According to The Global Mechanism, ecotourism is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors. Yet there are still few people who do not understand the importance of preserving the environment, and how these conservation efforts can actually lead to recurring income. To them, the environment is an abstract concept which neither puts money in pockets or food in bellies. There are a number of ways in which eco-tourism is already generating revenue in the Caribbean, and there is special scope for young persons to become involved. So let’s look at the case for eco-tourism.
What is ecotourism and sustainable development?
Ecotourism is the purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the culture and natural history of the environment; taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem, and producing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to local people.
Sustainable tourism is tourism that leads to the management of resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity.
The environment in the Caribbean
The Caribbean possesses a wide range of environmental related diversity. There are a number of endemic and endangered species of plants, animals and sea life within our small grouping. However, the environment in the Caribbean is particularly vulnerable to damage caused by human behavior. Because of our small land mass, pollution can easily reach sensitive river and coastal areas, destroying important marine life. Not only that, but unsustainable development can also lead to the damage and destruction of forested areas, causing soil erosion, loss of watershed areas, and even loss of buffers against natural disasters such as hurricanes.
How ecotourism related industries generate revenue in the Caribbean
There are a wide range of ecotourism and related industries that already bring a large amount of revenue to the Caribbean. These include:
Rainforest zip line and canopy tours – In a number of Caribbean countries, rainforest zip line and canopy tours are one way in which local companies are cashing in on the natural environment in a sustainable way. These tours, located in a number of islands such as Antigua, St. Lucia, and Jamaica, give people the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view to see the lush environment. These zip line tours are big earners – for example, it is estimated that zip line tours in Costa Rica generate $120 million yearly. These types of establishments need a number of tour guides, and also have other services such as photography and restaurants that employ many locals.
Sea life – The sustainable use of sea life is another big ecotourism earner. From whale watching alone, St. Lucia earned $1.57 million, while Dominica earned $1.78 million. From almost any estimation, more money was made from watching them than would have been made from killing these whales. Not only that, but the Caribbean has an abundance of other sea life that many tourists pay a premium to see. Deep sea diving, snorkeling, and glass bottom boats are but a few other ecotourism activities that bring in much needed foreign currency.
Eco Treks – Eco treks are another way to utilize the natural resource s of the Caribbean to provide revenue and employment. As travellers seek to explore new, pristine environments, guided land tours have become more and more popular. There are some agencies, such as the EAG (Environmental Awareness Group) in Antigua and Barbuda that seek to train local guides to take tourists along these trails. Not only do these tour guides gain employment, but there is also associated employment for the management and development of these trails and associated nature reserves.
Eco lodging – Eco lodging is another ecotourism industry that has been steadily growing in the Caribbean. Guyana is well known for its rainforest lodges, where tourists live in sustainably produced accommodation and sometimes interact with local communities. Another well-known eco lodge is the Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad. Not only does this provide employment for locals, but they also source almost all of their food locally, ensuring the money is kept flowing in the local economy. Not only that, but they also provide low interest loans for young persons hoping to build their own homes, or renovate their current one.
In addition to the financial benefits, there are many other benefits to ecotourism. Ecotourism provides alternatives to environmentally damaging industries. Not only that, but they encourage local communities to adopt clean technologies that will serve to preserve rather than destroy the economy. Ecotourism also encourages community involvement, meaning that the money actually gets circulated among the people that need it the most. Instead of the “old” model of large hotels and all-inclusive resorts, ecotourism provides a new model with many more benefits. In other words, ecotourism is future for economic development in the Caribbean.
Daryl George is a youth activist and freelance writer living in Antigua and Barbuda. Currently employed as a youth officer, he also serves on the board of directors of the Environmental Awareness Group, a leading Caribbean conservation group. In his spare time, he is actively involved in cricket and EAG activities.