No island is an island

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

No island is an island


describes the importance of tourism in making the
economies of small island states outward looking

Small island developing states must orientate their national development policies outwards to the rest of the world. This is an imperative, not an option. Their narrow range of resources, the constraints imposed by their small populations and land areas, and their limited technical capacity demand it. The lure of tourism to them stems from its natural comparative advantage over other potential sectors of the economy.

As per capita incomes steadily rise, tourism has become the largest industry in the global economy. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), it accounts for 11.5 per cent of the world's GDP and 12.5 per cent of its employment. Small island states have long benefited from this growth: in some Caribbean nations, for example, tourism employs as much as 25 per cent of the workforce, contributes some 30 per cent of GDP, and provides the bulk of foreign exchange earnings.

resort swimming pool

A competitive sector

Tourism is expected to go on growing by some 5 per cent a year. World Tourism Organization (WTO) projections suggest that international arrivals will soar from 594 million in 1996 to 700 million in the year 2000, and 1 billion in 2010. The vast majority of tourists will continue to come from the developed world, but it is not too far-fetched to imagine that economic expansion and per capita income growth in populous developing countries - such as Brazil, China and India - will, over the long term, provide considerable impetus to the upward trend. This outlook makes tourism one of the most competitive sectors of the global economy.

In order to enhance the long-term viability of this critical sector, many small island developing states have embarked on forward-looking strategies to improve efficiency and strengthen coordination through such regional mechanisms as the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Tourism Council of the South Pacific. Specific measures in the proposed Sustainable Tourism and Development Plan for the Caribbean include:

- Fostering common definitions and measurement criteria for sustainable tourism so as to effect quality control within the industry.

- Expanding facilities for training and sharing information.

- Upgrading marketing strategies and deepening tourism research.

- Creating the necessary enabling environment for tourism development through market- based incentives and appropriate regulatory frameworks.

- Linking tourism directly to the islands' cultural and ecological assets.

The movement towards a more holistic approach to the link between tourism and development owes much to the work of the WTO. It also received a major boost from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio in 1992, and the Global Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Barbados in 1994, which examined the development of tourism within the broader context of sustainability. The implementation of agreements from such global conferences often falls short of expectations, but they have a great impact on raising consciousness of issues of international concern as they foster a vital consensus for national and global action.


Coordinating concerns

The preparatory process for the SIDS Conference produced a vast inventory of research and information-sharing on all aspects of the development problematique of small island states. It fostered critical review and coordination of the issues among concerned groups, including civil society. And it raised the level of commitment to national objectives and ownership of them. This would otherwise have been difficult to achieve. The Conference's main outcome, the Barbados Programme of Action - which was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly - outlines the strategies and policy actions required at national, regional and international levels to meet the challenge of sustainable development of small island states. It recognized tourism among 14 areas identified for priority action, alongside such other key resources as land, energy and biodiversity.

Their limited development options - and heavy dependence on this fragile sector - make SIDS particularly vulnerable. They are at risk both from economic dislocations in the tourists' home countries, and from such environmental shocks as hurricanes or other natural hazards, which can quickly wipe out the progress built up over many years. Economic diversification may provide a desirable buffer to such eventualities - but it is likely to be a medium-term option for only a few.

Conscious of the industry's competitive climate, SIDS have increasingly focused on upgrading the quality of their tourism product - and on emphasizing its uniqueness through niche marketing of ecotourism and nature and cultural tourism. They have also given special attention to improving the management and protection of tourism assets, disposing of wastes and combating land degradation.

The Barbados Programme of Action will be reviewed at a Special Session of the General Assembly in September 1999. This will provide a timely opportunity to assess how well it is being implemented and, particularly, identify what can be done to improve things in those priority areas where only limited progress has been made. The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) will act as the Preparatory Committee for this review at its seventh session in April 1999, when it will consider tourism and oceans, both specially important to small island developing states.

Coasts and oceans

Oceans are the life-line of tourism. So SIDS are very concerned with the sustainable management, use and protection of coastal and ocean resources. They follow with particular concern such activities as the regional and global conventions and protocols relating to the Law of the Sea, the International Coral Reef Initiative, the Climate Change Convention, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, and the trans-shipment of nuclear wastes through the fragile marine ecosystems of such international waters as the Caribbean Sea.

The CSD will share national experiences, especially in implementing strategies to integrate environmental and social considerations into the concept of sustainable tourism. This new focus, defined by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, offers guiding principles that apply to all SIDS: 'Sustainable tourism development is the optimal use of natural and cultural resources for national development on an equitable and self-sustaining basis to provide a unique visitor experience, and an improved quality of life through partnerships among governments, the private, and local communities.'

Sharing information

This approach aims at forging links with a wide variety of stakeholders in such areas as the environment, health, agriculture and culture, the private sector, trade unions and local communities - consistent with the pervasive impact of tourism in SIDS. Sharing information and coordinating institutions will be critical in managing this outreach, but timely support is now available through the Small Island Developing States Network (SIDSnet): this Internet-based facility, developed by the United Nations Development Programme in close collaboration with the Alliance of Small Island States, promotes the exchange of information on the environment and sustainable development among 42 island developing states in the Pacific, Caribbean, Indian and African regions.

This embracing concept of tourism holds much promise. But implementing it effectively will largely depend on whether tourist bodies in SIDS have the organizational capacity to make these partnerships work. Building this capacity may well be one of the most fruitful areas for international assistance.

H.E. Carlston Boucher is Vice-Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Billie A. Miller: Looking good, feeling good (Small Islands) 1999
Neroni Slade: The size of the problem (Small Islands) 1999
Neroni Slade: Scaffolding or scaffold? (Climate Change) 1997

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