The islands of the Pacific are a popular destination for many travelers looking to trade in city life for secluded beaches, cultural authenticity and stunning natural environments. While the small size and remoteness of these destinations makes for ideal getaways, these characteristics also bring along many challenges. Visitors often put increased pressure on the already limited supply of agricultural products, water and energy. This results in a further dependence on imported goods and contributes to excess waste production. On top of these challenges, the transportation of imported goods drives up carbon emissions, exacerbating the climate change impacts to which small islands are particularly vulnerable.
The Pacific islands also must cope with economic vulnerability due to their geographic isolation and small size. According to the Asian Development Bank, 31 percent of Fiji’s population and 26.9 percent of Samoa’s population lived below the poverty line in 2014. Tourism is a key driver of economic development in these destinations. The industry has the potential to combat poverty by providing more jobs, growing incomes, and creating markets for local goods and services. However, there is still an opportunity for the tourism sector in the Pacific to be more inclusive of local suppliers and service providers and prioritize capacity building. This will help ensure that local communities are truly reaping the economic benefits of the industry.
What We're Doing
At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012, Heads of State adopted the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP), a global framework for action to accelerate the shift towards SCP including resource efficient and low carbon tourism, in both developed and developing countries. In 2015, the Pacific Sustainable Tourism Alliance (PSTA) was formed as a public-private partnership with the South Pacific Tourism Organization (SPTO) to help fast track sustainability in the region. Sustainable Travel International working with the SPTO under the auspices of the PSTA, was awarded a grant through the 10YFP Trust Fund call for proposals for Sustainable Tourism Programme to implement a pilot project focused on improving sustainable resource management in hotels in the Pacific.
The destinations participating in the preliminary stage of the project are Fiji and Samoa; however the eventual intention is to expand to other Pacific Islands. Through this work, the partners hope to inspire a new commitment to sustainability among members of the local tourism industry and empower them to improve their consumption and production behavior by:
- Collaborating with local stakeholders to identify the barriers to sustainable consumption and production within the destination
- Training 100 hotel managers on sustainable tourism best practices such as sourcing goods locally, using resources more efficiently, and utilizing a supply chain that is more inclusive of local people and cultures
- Raising awareness among hotel managers on the financial and economic benefits of incorporating sustainability practices into their business operations
- Equipping 100 hotels with a Sustainability Management System (SMS) – a digital tool to monitor energy-use, waste-reduction, water consumption, and sustainable sourcing
Long Term Impacts
By influencing the sustainability behavior in businesses and across destinations, this project will lead to a more robust economy and a better future for people and environments in the Pacific. The anticipated long-term impacts include:
The most popular of Torres del Paine’s trekking routes is the Base Torres trail. And for good reason. After traversing through plunging valleys and rocky slopes, adventurers are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the park’s centerpiece – the “Towers of Paine. These three iconic granite spires tower high above a turquoise lagoon at the crest of the trail.
During high season, the Base Torres trail can receive 1,000 hikers in a single day. This heavy foot traffic, causes significant wear and tear on the trail. As a result, the Base Torres trail is now severely eroded. Other factors, including the harsh climate, steep grades, and poor trail alignment only exacerbate these impacts.
These degraded trail conditions not only pose a safety concern for hikers, they also impact the park’s sensitive ecosystems. Improving the Base Torres trail is an urgent priority requiring a large-scale, public-private effort. To address this challenge, the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is teaming up with the Chilean National Forest Corporation (CONAF) and AMA Torres del Paine to implement a collaborative conservation project titled “Tu Mejor Huella para el Paine.”
This project will restore the Base Torres trail system. Tread will be repaired and constructed following sustainable design principles. Creating a sustainable trail system will reduce erosion, lessen environmental impacts, and minimize the need for continual maintenance.
Improved trail conditions will lead to a safer, more enjoyable visitor experience. At the same time, the rejuvenated trail will connect people with nature in an engaging and responsible way. Trail stewardship is key to protecting the long-term health of our national parks, particularly one as popular as Torres del Paine.
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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.
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.