Ecotourism is an industry that hopes to reverse some of the negative environmental consequences of travel. Although tourism supports the economies of many countries the world over, large visitor numbers can unfortunately put pressure on scarcely available resources and damage important habitats, leaving the local communities in holiday spots to deal with the consequences.
While this is an issue that destinations the world over are attempting to address, few need protecting as much as the Caribbean. The tourist-packed tropics boast some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, but due to their heavy footfall are also some of the most vulnerable to the effects of human activity. Thankfully, governments and tour operators across the islands are now collaborating to establish ecotourism-focused initiatives and resorts — a promising first step toward countering these effects.
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. Ecotourism strategies typically address reducing consumption, investing in renewable energy and maintaining biodiversity, therefore minimising the carbon footprint associated with common tourist activities.
As consumers continue to shift toward more sustainable and socially responsible habits, the global market for ecotourism is seeing significant growth. By visiting destinations that promote environmental initiatives, tourists can mitigate the negative effects of their travel, help fund improvements to green infrastructure, and support local economies.
Resorts and operators are also increasingly prioritising environmental education as part of their packages, offering workshops and outdoor activities rooted in preserving the local ecosystem. Subsequently, ecotourism works both to financially support sustainability efforts and spread awareness about environmental principles.
Take Dominica, for example. The “Nature Island” of the Caribbean hosts approximately 175 bird and 1,226 plant species over its small area, many of which are endemic to the region. In order to protect its biodiversity, Dominica has legally protected 25% of its forest land and established biosphere reserves alongside UNESCO.
Elsewhere, St. Kitts and Nevis has made strides to preserve the country’s famed marine life. Dwindling coral reefs have been restored by Beach Addiction conservation schemes, setting up beach cleans to reduce tourist litter and awarding sailing lessons to the youth as an incentive to keep the shores in good condition. The community manages invasive species in the area via fishing competitions and educational programmes, further spreading awareness of the importance of ecosystem monitoring and regulation.
Tourism is one of the largest sources of income for countries in the Caribbean. In the year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the sector accounted for over 14% of Caribbean GDP and contributed $58 billion to its economy. Crucially, the islands owe much of their tourist appeal to the beauty of their natural surroundings and highly biodiverse ecosystems, making environmental preservation a top priority.
Ecotourism resorts have helped the Caribbean to establish its environmentally-friendly and attract tourists looking to make a difference with their leisure trips. Secret Bay Dominica was recently named the number one resort hotel in the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas by the Travel and Leisure Magazine, which praised its sustainably-made eco-lodges and tranquil jungle setting.
The rise of ecotourism has also helped to supplement wider sustainability efforts in the Caribbean, encouraging states to work toward Sustainable Development Goals. Low-carbon tourist hotspots such as the Oualie Beach Resort in St. Kitts and Nevis offer a number of initiatives to tackle extensive fossil fuel and single-use good consumption. For example, solar panels have been installed to power water heating, glass recycling schemes have been implemented, and water-saving techniques are in use.
Environmentally-friendly power is the priority for the sun-soaked islands, as St. Lucia looks to expand solar, geothermal and wind energy investment, while St. Kitts and Nevis plans to switch to 100% renewable energy.
With its emphasis on sourcing local goods, materials and labour, ecotourism is able to boost economies and uplift indigenous communities. And as more nations that rely on tourism start to pivot toward sustainable models, investment in ecotourist resorts and initiatives will ensure that future visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the islands and keep the tourism industry thriving.
Ecotourism is also a core tenet of several Caribbean countries’ Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programmes, such as via the development funds and real estate purchase options in St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis, for example. These schemes are used to fund government-sponsored projects in exchange for the rights to live and work on the islands. In recent years, governments have used CBI funds to build sustainable homes and resorts and develop local infrastructure. In turn, this has enticed foreign benefactors looking to make sustainable investments in the Caribbean.
Working hand in hand with CBI, ecotourism has therefore created new jobs for the locals, invited business opportunities to cater to burgeoning tourist numbers, and improved quality of life in Caribbean nations, all the while preserving their natural beauty for generations to come.
To learn more about CBI programmes and how CS Global Partners can help you to sustainably invest in Caribbean development, get in touch with us today.