Minister Bartlett Speaks at GTRCMC – JICA Event on Tourism Futures

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Economic Development Department is building a resilient tourism industry from readiness for disasters and crisis risks to post-crisis recovery. In perfect partnership, the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Center (GTRCMC) facilitates business continuity, global sustainability, and economic growth in the tourism eco-system by helping tourism stakeholders to prepare for, manage, and recover from a crisis.

Developing regions including the Caribbean confront distinct vulnerabilities that have led to constrained and precarious development pathways for their populations. These challenges include limited resource bases, acute environmental volatility, small population sizes, underdeveloped markets, external dependence, vulnerability to external shocks and generally small, undiversified economies. At the same time, the combined destabilizing effects of phenomena such as globalization, climate change, neoliberalism and the recent COVID-19 pandemic have greatly amplified existing vulnerabilities.

In the face of dynamic threats, developing regions are being especially encouraged to prioritize sustainable development, emphasizing the imperative of harmonizing development approaches and aligning all facets of development. The tourism industry remains one of the key pathways for realizing the sustainable development priorities of many developing regions, especially Small Island Developing States.

Tourism: A Pillar of Sustainable Development

Generally, the tourism sector is regarded as a strong pillar of sustainable development because it produces an enormous global economic impact by creating local economic value through its many linkages that sustain the livelihoods of millions globally. The value chain of the tourism industry quite often incorporates several other segments of national economies with which the sector maintains vital economic linkages including manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, attractions, gastronomy, services and the cultural and creative industries.

Tourism is also aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in general areas such as: the promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth; social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction; resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change; cultural values, diversity and heritage and mutual understanding, peace and security.

Tourism has been specifically aligned with the promotion of SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SGD 14 (life below water).

SDG 8.9 also directly references tourism. It states: “By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.”

So too does SDG 12.B which states: “Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.”

Furthermore, SDG 14.7 states: “By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island Developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.”

Ironically, while tourism is recognized as a catalyst of sustainable development, the tourism and travel industry, characterized by its emphasis on exceptional hospitality, customer satisfaction and the creation of unique experiences has traditionally demonstrated excessive patterns of resource use, service delivery and consumption, which have posed challenges to the pursuit of sustainable development. At the same time, the global tourism industry has to confront its own harsh realities and uncertainties.

As the focus on sustainable development has gained prominence, the idea of sustainable tourism has surfaced to harmonize the economic, social and environmental dimensions of tourism.

The Future We Want

The Rio+20 outcome document entitled “The Future We Want” described sustainable tourism as a significant contributor “to the three dimensions of sustainable development – the environment, the economy, and society, because of its close linkages to other sectors and its ability to create decent jobs and generate trade opportunities.

It consequently urged Member States to recognize “the need to support sustainable tourism activities and relevant capacity-building initiatives that promote environmental awareness, conserve and protect the environment, respect wildlife, flora, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity, and improve the welfare and livelihoods of local communities by supporting their local economies and the human and natural environment as a whole.”

Closely related to the concept of sustainable tourism is tourism resilience which refers to “the ability of a destination or tourism system to cope with, adapt to, and recover from shocks and disruptions, such as natural disasters, pandemics, economic crises, and climate change impacts.”

As the frequency of disruptive events linked to phenomena such as climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, geopolitical instability, economic downturns, cyber-threats and disease outbreaks intensifies, further magnifying the vulnerability of tourism, the concept of tourism resilience has increasingly occupied an important place in the global  discourse on sustainable tourism overall. It emphasizes the need to build the capacity for resilience in tourism destinations and among tourism[1]dependent communities to ensure their long-term economic survival.

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Maximizing Tourism’s Socio-Economic Resilience

A key aspect of tourism resilience is socio-economic resilience, which entails maximizing the tourism sector’s ability to promote social inclusion, economic diversification and community engagement in tourism development. Sustainable tourism should contribute to poverty reduction, social cohesion, and local community well-being and reduce inequality and marginalization.

Strategies for enhancing socio-economic resilience in tourist destinations include promoting local ownership and control of tourism resources, facilitating community-based tourism initiatives, providing training and capacity building opportunities for local communities, and fostering cultural preservation and heritage conservation.

Another key aspect of tourism resilience is environmental resilience. This thrust recognizes that tourism and environmental resilience are intertwined as the sustainability of tourist destinations depends heavily on the health and preservation of natural resources and ecosystems. Thus, for its own long-term viability, the tourism sector needs to make environmental resilience a core focus and prioritize safeguarding the natural environment and mitigating the negative impacts of tourism on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change is an environmental phenomenon that has significant implications for the tourism sector. The impacts of climate change on tourism are multifaceted and complex, ranging from direct impacts on natural resources and attractions, to indirect impacts on transportation, accommodation and tourist behavior. Climate change can also exacerbate existing vulnerabilities in tourist destinations, such as those related to poverty, inequality, and inadequate infrastructure.

One of the most significant direct impacts of climate change on tourism is the loss or degradation of natural resources and attractions that are germane for tourism activities, such as beaches, coral reefs, forests, and wildlife habitats.

For example, rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms can result in beach erosion, coastal flooding, and damage to coastal infrastructure, which can negatively impact coastal tourist destinations. Similarly, coral bleaching due to warmer ocean temperatures can reduce the attractiveness of coral reef destinations for snorkeling and diving, which can have adverse effects on local economies that rely on marine tourism.

Bridging the Gaps

Against the backdrop provided, collective action is urgently required to maximize the tourism sector’s capacity to promote sustainable and inclusive growth. At the culmination of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow in 2021, tourism was acknowledged as an established part of the UN agenda, recognized for its ability to contribute to all the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UNWTO then gave its commitment to the bridging of the gap between governments and the private sector to ensure tourism lives up to its climate action responsibilities. Specifically, the Glasgow Declaration with over 150 signatories from every part of the sector and of every size, reflected the sector’s firm commitment to accelerating the industry’s shift to net-zero.

At the same time, however, it was also acknowledged that the efforts of industry stakeholders need to be backed by broader support if the desired goals are to be achieved. This point underscores the need for coordination, strong actions, as well as political and financial support for tourism’s transition to greater inclusivity and sustainability.

Collaboration and coordination should reflect a whole of society approach that incorporates internal and external stakeholders including governments, businesses, local communities, NGOs, thinktanks, academia, and travelers. The end goal of this collaborative approach is to ensure that the tourism sector plays a critical role in mitigating climate change by adopting sustainable practices, investing in green infrastructure, promoting responsible tourism behaviors and raising awareness among travelers.

More specifically, meaningful collaboration and partnerships are required to develop climate-resilient infrastructure, promote nature-based solutions, and integrate climate risk assessments into tourism planning and management. There is an urgent need for increased funding and investment to promote sustainable tourism practices and infrastructure. This includes investments in renewable energy, green transportation, eco-friendly accommodation, and waste management systems that reduce carbon emissions, minimize environmental impacts, and promote sustainable resource use.

There is a need also for greater research and innovation to develop and harness new technologies, solutions, and best practices that can help the tourism industry adapt to climate change and reduce its carbon footprint. This includes advancements in renewable energy, water conservation, waste management, and sustainable transportation options, such as electric vehicles and public transportation systems.

Finally, there is also a need for increased awareness and education among travelers about the impacts of climate change on tourism and the importance of sustainable travel choices.

What Travelers and Stakeholders Can Do

Travelers should be encouraged to choose destinations, accommodations, and activities that are environmentally responsible and support local communities. This can be achieved through educational campaigns, certification programs, and labelling schemes that promote sustainable tourism practices.

In conclusion, the Jamaica Tourism Minister reiterated that sustainable tourism practices, infrastructure, and policies are essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change on tourist destinations, protecting natural resources, preserving cultural heritage, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry. It is therefore imperative that all stakeholders in the tourism industry come together to take concerted action to combat climate change and secure a sustainable future for tourism.

About the author

Linda Hohnholz