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The 5Ps of the tourism world today

Gaunette
Sinclair-Maragh

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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It is customary for countries around the globe to celebrate World Tourism Day at this time each year. The theme for today's celebration is 'Sustainable Tourism — A Tool for Development'. This year is extremely special as it is designated the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The UN believes that, globally, tourism can contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The aim of this thrust is to transform the world by the year 2030, focusing on five specific areas: people, planet, prosperity, poverty and peace (5Ps). With less than 13 years to go, is this target achievable?

There are in fact 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) with 169 targets in the 2030 Agenda. Is tourism being overestimated in regards to its potential to contribute to the betterment of people, planet, prosperity, poverty, and peace through these goals?

It is likely that the diversity of tourism can allow this industry to contribute to the 17 SDGs in an effort to take care of the five areas of focus.

Tourism is among the world's largest industries. In 2015, global tourism receipts amounted to US$1260 billion. For seven consecutive years international tourist arrivals continued on a growth path, realising 1.2 billion in 2016 and a projected 1.8 billion by the year 2030. Tourism also contributes to 10 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP), seven per cent of global trade and provides one in every 10 jobs. Between January and June of this year international tourism had already accounted for 598 million tourists — 36 million more than the same period in 2016. This has been the strongest growth for the first half of the year since 2010.

This year's theme underscores the importance of developing tourism in a sustainable way to enable growth and development. Many countries around the world, particularly those classified as small island developing states (SIDS), developing countries, underdeveloped countries, and tropical destinations depend on the tourism economy because of its overall contribution to their economies through foreign direct investments, improved GDP, and other economic measures which subsequently improve residents' standard of living.

Despite this 'panacea-oriented' impact of tourism, there are negative effects that can be a cost to the country/destination. Hence, the importance for developing tourism in a sustainable way so as to preserve the resources of destinations, inclusive of the people, culture, and natural and physical environments. Tourism can destroy these very resources on which it depends, thus, the importance of managing its development in a responsible way. As noted by the UNWTO secretary general, Taleb Rifari, tourism “growth is not the enemy; it's how we manage it that counts”. The ultimate outcome of sustainable tourism for development is that the resources on which tourism depends will be available for future generations.

Amidst this declaration of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and the established goals of the 2030 Agenda, as well as the various events to mark the celebration of World Tourism Day 2017, there are countries, some of which are prime tourism destinations, that must ponder the impact of various natural disasters. For instance, there was massive flooding and mudslides in Sierra Leone; hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean; and earthquake in Mexico City, all resulting in loss of lives, property and livelihoods. These are attributed to the impacts of climate change.

Whether the reason for these catastrophes be “Act of God”, consequences of climate change, changes in weather patterns and systems due to man-made causes, coincidence, or accidents, the resulting impact is real. The loss of lives will deplete a country's human capacity and capabilities; loss of a visitor means reduced revenue; rebuilding tourism infrastructure is a cost; and the loss and destruction of livelihood for a prolonged period equates to poverty. These destinations now have to focus on rebuilding their resources in a sustainable way.

State of the Caribbean

The Caribbean at this point in time is in need of immediate intervention to rebuild its tourism economy in a sustainable way. Having the force of three hurricanes (Irma, Jose and Maria) passing through the northern parts of the region within two consecutive weeks and up to category 5 intensity is unprecedented for the region. Countries such as Anguilla, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Dominica, US Virgin Islands, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, Cuba and St Croix were devastated by the onslaught of these forces. International assistance, interest, care, and actions are needed right away, especially since it is argued that hurricanes are the outcome of climate change caused by carbon emissions by the more developed, industrialised and wealthier nations. Contributions to global warming, which is deemed to be the main cause of climate change, are next to nil from SIDS. It is only unfortunate that, by virtue of location, size, and poor infrastructure these Caribbean destinations are most vulnerable to hurricanes. With this reality, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association is calling for collaboration of the public and private sectors and assistance from the international community and donors for the restoration of these destinations. This body is also advocating that climate change be kept on the global development agenda at the UN General Assembly in New York to gain attention and support for the need to strengthen the Caribbean's defence against such disasters in the future.

By nature, Caribbean people are extremely resilient. Barbuda has already begun talks about rebuilding the island to be the “Tourism City” in the Caribbean. This presents an opportunity to have a sustainable rebuilding focus to include the green economy, where environmental risks can be reduced and mitigation systems for natural disasters institutionalised. There should also be equal focus on the blue economy to encourage the innovative use of local resources which will reduce the need for importation, encourage entrepreneurship, create jobs, and alleviate poverty through tourism. These can be achieved across short- to long-term periods.

The region also has to ensure that it does not lose its source markets during this period as the peak season is about to begin. Destinations within the region that were not ultimately affected by the hurricanes should ensure that the region's market is secured through the use of aggressive marketing strategies. This is where the concept of cooperation becomes useful for the region. While individual destinations compete for the same market, now is the time to cooperate to ensure that the Caribbean does not lose out on the market source to other regions. This now becomes a very important role for the Caribbean Tourism Organization to encourage, coordinate and monitor.

Noteworthy is the precaution the islands took and the vigilance pursued in ensuring that their market is protected from the fate of these hurricanes. This is not to say that the residents themselves are not important. But, as the captain of a ship is required to do, these destinations ensured that their visitors were evacuated to other islands that were not in the pathway of the hurricanes and, where possible, were returned to their home country.

For instance, the British Virgin Islands, through the tourist board, ensured that the visitors were safely transported to neighbouring islands. Proactively, tourists were also evacuated from St Maarten. Apart from eliminating the possibility of liabilities, this is a sustainable effort in ensuring that their market is secured for the future as safety and security is a major determinant for travel, and satisfied visitors are repeat visitors. This effort is not a marketing expense, hence, when these destinations rebound, the possibility is that they will benefit from repeat visits. Again, this will be a demonstration of sustainable development. Once it was safe to do so, destinations that were not gravely impacted by the hurricanes reopened their gateways (airports and seaports). These initiatives are in keeping with the UNWTO's thrust for destinations to promote a safe, secure and seamless experience for their visitors.

What's next?

The focus on 'sustainable tourism for development' in the Caribbean cannot be for this year alone. Despite the force of the hurricanes that will hamper the growth trajectory for the islands impacted, the force of tourism as an agent for growth and development in the region will encourage sustainable tourism to be the modus operandi for creating a better future for all.

In general, tourism ought to be a global solution for the betterment of people, planet, prosperity, poverty and peace. The challenge to this expectation is the disparity faced by smaller destinations in terms of adherence to global regulations and equality in the distribution of income and resources when compared with larger nations. The problem is the perceived inequality faced by residents of these destinations as it relates to job opportunities, wages and use of resources. The contention is the leakage of profits by multinational corporations and a corresponding small contribution to local economic linkages. The issue is the scant attention given to situations such as poverty, climate change and gender equality. Hopefully this year's designation as International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development will be in action for years to come to address these challenges and disparities. It is then that sustainable tourism can be recognised as a tool for the development of smaller nations and that sustainability can be truly achieved.

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh, PhD, is an associate professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or gaunsmar@yahoo.com.

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