MAKING a difference

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel
outlines what UNEP and the tourist industry are doing to promote sustainable tourism in small islands

This year over 20 million international tourists are holidaying in small island developing states (SIDS). They already enjoy over 3 per cent of the trade, and it is growing rapidly.

SIDS have long recognized the importance of sustainable tourism for their environments and peoples, and included recommendations on it in the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action. Many have now established initiatives for sustainable tourism, and are strengthening their policy frameworks for sustainable development, receiving global recognition. Tourism projects in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, have all been commended by the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

At the end of last year, UNEP and the World Tourism Organization (WTO) organized a conference on Sustainable Tourism in Small Island Developing States and Other Islands, with the cooperation of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Held in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, it showed how careful planning and control over tourism, particularly at the destination level, was the key way for SIDS to gain real benefits – and minimize negative effects – for their socio-economic development, livelihood improvement, and environmental protection. Managing coastal zones and protecting sensitive ecosystems are important, as are comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessments, for all tourism development programmes.

A way with water
Negotiations are under way in the Caribbean to establish regional standards for water quality, one way of strengthening frameworks to protect the environment and maintain the quality resources that tourists demand. A Caribbean code of conduct has already been established, based on the MARPOL Convention, to prevent pollution from small ships in marinas and anchorages. And the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States is establishing a Strategy for Sustainable Tourism.

The Tourism Council of South Pacific is promoting improved environmental management practices in its region, through training programmes and other activities. It publishes an Environmental Management Guide for Small Hotels & Resorts, encouraging the private sector to introduce sustainable tourism practices in seven priority areas: energy, water, solid waste, effluents and emissions, contractors and suppliers, landscape management and staff, and local community.

Unqualified success
Economic instruments are being used to raise revenue from tourism to manage the resources on which it is based. One example is the Bonaire Marine Park in the Dutch Antilles, one of the first protected marine areas in the Caribbean to have become entirely self-financing through levying admission fees on scuba divers. Although the diving industry on Bonaire was initially uneasy about this, the system has proved an unqualified success, and divers have given it their whole-hearted support.

Their fees support management of the Park’s coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems – and educational activities and orientation sessions for divers, which have been extremely successful in minimizing their impacts on the island’s reefs.

The Lanzarote Conference highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for communities to participate in tourism in SIDS. In some cases legal changes have been introduced to give local communities greater control over development in their localities, including tourism. This approach is already paying off, helping local communities to create jobs, and to protect their cultures and environments.

In the Solomon Islands, the Western Provincial Government has helped the Marovo Lagoon community to develop resource management plans. The community has established an Ecotourism Association, and has developed small ecotourism lodges appropriate to the area, alongside sustainable fisheries ventures, and other local enterprise development. The Lagoon has now been proposed as a World Heritage Area, and has an innovative plan for its protection and sustainable development, based on community management backed by support at national level for natural resource planning and management, enterprise development and financing, training, and marketing support.

In Jamaica, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park involves communities located within the Park’s buffer zone. The Park is one of Jamaica’s major watersheds, providing water for around 40 per cent of its people – and maintaining its environmental integrity is vital for the island’s economy. Tourism is being developed gradually in the Park, as one way of generating revenues to fund its management.
Legal changes have been introduced to give
communities greater control

Cleaner production and eco-efficiency must be implemented more widely in tourism. The private sector could play an increasing role in educating their customers on environmental, social and cultural issues: it is increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable tourism practices, and voluntary initiatives for addressing environmental and socio-economic issues are being promoted in the industry.

For example, the Caribbean Action for Sustainable Tourism (CAST) has been set up to implement the Caribbean Hotel Association’s (CHA) environmental programme and activities, including producing guidance, an Environmental Management Tool Kit, and a news bulletin in cooperation with UNEP’s Regional Office. Member hotels are required to commit themselves to a work plan aiming to implement cleaner production and eco-efficient solutions: CAST provides them with full technical support. The CHA gives an award for environmental performance. One winner, The Half Moon Hotel at Montego Bay, Jamaica, employs a full-time environmental officer, treats its own sewage, and runs a recycling programme.

Non-governmental organizations are also undertaking initiatives. For example, The Ecotourism Society – which is preparing Marine Ecotourism Guidelines with UNEP – trains professionals on marine ecotourism and how to implement it, and is running a pilot evaluation programme in which ecotourism businesses participate in a sustainability assessment process.

UNEP is actively working with SIDS – through international and regional programmes – to develop and put into practice their capacity to implement approaches to sustainable tourism. The Lanzarote Conference was one example, and a follow-up conference will take place at the end of 1999.

UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (TIE) is preparing the Tour Operator Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development with the WTO and UNESCO. Many of the companies working to develop it send tourists to SIDS. Through the Initiative, which will be launched next year, tour operators will work towards integrating environmental, social and cultural considerations into their activities and operations; adopting best practices in managing sustainable tourism; and creating awareness among their customers and partners of what they can do.

UNEP TIE produces a range of handbooks on good practices in tourism in partnership with tourist organizations, to help decision-makers in the public and private sectors, which have already raised awareness and stimulated gains in management and eco-efficiency
(UNEP/TIE publications on tourism).

Training programmes on cleaner production and environmentally sound management are under way in the Caribbean and the Pacific, through UNEP’s Regional Offices. UNEP’s Regional Seas Programmes – which cover 13 different regions and involve over 140 countries – and the Global Plan of Action support countries on tourism and other issues.

UNEP is working with IUCN–the World Conservation Union, the WTO and UNESCO on specific initiatives for managing tourism in sensitive areas and ecosystems and with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) on tourism management and coral reefs, a particularly urgent task given the widespread outbreaks of coral bleaching.

Setting priorities
As part of the UNEP Earthwatch Assessment Programme, a Global Environment Outlook project was initiated in January 1998, funded by the European Union. Through it UNEP has worked with the University of the West Indies, the Indian Ocean Commission, and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme to produce state-of-the-environment assessments for their regions. The project is helping SIDS to identify regional environmental concerns, set priorities and establish effective policies to address them.

UNEP disseminates information for SIDS through two web sites: one on its tourism activities
( tourism), the other dedicated exclusively to islands (

Ensuring sustainability
These activities are helping SIDS to meet the challenges of ensuring that tourism contributes sustainably to their economies, is in tune with their development plans and their cultures, and protects their environments.

SIDS face pressing environmental constraints, including limited land resources and uncontrolled tourism development in the past, which may have damaged their rich coastal resources, limited freshwater and scarce energy resources, and increased solid and liquid wastes. If these constraints are not dealt with, they seriously damage both tourism and other economic sectors, such as fisheries.

In conclusion, as the Lanzarote Conference demonstrated, many excellent initiatives are already in progress in SIDS. The task is to spread these more widely, to monitor what is achieved through them, and to encourage them to extend their goals.

UNEP/TIE publications on tourism
1. Guidelines: Development of National Parks and Protected Areas for Tourism, jointly with WTO, 1992

2. Environmental Action Pack for Hotels, jointly with the International Hotel Association and the International Hotel Environment Initiative, 1995

3. Environmental Codes of Conduct for Tourism, 1995

4. Awards for Improving the Coastal Environment: the Example of the Blue Flag, jointly with Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe and WTO

5. Environmental Good Practice in Hotels: Case Studies, jointly with the International Hotels and Restaurants Association, 1997

6. Ecolabels for the Tourism Industry, 1998

7. How the Hotel and Tourism Sector Can Protect the Ozone Layer, with the support of the Montreal Ozone Fund, 1998

8. Tourism Focus (regular bulletin in the Industry & Environment Review) – also available on-line (


1. The Ecotourism Information Pack, in cooperation with The Ecotourism Society

2. Training Pack on Environmental Management for Hotel and Tourism Schools, in cooperation with the International Hotels and Restaurants Association

3. Visitors’ Management Manual for Asian World Heritage Sites, in cooperation

4. Sustainable Tourism in National Parks and Protected Areas: Guidelines for Development and Management, in cooperation with IUCN and WTO

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel is Director of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics.

PHOTOGRAPH: M. Mann/UNEP/Topham Picturepoint

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...

Complementary articles in other issues:
Nelson Andrade: Reefs and reforms (Tourism) 1999
Carlston Boucher: No island is an island (Tourism) 1999
D.J. de Villiers: Beyond attractive destinations (Tourism) 1999
Norris Prevost: Beyond bananas (Tourism) 1999
Simon Upton: Catalyst for common sense (Tourism) 1999
Meenakshi Varandani: Asking the right questions (Tourism) 1999
Elizabeth Khaka: Small islands Big problems (Freshwater) 1998