STC – 2019. St Vincent & the Grenadines
KINGSTOWN – As Barbados and other destinations seek ways to sustainably develop their tourism product, they are being challenged by Ambassador to the United Nations Elizabeth Thompson to put systems in place to profit more from their natural assets and culture while ensuring that locals benefit more.
Ambassador Thompson, a former minister for the environment who went on to serve as a UN Assistant Secretary General holding sustainable development portfolios was addressing the Caribbean Sustainable Tourism Conference here.
She said far too often, in pursuit of increased tourism arrivals, sound technical advice was cast aside, ignored and in many cases, never sought at all.
She said while increasing visitor arrival numbers was the first part of the equation, greater focus should be placed on improving the visitor experience and increasing the visitor spend.
Thompson said in order to achieve this, tourism leaders should “place social, economic and cultural resonance at the core of tourism marketing plans and ultimately at the core of region’s sustainability and success”.
She declared: “Sustainability is about harnessing society, economy and environment for the benefit of us all.”
Suggesting that the tourism industry would not always be the mainstay of the region, she urged officials to learn from past experiences in other industries including that of agriculture and especially sugar cane, and “seek to develop tourism products that are truly sustainable and more community and culturally oriented”.
Speaking on the topic of Business, Benefits, Beneficiaries, Obstacles and Opportunities, Ambassador Thompson pointed out that the region was made up of small and fragile ecosystems and was water scarce or water stressed, and warned that “over-tourism” and “ecosystem fatigue” were already evident at locations in some countries.
She said there was a need for countries to do “carrying capacity assessments of the ecosystem’s infrastructures and services of the islands including the generation and disposal of waste, traffic studies, access to water and other natural resources”.
She raised several questions, while pointing out that the World Travel and Tourism Council had identified some mega-teends that were shaping tourism and could have implications for the region if steps were not taken to adapt.
These, she said, included a change in consumption patterns, geo-political shifts, data and technology and sustainable living practices.
Ambassador Thompson told the audience: “Is the Caribbean tourism sector pursuing sustainability by harnessing the principles of the caring economy in generating profits for companies, development for citizens and preservation and protection for the ecosystems which make up our countries?
“We in the Caribbean, as in the rest of the world, are experiencing geo-political shifts.
“My question to you as tourism marketers and tourism specialists is, what do these geo-political shifts mean for the sustainability of how we market our product, to whom we market our product and who constitute our market?”
Arguing that data and technology was revolutionizing the industry and restructuring the job market, Thompson warned officials to expect further radical industry changes with technology, automation and artificial intelligence.
She added: “Some of these changes have already started.
“How are we in this region preparing for them or are we going to do as we do with so many other things, see them coming, do nothing, wait until they are here and say, ‘when did that happen’
“What is the level of the preparedness of the region in seeing and seizing the new opportunities and preparing for the changes ahead?”
She said the fact that more people were seeking “ethically sourced wholesome goods and services”, combined with wellness and balance, made the region more saleable for “medical marijuana, rehabilitative cosmetic, therapeutic and targeted care and as a retirement destination or an ecotourism outback destination”.
The global trend of more “authentic, immersive and self-directed experiences rather than the packaged hotel product” was creating an opportunity to grow the stake of nationals in the sector through shared accommodation, the envoy said.
She also pointed to the need of travellers to experience more local cuisine at cookshops, adding that “small property owners, mixologists seeking to titillate the taste buds and local chefs can all now get a portion of tourism revenues without having to depend on the hotel benefactor”.
“So the nature of the product has to respond to the nature of the demand being made by the consumer, and I am not aware that our directing minds are taking the product in the direction that the consumer is demanding,” said Thompson.