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Giving locals a voice in tourism development in St. Kitts

Implementing an island-wide resident survey to gauge community perceptions of tourism

Employing 1 in 10 people globally, tourism has the potential to benefit a large number of people. By creating jobs, driving infrastructure improvements, and promoting inclusive growth, tourism is a powerful tool to fight poverty and foster community development.

With all these benefits, one might assume that local residents would be fully supportive of tourism in their backyards. The problem is that sometimes tourism development has the opposite effect and diminishes local quality of life. Without proper planning, tourism growth can bring about new challenges for locals, such as unaffordable housing prices, dwindling resources, and a loss of cultural authenticity. Over the last year, there’s been increasing global discussion around the issue of “overtourism” and its consequences in more popular destinations, where some communities are literally telling tourists to go home.

How then does a destination prevent this situation from happening before it’s too late? It all comes down to finding the balance between tourism growth and local needs.

To ensure that tourism enriches local communities, destination managers must pay attention to resident concerns and engage them in development plans. Happy residents play a major part in creating an enjoyable visitor experience and successful tourism industry. When residents win, everyone wins.

Our Role

The Caribbean island of St. Kitts is a destination that is well aware of the importance of sustainable, community-driven tourism. The warm and welcoming Kittitian people are undeniably the heart and soul of the island. The St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism is working to make sure that they are at the heart of tourism as well, by giving them a voice in development.

To gauge local attitudes toward tourism, Sustainable Travel International supported the Ministry in administering a resident survey in July 2017. This was the first survey of this kind in St. Kitts. Over 320 Kittitians, representing all parishes and demographics completed the survey.  The results examine how well tourism in St. Kitts is meeting local needs, creating opportunities for residents, and impacting their quality of life.

Understanding resident concerns is the starting point. The next step is taking action to actually address any existing or potential issues. The Ministry is using the survey findings to guide policy and program interventions, making it a valuable tool for community development.

Of course, as tourism grows and the destination changes, residents’ feelings and priorities will change as well. Engaging residents should be an ongoing process. We will continue to support the Ministry to create additional avenues for residents to share their opinions and be involved in decision-making, as well as implement future surveys to monitor changes over time.To learn more about the other ways that St. Kitts is encouraging sustainable development and community-based tourism, click here.

Header Photo Credit: St. Kitts Tourism

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Demonstrating the Economic Value of Panama’s Protected Areas

Tourism in protected areas is a growing economic activity in many countries. By drawing visitors out of tourism hotspots to more remote regions, protected area tourism can bring new benefits to rural communities and indigenous populations.

While protected areas provide significant economic value, there tends to be little data to actually back this up. Without reliable and quantifiable evidence, governments and communities may undervalue these natural areas and the benefits they deliver. As a result, important visitor management and conservation activities may be overlooked. Without these types of sustainability measures in place, tourism growth in protected areas can end up harming their fragile environments.

Our Role

One destination focused on developing sustainable tourism in its protected areas is Panama. The country’s 121 protected areas cover over 6.2 million hectares of rainforests, coastal reefs, and other sensitive habitats. An increasing number of visitors come to these areas for nature-based tourism experiences, such as trekking, snorkeling, rock climbing, and birdwatching.

In 2017, Sustainable Travel International conducted an economic impact study to determine the value of these natural areas. For this study, our team examined the economic benefits generated by tourism activities within Panama’s protected areas as a way to measure their value.

We began by reviewing Panama’s existing tourism data. This included more general statistics such as national visitor arrivals, protected areas statistics, and public use plans.

To supplement this data, we collected more specific data on tourism revenues linked to protected areas.  We surveyed businesses in Panama’s protected areas and their surrounding buffer zones. Five protected areas were included in this pilot study: Camino de Cruces National Park, Altos De Campana National Park, La Amistad International Park, Chagres National Park, and Soberanía National Park. Survey participants were asked to provide information about their business, including the services they offer and their revenues.

In addition to collecting data from businesses, our team also interviewed visitors to these areas. Through these interviews, we were able to gain a better understanding of who is visiting Panama’s protected areas, what they are doing, and where they are spending their money.    

The study findings paint a fuller picture of the different groups that are operating in and benefiting from Panama’s protected areas. It also quantifies the economic value of protected area tourism. An added benefit of this research approach is that it provides data not only on impacts at the national level, but also on the value generated for local communities.

The real impact of this data lies in its potential to influence destination planning and decision-making. By demonstrating the value of protected areas to the tourism industry, local communities, and the country as a whole, this data helps reinforce the importance of caring for these areas. We hope this data incentivizes improved conservation and leads to better visitor management in protected areas.

Our Partners

  • ALC Global
  • MiAmbiente
  • IDB
  • GEF

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Land & Forests

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Header Photo Credit: Billtacular via Flickr

Panama Coast

A Sustainability Standard for Tourism Enterprises in Panama

As ecotourism grows within Panama’s protected areas and their buffer zones, it is crucial to ensure minimum quality, sustainability and safety standards in the tourism operations. To accomplish this, Sustainable Travel International worked with the government and local stakeholders to create a sustainability standard for Panama’s tourism enterprises.

This standard will act as a regulatory framework for hotels, tour guides, land and marine transportation providers, restaurants, tour operators and community-based tourism enterprises. It will allow these tourism providers to assess their operations and practices in relation to a set of indicators on issues that affect the local environment, communities, and cultural heritage, amongst others. The standard will also serve as the basis for certification and will help travelers identify environmentally-friendly and socially responsible businesses.

To ensure that the standard is relevant and feasible within the local context, our field team hosted a series of participatory onsite workshops. During the workshops, over 90 business and government representatives provided input on what practices to evaluate in relation to water and energy conservation, business operations, supply chain management, and environmental protection. Once the final standard was established, we held trainings for the local authorities and auditors responsible for implementing it and confirming business compliance.

The sustainability standard has since been included in the national protected area services concessions law – making compliance mandatory for any businesses operating within protected areas. It has also been ​endorsed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry as  the “Panama Tourism Sustainability Standard.”

Our Partners

  • MiAmbiente
  • Ministry of Tourism Panama
  • APTSO
  • IDB
  • GEF

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Related Work

Panama

Learn more about how we’re helping Panama work towards a more sustainable future.

Land & Forests

Learn more about our work in other protected areas and how we’re working to conserve our world’s land and forests. 

Planning for Community-Based Ecotourism in Panama

With the abundance of natural attractions, it may come as a surprise that most of the 2.3 million annual visitors to the country rarely venture outside Panama City. However, until recently, Panama had not actively developed or promoted tourism in its parks, protected areas, and more rural areas. Sustainable Travel International partnered with the Republic of Panama Government to use this opportunity for tourism development as a means to increase conservation and create benefits for local communities.

Benefits of Ecotourism

Rural and Indigenous Communities

In Panama and elsewhere, responsibly developed ecotourism holds the potential to stimulate local economies, benefit indigenous communities, and combat rural poverty. By creating alternative livelihoods for communities in and around protected areas, ecotourism presents an opportunity for indigenous people support themselves and their families as tour guides, food service providers, or handicraft vendors.

Biodiversity and Conservation

Because tourism often flourishes in biodiversity hotspots, ecotourism also has the unique ability to contribute to the protection of some of the earth’s most valuable natural areas and ecosystems. The revenues from park entrance fees and tourism concessions provide added funding that can be channeled into conservation activities and park maintenance. In addition, the income generated by ecotourism provides an economic incentive for local people to protect the natural environment so that it remains a valuable tourism asset. By educating travelers on the ecosystems they visit and their role in environmental stewardship, ecotourism can also increase traveler activism and support of conservation.

Our Role

In 2015 and 2016, our team worked with local stakeholders to analyze regional opportunities and challenges and map out a country-wide action plan for developing ecotourism in Panama’s protected areas. The resulting plan includes specific strategies for developing ecotourism in a manner that will enhance protection of Panama’s sensitive habitats and wildlife, promote inclusion of rural and indigenous communities and local culture, and foster capacity building and skills development. In March 2016, the Government of Panama and private sector officially adopted the plan and implementation is already underway.

Our Partners

  • MiAmbiente
  • Ministry of Tourism Panama
  • APTSO
  • IDB
  • GEF

Protect the Places You Love

Your gift will help conserve our planet’s most vulnerable destinations and empower the people who live there

Related Work

Panama

Learn more about how we’re helping Panama work towards a more sustainable future.

Land & Forests

Learn more about our work in other protected areas and how we’re working to conserve our world’s land and forests. 

Aruba View

Engaging the Aruba Community in Sustainable Tourism Planning

Our team visited Aruba to present the results of the rapid destination diagnostic and meet with local stakeholders to map out a more sustainable future for the tourism industry

Header image by David Kirsch / flickr

Located just north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean, Aruba is a small island spanning only 70 square miles (181 square kilometers). While just over 100,000 people call the island ‘home’, these inhabitants are by no means the only people you’ll find on the island. Though Aruba may be small, its allure is mighty.  The constant sunshine, long stretches of white-sand beaches, and cool trade winds attract millions of visitors to Aruba’s shores year after year. In 2015, over 1.8 million people visited the island and took part in activities such as diving, kite-surfing, and exploring the desert-like hills of Arikok National Park.

Given the small size of the island and the limited availability of natural resources, local stakeholders felt a need to determine how the tourism industry could more positively impact the environment and local community. With the aim of encouraging greater collaboration and planning around sustainable destination management, Aruba joined the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas (SDAA) in 2016.

 Eagle Beach by Chris Ford / flickr; Arikok National Park by Christina Leigh Morgan / flickr; Tourists in downtown Oranjestad by Roberto Maldeno / flickr

Identifying the issues and taking action

We began our work in Aruba last year with an initial onsite diagnostic in October 2016. During this first visit, we had the opportunity to meet with over 50 stakeholders from the government, businesses, and local community. By listening to their insights and seeing the island’s key tourism sites in-person, we were able to gain a better understanding of the current sustainability status of Aruba’s tourism industry. At the start of the new year, we returned to Aruba for a second time to share the diagnostic results with local stakeholders and to help them outline the next steps they’d like to take.

Over 35 stakeholders, including representatives from the Aruba Tourism Authority, local hotels and tour operators, and other government entities, gathered for the workshop we hosted in Oranjestad. We began the workshop by presenting the diagnostic results. Remember how we said over 1.8 MILLION tourists came to Aruba? While these millions of tourists were exploring the island and pumping their dollars into the local economy, they also used energy, created waste and used thousands of liters of drinking water. The results of the diagnostic highlighted the different sustainability issues that we discovered within the tourism industry in Aruba.  Some of these issues were inefficient waste management, poor visitor management and monitoring, and low community involvement within the industry.

Following the presentation of the results, we facilitated a discussion and action-planning activity. When asked which of the sustainability issues were the most important to them, there was resounding agreement among the attendees that dealing with the island’s waste should be one of the top priorities. Waste is a major problem affecting the island, especially since the current landfill is reaching its limit. One issue attendees cited was the occasional waste burning that occurs in the landfill. This causes air pollution and poses an environmental and health risk. Not only does the lack of a sustainable waste model waste negatively affect the visitor experience, but it also harms the island’s marine life and affects the quality of life of Aruba’s residents.

Participants were then tasked with coming up for ideas about what action should be taken to address the waste issue. They discussed the pros and cons of having an incinerator, converting the waste into gas so that this energy could be used, and increasing recycling capacity. All of these options need careful analysis and the involvement of other players, so these will be the next steps to ensure that Aruba manages its waste in an appropriate manner.

Local destination stakeholders attended an action planning workshop in January 2017

Priority Action Projects

In addition to the sustainable waste processing project, the participants identified three additional priority action projects during the workshop:

Development of sustainability tourism standards: This project involves designing and implementing a set of guidelines for tourism sector providers including tour operators, restaurants, accommodation, tour guides, and transport providers. The creation of these standards will help ensure that tourism activities are performed in a manner that is safe, environmentally responsible, respectful of heritage and beneficial for the local communities.

Creation of a formal watchdog platform for the Destination Development Plan/SDAA actions: This project will establish a multi-stakeholder destination stewardship council that will enforce existing laws and policies as well as oversee the long-term implementation of the destination action plan. This watchdog platform will help to protect Aruba’s natural and cultural resources by improving the management of tourism sites and mitigating negative tourism impacts.

‘Bario Boost: Mi Dushi Bario’: This project will set up participatory platforms in each bario (neighborhood) that will give communities the opportunity to take part in tourism-related planning and decision-making. These platforms will also help to increase resident pride and awareness of their role in the tourism value chain.

While these changes won’t happen overnight; the progress that destination stakeholders have made so far in developing an action plan is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. We look forward to continuing our work with Aruba and helping them make this vision a reality.

Learn more about the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas

Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas

In the Caribbean, where tourism drives the economy and the tension between the desire for development and the need to protect resources is ongoing, we led a consortium of businesses, destinations, donors, regional organizations and nonprofits — all with a vested interested in maintaining and restoring the region’s natural, cultural and economic integrity.

The destinations that belonged to the Sustainable Destinations Alliance of the Americas (SDAA) included:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Dominica
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Riviera Maya
  • St. Kitts & Nevis

Our Role

In each of these destinations, we provided a host of regionalized approaches to their unique set of challenges and opportunities, ultimately allowing them to determine their own paths toward ongoing sustainable development.

As a result of the SDAA’s efforts, each destination was equipped with a list of action projects as a way to develop best practices and work towards becoming a sustainable destination. The projects address top priority environmental, socio-cultural, and economic issues to help preserve the destination, improve the visitor experience, and increase benefits for local residents.

Location

destination pin icon

Destination: Multiple

Regions: Caribbean Islands, Central America

Dates

2014-2016

“Environmental protection and development can go hand-in-hand. But it takes communication to create sustainability solutions.” – Ruleta Camacho, Senior Environment Officer, Antigua

Our Partners

  • Organization of American States
  • United States Department of State
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Caribbean Tourism Organization
  • Caribbean Tourism
  • Tourism Promotion Agency of Central America
  • Sistema de la Integracion Centroamericana

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