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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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Dominica Waterfall

Improving Waste Management in Dominica

Referred to as “The Nature Island,” Dominica attracts thousands of tourists each year to experience its wealth of forests, rivers and other natural attractions. However, growing waste management issues threaten the long-term health of these natural assets and prosperity of the tourism industry.

Over 4 million kilograms of waste were generated in Dominica in 2014, of which the tourism industry contributed approximately 4.5 percent. This substantial amount of waste poses a problem as Dominica’s waste management infrastructure is inadequate for current or future needs. Resources are limited and there is a need for additional collection trucks, haulers, and recycling collection points. In addition, the inconsistent enforcement of policies results in missed opportunities for improved waste management. Because there are no policies or resources in place to address food waste in hotels, organic matter that could be composted is instead being sent to landfills. There is also a general lack of public awareness about waste management issues and the related environmental concerns.

Our Role

Kalinago Territory Waste Management

Dominica is the only Caribbean island with a remaining population of pre-Colombian Carib Indians, now known as the Kalinago. The majority of this indigenous population lives in a series of small rural settlements that make up the Kalinago Territory on the northeastern coast of the Island. Due to the rich cultural heritage and traditions of the Kalinago, there is a high potential for community-based, cultural tourism in the region. This tourism development would create additional income opportunities for the communities, but it would also bring challenges such as added waste.

During an action-planning workshop conducted as part of the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas (SDAA), local stakeholders identified a priority project focused on improving waste management in the Kalinago Territory. The goal of the project is to develop a model waste management plan for the region. Town hall meetings will be held to discuss waste separation and create a collection schedule. In addition, local residents will receive training to become garbage collectors and a truck will be purchased to start collection. This project will help ensure the Kalinago Territory remains an attractive destination for visitors and residents alike as community-based tourism grows.

Composting for Tourism Businesses

In 2015, Sustainable Travel International partnered with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to develop a waste management tool for the tourism sector in Small Island Developing States. As part of this work, local stakeholders met for an on-site workshop and identified quick-win project ideas for improved waste management in Dominica’s tourism sector. Stakeholders chose to prioritize a project focused on implementing a food waste composting program in Roseau and its surrounding environs. Increasing the amount of food waste being composted by tourism businesses will reduce the amount of waste going to the island’s only landfill, prevent harmful environmental impacts, and lessen business costs. In addition, the implementation of a composting system also represents potential economic benefits as the finished compost could be sold for use by farmers or hotel gardens.

This pilot project will target participation of 20 hotels, restaurants and related entities in Roseau and its surrounding areas. The vision is to address composting at a national level by scaling up the pilot project to other regions of the country based on lessons learned and funding secured.

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

Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas

Learn more about how the SDAA is combatting key environmental and human threats associated with tourism in the Caribbean and Latin America

Waste Issues

Learn more about how we’re addressing waste issues affecting other destinations