilities and local initiatives. sustainable development.

If you are going on a cruise, book a tour with a local tour operator on the island or choose to do more sustainable activities. Research the cruise line’s sustainability initiatives to see if they are working on best practices for the environment and the communities they visit. Shop for locally made souvenirs instead of imported items at designer stores.

Tourism wields great power for a small island developing state, but when exercised responsibly, it can make the difference between destroying a destination or moving towards a more equitable and sustainable future for all. We are at the crossroads ; choose the right path.


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