St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council 2021 Impact Update
For many tourism destinations, 2021 was a year of both hardship and of hope. In St. Kitts, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to pose challenges for the tourism industry in 2021, but it also saw the destination reopen its borders and the first signs of recovery.
As tourism rebuilds, the work of destination stewardship councils, such as the St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council (SDC), is now more important than ever. For the past eight years, the SDC has worked to ensure tourism in St. Kitts benefits the environment, culture, and livelihoods. Since the council’s founding, we’ve supported them in achieving this mission and safeguarding their destination.
Last year, the SDC continued its vital efforts to promote sustainability and stewardship as the tourism industry recovers. Here’s a look back at six of the ways the St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council drove positive change in 2021.
1. Engaging tourism businesses in responsible practices
Ital Creations, one of the businesses that has signed on the Heart of St. Kitts Sustainability Charter, separates their organic food waste to send to a local pig farmer.
To encourage a responsible restart of tourism on the island, the SDC started off the year by relaunching the Heart of St. Kitts Sustainability Charter. Developed in collaboration with Sustainable Travel International and the Ministry of Tourism, this program aims to engage local tourism businesses in adopting responsible practices.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to update the program which was originally developed in 2017. The updated Charter outlines concrete actions that businesses can take to improve their sustainability performance as tourism recovers. Along with this framework of best practices, a Participant Handbook was developed to offer practical guidance on implementing the practices. Additionally, a Marketing & Communications Toolkit was created to help participating businesses tell their sustainability story in a compelling manner.
To date, seven businesses have signed on to the Charter.
2. Promoting bee conservation and local agricultural production
Otis Jeffers shares information about beekeeping and the importance of protecting pollinators on World Bee Day.
In May, the SDC supported an educational exhibition in honor of World Bee Day. The exhibition was put on by Otis Jeffers, a local farmer who is on a mission to revitalize beekeeping in St. Kitts.
Around the world, populations of bees and other pollinators are declining due to pesticides and other human threats. Caribbean farmers, like Otis, depend on bees to pollinate crops like pineapples, avocados, tomatoes, and papayas. In 2019, Otis participated in the Destination Guardian training where he learned about ways to enhance sustainability on his own farm. Recognizing the threat that bee decline poses to his livelihood and local food security, Otis recently took on beekeeping at his farm.
The World Bee Day exhibition shed light on the importance of protecting St. Kitts’ bee population. A booth was set up outside the National Museum to reach residents as they walked through town. At the booth, Otis shared information about beekeeping, the critical role that bees play in agricultural production and biodiversity, the threats to bees, and ways that individuals can help protect them. The display also showcased various pollinator-dependent crops to emphasize the connection between bees and local food security. To support the growth of St. Kitts’ beekeeping industry, locally produced honey was also available for sale.
3. Educating residents on destination stewardship
Destination Guardian training participants learn about the sustainability initiatives and challenges at a local beach destination.
This year, the SDC once again partnered with Sustainable Travel International and the Ministry of Tourism to facilitate the Destination Guardian workshop. Held annually, this training program empowers local residents to act as “Destination Guardians” who contribute to the wellbeing of St. Kitts as a whole.
The 2021 workshop focused specifically on ways that residents can contribute to a responsible recovery of tourism. During the training, participants discussed challenges and solutions related to pressing issues such as community inclusion and benefits, climate change, waste reduction and circular resource use, overtourism prevention, and more.
Along with the interactive learning sessions, participants visited local destinations to apply their learnings to real-life situations. One group visited The Strip on Frigate Bay, a popular beach and nightlife destination, while the other visited a local farm and herbal sanctuary. As part of this activity, participants identified destination stewardship strengths/challenges and developed Responsible Destination Recovery Plans to increase sustainability as tourism returns.
Since the program’s launch in 2017, more than 100 Kittitians have been trained as Destination Guardians.
4. Going plastic free
A volunteer organizes trash collected during a local beach clean-up.
Like many tourism destinations, St. Kitts is highly dependent on single-use plastic items like plastic water bottles, utensils, and takeout containers. But while these plastic products are cheap, they pose a challenge to the island’s waste management systems and come at a cost to local ecosystems.
To address the local plastic problem, the SDC launched “Plastics Be Gone,” an initiative which focuses on reducing plastic use across the island. As part of this initiative, the SDC raises awareness around the consequences of plastic pollution as well as opportunities to cut down consumption. Every July, the SDC hosts various educational activities and events as part of their Plastic Free July campaign. Last year, this included a panel discussion on single-use plastics which was streamed on ZIZ, a local broadcasting station.
To further encourage plastics reduction, the SDC engages local communities in beach cleanups around the island. In September, the SDC collaborated with St. Kitts and Nevis Clean Seas to host cleanups at three different beaches. During the cleanups at Conaree and Keys Beach, 27 participants collected 470 pounds (213kg) of trash.
These cleanups are about a lot more than cleaning the beach. The hands-on events raise community awareness around the litter problem and motivate participants to take action in their own lives. They are also an effective way to collect data on the top types of plastic litter that is polluting the island. In St. Kitts, plastic beverage bottles are the worst offender, with more than 900 bottles collected during the September cleanups. To help address this problem, the SDC distributed nearly 200 reusable water bottles and hosted a plastic bottle recycling drive as part of a community outreach event in November.
5. Empowering tourism professionals to provide authentic cultural experiences
Tourism professionals learn about St. Kitts’ architecture and building styles during the I Speak St. Kitts Culture & Heritage workshop.
While the Caribbean may be known for its tropical landscapes, there’s more to St. Kitts than beaches and blue skies. The island also possesses a rich cultural heritage.
Following previous trainings, many participants expressed an interest in learning more about the local culture so they could better relay it to tourists. To address this need, the SDC partnered with Leonard Stapleton, a local historian and member of the SDC, to create a new training workshop focused on increasing awareness and appreciation of St. Kitts’ history and cultural traditions.
Approximately 20 tourism professionals attended the training session which was held last October. During the workshop, participants were immersed in different aspects of the local heritage. Participants visited heritage sites around the island and toured the capital city of Basseterre to learn about the different styles of architecture. They also witnessed examples of traditional music, folklore dances, and games that children play. To learn about Kittitian cuisine, participants got to sample various local dishes like black pudding and salt fish cakes.
This Culture & Heritage Workshop was developed as part of the SDC’s “I Speak St. Kitts” training program. This program empowers front-line tourism staff with local knowledge so they can provide their customers with authentic Kittitian experiences. While last year’s workshop focused specifically on the island’s culture and heritage, the SDC plans to develop future “I Speak St. Kitts” workshops that delve into other topics as well.
6. Listening to resident concerns and priorities
Since its inception, the SDC’s top priority has been to facilitate stakeholder collaboration around sustainable tourism development. As such, inclusion and representation is at the core of the SDC structure and formation. The council is made up of representatives from different government agencies, tourism businesses, conservation organizations, academic institutions, and community groups to ensure a diverse cross-section of stakeholders have a seat at the table.
Though the SDC is participatory by its very nature, the council recognizes that there is a further need to solicit feedback from the wider community. It is only by listening to real, local people that destination leaders can ensure tourism development elevates local quality of life and meets resident needs.
To ensure voices from within the community are heard, the SDC partnered with Sustainable Travel International to administer a Resident Perception Survey to more than 600 residents across the island. The 2021 survey was St. Kitts’ second resident perception survey, the first one having taken place in 2017. As such, the findings highlight how resident concerns and priorities have changed over the past five years, along with indicating how well tourism is currently meeting local needs. The SDC will use the survey findings to inform their future efforts and increase resident satisfaction
2021 was a big year for the SDC, but there’s still plenty more ahead. We look forward to continuing to support the council in taking transformational action in the years to come.
You too can be part of the SDC’s ongoing journey – follow the St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council on Facebook to see what they’re up to and stay in the know.