Beyond bananas

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

Beyond bananas


says that tourism, properly developed, can transform
economies and bring enormous benefits to small island
states and developing countries as a whole

"Dominica is a small island state with a fragile vulnerable economic base, and very limited development options. Rapid global changes in world trade rules, and drastic cutbacks in economic aid to the region make it imperative that Dominica moves from an economy based almost exclusively on primary agricultural production to one which takes full advantage of opportunities provided by technology and the services sector"

Travel and tourism has been acclaimed as the world's largest industry and generator of jobs. The work it provides through hotels, restaurants, car rentals, taxi operators and tour guides is obvious enough. But the many less obvious jobs which it creates - through the linkages to agriculture, renewal of urban and rural communities, cultural revitalization and heritage preservation - are even more critically important to developing economies.

Tourism can be like a rising tide for developing countries. It has the potential to float every boat. It can be the driving force of activity in every sector of the economy: agriculture, industry, construction, transport and infrastructure development, as well as education, sports, culture and entertainment. A growing tourism industry serves to drive local demand and expand the local market in every single sector.

school room

This high propensity to create wealth in diverse economic sectors - and to distribute it among all strata of the population - has been one of tourism's most compelling attractions. It has led governments and economists of the South to adopt it as a focal sector for diversifying their economies, which have historically depended on producing primary raw materials, often just a single crop. It generates high-paying jobs across the spectrum. And intensive central investment in tourism facilities has the indirect effect of creating opportunities for the sustainable development of hundreds of small- and medium-sized ancillary businesses, which are not capital-intensive, in a variety of fields.

But it would be a terrible mistake for us in the South to regard tourism as an alternative to competitive agriculture or to the value-added production of other goods and services. We must see it as a growing sector in a competitive global marketplace. It needs to meet the challenges of globalization.

The tourism market is not dominated by comparative advantage, exclusively driven by economies of scale, patented technology and low wages. Instead, natural and cultural features, knowledge, the social environment and product differentiation all give rise to their own niche markets.

The Caribbean has been one of the world's most successful regions in using tourism for transforming its economies, improving its social and physical infrastructure and increasing its people's quality of life.

Research conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shows that travel and tourism in the Caribbean - which is supported by some $15.4 billion of capital investment - is expected to have generated $32.5 billion of economic activity in 1998. It will have contributed 24.7 per cent of the region's GDP and accounted for 25.1 per cent of its direct and indirect employment. In addition, and very important to the Caribbean Governments, travel and tourism is expected to have produced $7.8 billion in revenue - 25.9 per cent of the total taxes they collect - while only receiving in return $2.0 billion - 19.8 per cent of government operating expenditures.

The WTTC also says that Caribbean travel and tourism is expected to grow at 6.3 per cent per annum - or 108.2 per cent in real terms - between 1998 and 2010. Is this sustainable? Rather, what must be done to sustain this level of economic activity without consuming the natural and cultural environment - the very core product on which it depends? These questions were addressed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which produced Agenda 21.

In 1996, the WTTC, the World Tourism Organization and the Earth Council joined to launch an action plan entitled Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry: Towards Sustainable Development. Regional seminars were held in London and Jakarta in 1997 to increase awareness of the programme and to adapt it for local implementation. And a Think Tank Seminar on Agenda 21 for Travel and Tourism was held in the Caribbean from 3-5 December, 1998 on the small, 945 square-kilometre island of Dominica, between the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Formerly a British colony, and now an independent state of the CARICOM region, Dominica is the last Caribbean island to have preserved a vast amount of its rainforests. In all, 21 per cent of its area is legally protected as wildlands within its National Park and Forest Reserve System. In December 1997 UNESCO deemed Dominica's Trois Pitons National Park - once described as 'a priceless living laboratory where scientists can study tropical biology in a primitive state' - to be of universal importance to mankind, and therefore listed it as a World Heritage Site. Dominica is also the home of the last remaining indigenous Carib people of the islands of the Caribbean.

street market

Economic transformation

In 1996, the Government of Dominica and Green Globe entered into an agreement to develop Dominica as the Caribbean's first Green Globe Destination. It has a population of just under 80,000 people of which 3,500 are Caribs, and attracts some 68,000 stay-over visitors. With its 700 hotel rooms, mostly in cottage type hotels of under 50 rooms, its World Heritage Site, some world-class diving sites and a growing reputation as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, Dominica is emerging from its wilderness onto the tourism highway. It hopes, through tourism, to transform its banana economy to a more sustainable level.

The statement of the Prime Minister, the Hon. Edison James, quoted on page 15, could apply to all small island developing states and succinctly encapsulates the realities of the South. The Government's strategy, as laid out in its official policy, 'is aimed at maximizing the benefits of tourism without compromising our social values, while ensuring the preservation of our environment and ecosystems.'

If they are to achieve these objectives, developing countries must focus on using their indigenous music, exotic foods, culture, art and crafts, and on adding value to them. And they must similarly preserve and restore indigenous architecture, natural heritage and the environment.

Tourism must become a matter of national pride for each citizen. Each developing country, no matter how small or how vast, must aim at becoming a world-class tourist destination for its quality, service and value for money. And each country must have a dynamic positive and comprehensive Tourism and Hospitality Education Agenda in place to underpin these goals.

Early payback, long-term investment

The task ahead is enormous, the challenge to developing countries as they seek to achieve world competitiveness in tourism is staggering. The South cannot do it alone. Private sector investment will go a long way in establishing those tourism facilities and infrastructures which demonstrate that they will produce an early payback. But gigantic sums will also have to be invested in long-term sustainable projects for restoring and preserving the environment, and in upgrading facilities for health and education and the services needed for the world-class competitive tourism standards that will have to be achieved. Ensuring the sustainability of local economies and peoples must be at the core of any strategy.

North-South economic cooperation must now place tourism on a top-priority agenda. The sentiments so eloquently and passionately articulated at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 must be backed up by a flow of financial resources to implement sustainable travel and tourism activities in the economies of the South. The valves of the Global Environment Facility must be opened up to allow the resources to flow smoothly.

The lessons from our painful experiences in agriculture, mining and industrialization must not be dissipated. Now is the moment - and tourism is the opportunity. The North must seize this moment to do things right this time around.

The Hon. Norris Prevost is Minister of Tourism of the Commonwealth of Dominica, and Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization's Committee on Sustainable Tourism Development.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Francesco Frangialli: Preserving paradise (Small Islands) 1999
Billie A. Miller: Looking good, feeling good (Small Islands) 1999
Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel: Making a difference (Small Islands) 1999

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