More robust research on matters related to Caribbean tourism development is needed to drive the industry forward in a way that builds resiliency for future shocks, says Acolla Cameron, Dean in Faculty of Social Sciences and senior lecturer in tourism at the St Augustine campus of The University of the West Indies.
Her comments were echoed by Caribbean stakeholders following a signing earlier this month of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the UWI St Augustine Campus, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) and Green T&T. The MoU is for a joint tourism research project titled, “Exploring the contribution of sustainability certifications to tourism development in the Greater Caribbean.”
This research will investigate the contribution of sustainability certifications to Caribbean tourism development in a post-pandemic context from both the demand and supply side with particular reference to the tourist accommodation sector.
Cameron further added that for T&T and, more specifically, Tobago, which is actively engaged in the implementation of the international Green Key programme for its tourism stakeholders, the information from this research will contribute to a toolkit that can be used by the tourism authorities to convince more industry stakeholders of the importance of implementing sustainability practices and acquiring the ecolabel.
According to Cameron, one of the new factors which has emerged in a post-pandemic context is the heightened sustainability consciousness among travel consumers.
She indicated that data from travel site booking.com reveal that more than 50 per cent of global travelers feel better about engaging in particular tourism experiences if they know it has a sustainable certification. Roughly 40 per cent actively look for information about the sustainability efforts of tourism businesses before they book.
“In the greater Caribbean context, data regarding the usefulness of sustainability certifications to tourist accommodation providers are not readily available. Neither is data available on the impact of sustainability certifications on the quality of the visitor’s experience. These data sets in a post-pandemic context are critical for decision-making by tourism operators, destination planners, public officials, and civil society groups, given the need to remain competitive while maximising limited resources,” Cameron further explained.
Regarding T&T’s tourism, Tenisha Brown-Williams, director at Green T&T and UWI tourism researcher, said research of this nature may shift attention to implementing a more sustainable tourism approach.
Specifically, for Trinidad, she noted that with the recent re-opening of Asa Wright Nature Centre and the potential re-positioning of the destination as an eco-destination, sustainability certifications will be valuable in connecting with the growing base of travellers who have been enlarged in their eco-consciousness.
“While the natural assets of local sites such as Asa Wright, Caroni Bird Sanctuary, Nariva Swamp etc. will organically attract visitors, the extra layer of an ecolabel/sustainability certification will likely persuade consumers who are concerned about their impact on the environment and surrounding community to choose destination Trinidad in their pre-booking considerations,” Brown-Williams explained.
Tobago, she noted, is already ahead of the game, having two Green Key-certified accommodation facilities and four Blue Flag boat-tour operators, adding that the island is the only destination in the English-speaking Caribbean with this many tourism stakeholders holding a sustainability certification.
According to Brown-Williams, this augers well for Tobago as the destination continues strengthening its positioning in the region as naturally unspoilt and untouched.
Moreover, implementing sustainability certifications is part of an integrated development approach that will yield positive results for the destination over time.
Even so, there are challenges.
Brown-Williams said there’s a need to understand the importance of sustainability actions and the financial and non-financial benefits it brings to those who engage in them.
Additionally, she said the research is anticipated to uncover perceptions, challenges, solutions and strategies to engender greater support for sustainability certifications and, by extension, sustainable tourism development.
From a broader perspective, Nicole Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), said that as the issues of tourism’s resiliency and the impact of climate change and other threats to the tourism industry and Caribbean jurisdictions, become even more critical to address, collaborations amongst stakeholder groups like CHTA/Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) and the UWI, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and Green T&T increase in their importance.
“This will help us to better understand the industry’s awareness, perception and engagement and willingness to embrace and utilise these types of programmes. As our environment rapidly undergoes changes and as the consciousness of the travelling public and Caribbean residents shifts to a realm of greater personal responsibility, standards programmes like this advanced by FEE and UWI take on added importance,” she added.
Daniel Schaffer, CEO of FEE also echoed similar sentiments that through this cooperation, research about sustainability in the hospitality industry can be supported as well as promoting training for future employees in the industry.
“The interest in sustainability in the hospitality industry is increasing worldwide. There is a clear expectation that hotels working within the system of sustainability will have an advantage within the marketplace,” Schaffer said.
However, he advised there is still a need for more facts and figures about the positive effect of engaging in sustainability, which he noted can be measured at different levels.
The research, above all, Schaffer added will support the development of a more sustainable sector for the benefit of the planet and for generations to come.
FEE is one of the world’s largest environmental education organisations, with over 100 member organisations in 81 countries.
Joanna Moses-Wothke, CEO of Green T&T also shared that there is a need for applied research that is intelligibly communicated with stakeholders, especially in the case of tourism, where far too often the academic realm is sometimes disconnected from the day-to-day decision-making process of policymakers and the private sector.
“This research project will significantly help financially restricted small business owners make informed decisions about marketing strategies, sustainable tourism, product development and customer service. Furthermore, it will assist policymakers in their role as facilitators of successful green, blue and purple tourism development,” she advised.
Green T&T is a T&T not-for-profit environmental civil society organisation that implements sustainable tourism standards and educational initiatives in T&T and the wider Caribbean.