SIDS bent on maximizing economic benefits and sustaining tourism

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Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) are disadvantaged to a degree due to their sheer size, small population, lack of economies/resources, remoteness and high transportation and communication costs. Heavy reliance on foreign trade and on a narrow range of price-sensitive commodities to generate foreign exchange weighs down the islands’ economy. While tourism could buoy general finances, offering these countries suitable alternatives to generating foreign exchange and aid in developments, the same islands continue to face critical issues that contribute to the vulnerability of their tourism sector.

With an increasing desire to embrace tourism sustainability and an attitude for facing boldly challenges such as climate changes and other natural disasters, the low-lying coastal countries are discussing tourism resilience June 7-9, 2006 in Nassau. On this occasion, Bahamas reconfirms its commitment to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) with which it regained membership November 25, 2005.

Small islands are up to the challenge of the 21st century in keeping with growing trends in world tourism which reported over 800 million trips done last year, making US$680 in receipts.  This, in the presence in 2005 of terrorism, natural disasters like hurricanes, health scares such as the avian flu, oil price hikes, exchange rates fluctuations and economic and political uncertainties.

Growth of tourist arrivals in small island states has been fastest over the last couple of decades. “Countries like Cuba, Sao Tome, Cape Verde have registered double digit growth rates from 1990 to 2004. Many others like Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Cook Islands, Mauritius, Comoros, Niue, Palau and Maldives have exceeded world average growth in terms of international tourist arrivals,” said Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the UNWTO.

In economic terms, tourism receipts in many small island states represent a substantial proportion of service export – up to 90 percent in countries like the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Maldives. In Antigua and Barbuda, tourism contributes directly and indirectly with over 75 percent of the GDP, added Frangialli.
With the role tourism plays in the lives and economies of the islanders, it is considered the most efficient instrument to improve economic resilience given its trans-sectoral nature. Tourism acts as catalyst for the development of agriculture, fisheries, handicrafts and other industries.

Tourism is business, not panacea. It needs to be nurtured, cared for, monitored and on occasions reinvented. But goals of the industry are not only limited to filling thousands of beds, ensuring planes are filled and employment created. The Bahamas Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said his goal is to enrich the lives of the citizens. For that, he recommends to adopt the triple bottom line approach.

“We must examine economics, socio-cultural aspects and environmental aspects. Gone are the days when we pat ourselves on the back when we reach 5 million visitors because unless we have the 5 million contribute to the quality of life
of our people, it is all for naught,” Wilcombe said.
He said employment is certainly a benefit of tourism. Management causes citizens to feel more responsible. But even more important is the commissioning of an audit of a capacity of resources to create the linkages.

In line with this optimization of tourism benefits, the Bahamian minister endorses people’s ownership of the industry. “We will expand ownership beyond the structures they reside in during their stay.  Each and every citizen should feel the import of tourism. That is a goal accomplished if we clog holes to minimize leakage,” Wilchcombe noted. The Bahamas has recently created a domestic investment bill that proposes to aid local entrepreneur in a national drive. Billions of dollars of investments have poured into this economic impetus.

If Bahamas is on the right track, there are other issues however being addressed by the small islands including Wilchcombe’s.
Leakages small islands confront are economic in nature. Extremely high imports by hotels, transport and other tourism companies, repatriation of benefits of foreign tourism companies operating in SIDS, management fees of chain operators,m employment of expatriate staff are the main issues, said Frangialli.

The UNWTO chief added access to island states is a constraint especially in small islands with very low population. This is further complicated by the rising gas prices and the weakness of domestic airlines in most islands.  According to Frangialli, sea transport is becoming more popular in the form of cruises but this tourism product carries with it negative impact such as replacement of hotel based tourism, requirement of heavy deep-sea port infrastructure which is sometimes not suitable for very small islands generating environmental impacts, level of island visitors expenditures on land and net economic gains substantially reduced.

Fragile island ecosystems especially in coastal areas and the surrounding seas are compromised. “SIDS should consider expanding the development of tourism to central parts of the island including to the rural areas.

SIDS need to find ways to face environmental challenges namely climate change and climate-related natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes. Preparedness plans and crisis management need to be developed,” said Frangialli.

Dr. Paulette Bethel, ambassador, permanent representative of the Bahamas to the United Nations recalled two years ago, the Bahamas meeting on SIDS laid the ground work for the Mauritius Strategy with respect to regional and national plans in tourism. This strategy backed-up sustainability documents required for action on the international, regional and local levels. “Cases for Caribbean SIDS were put forward with highlights on local service providers through the chains.” Bethel also reminded the audience of the substantial reports and recommendations made after the Caribbean learned from its horrific hurricane season experience from 2004 to 2005.

Recently a group took on the task of minimizing disaster risk launching its database of over 100 academics in the UWI following Grenada’s devastating 2005 hurricane experience. “If we were to come to terms with tourism resilience in the face of disaster, we have to think achieving recovery. We at the UWI built the Center for Natural Disaster. We also work with UNESCO to cooperate with SIDS universities to establish a consortium to develop capacity building. We have established a secretariat in the UWI in Trinidad and Tobago,” said Mark Figueroa, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences Mona Campus, Jamaica, University of West Indies. He added they are in the process of developing a Center for Criminal Justice and Security in cooperation with the CARICOM Task Force on Crime. UWI has also established the first-ever UNESCO commonwealth chair in HIV and AIDS education.

Wealth creation is also on their agenda. With respect to tourism, the UWI in cooperation with the Bahamian government since March 1975 has been developing programs in the hotel and tourism management in the island, integrated with other Caribbean islands.
“It is not only the Gross Domestic Product we must concern ourselves with. We are compelled to have an even greater concern for what one described as Gross National Happiness,” closed Wilchcombe.

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