Building cross-sector collaboration to manage sustainable tourism growth in a small island destination
Mountain sides blanketed in sprawling rainforests, sandy beaches that meld into the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and skies illuminated by mesmerizing sunsets. These are just a few of the natural splendors that increasingly attract visitors to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.
Since 2005, when the government-owned sugar plantations shut down due to declining prices, tourism became the top economic driver in St. Kitts. Since then, the sector has grown at a dramatic rate. While this growth in tourism represents a significant economic opportunity for local communities, without properly implemented sustainable tourism practices, the resulting environmental and cultural consequences can overshadow the benefits.
As a small island destination, St. Kitts is highly susceptible to a number of environmental threats resulting from unmanaged tourism growth. Water shortage is a prominent issue due to the perceived ample supply of water and the resulting lack of conservation efforts. Coral reefs and ocean habitats risk destruction due to the dependence of tourism and community livelihoods on the marine environment. There is a need for coastal and marine conservation to address factors such as overfishing, pollution, and coastal development. The increasing amount of litter on beaches and in the water also presents a threat to marine life, such as the endangered hawksbill turtles that nest on St. Kitts’ beaches every year, as well as the local economy that relies on fresh seafood.
In addition to its natural treasures, St. Kitts possesses another valuable asset – a rich culture and heritage influenced by the diverse backgrounds of the island’s residents and rooted in St. Kitts’ European colonial past and historical role within the African slave trade. From Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park to the traditional architecture of Basseterre and crumbling sugar mill chimneys that dot the island’s landscape, there is a plethora of significant heritage and cultural sites that must be protected.
What We’re Doing
Sustainable Travel International partnered with the St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism in 2012 to assess the situation and incorporate sustainability practices. To evaluate the destination’s existing policies and practices, St. Kitts participated in the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Early Adopters Program, with funding provided by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Following the assessment, Sustainable Travel International partnered with the Ministry of Tourism to facilitate a Sustainable Tourism Forum. The forum brought together destination stakeholders to develop an implementation strategy and raised local awareness of the importance of sustainable tourism practices.
Sustainable Tourism Council
In 2013, St. Kitts established an Inter-Agency Sustainable Destination Management Council (IASDMC). The council is a cross-sector body of destination leaders focused on advancing the sustainable development of tourism in St. Kitts. The council aims to ensure tourism development preserves and benefits the environment, culture, heritage, and community livelihoods. Council participants include the St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism, St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Department of Marine Resources, Bureau of Standards, and Water Services Department among others. To ensure council effectiveness, Sustainable Travel International provided sustainable destination management training to council members and other key stakeholders. The council’s current activities include:
- Building public awareness of the ongoing water shortage and promoting water conservation through the “Water is Life” Campaign
- Organizing waste management activities that address the root causes of littering and illegal dumping; and promoting a shared sense of environmental stewardship throughout the island
- Improving coordination of, and securing additional buy-in from, public sector agencies and tourism-related enterprises on sustainability initiatives
Sustainability Charter & Foundation
In 2016, Sustainable Travel International launched the Heart of St. Kitts Sustainability Charter and Foundation. The aim of the Sustainability Charter is to identify a coalition of local businesses committed to sustainability on the island and establish a baseline for evaluating the sustainability performance of local tourism enterprises.The Foundation is a program that builds awareness around sustainability priorities on the island; inspires locals and visitors to be stewards of the island’s cultural and environmental assets; and provides funding for community-based projects that make St. Kitts a better and more sustainable place to live and experience.
The Foundation’s projects focus on developing community-driven tourism products; conserving marine and coastal habitats; improving waste management; and preserving local culture and heritage sites. Current projects include converting the old sugar railway into a hiking and biking trail, implementing a recycling system, and organizing beach clean-ups.