June 2010

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John Maginley, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, addresses delegates at the opening of the 11th Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development. – Photo by Janet Silvera
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

ST MICHAEL’S, Barbados:

The call by Caribbean Tourism

Organisation (CTO) Chairman John Maginley for decisive action to protect the region’s natural assets from climate change has been echoed by geotourism expert Jonathan Tourtellot.
But Tourtellot, editor of National Geographic Traveler, wants more.

“Going green is no longer enough if the Caribbean wants to develop a world-class, sustainable tourism product. The development of tourism that enhances, among other things, the geographical character of a place and the well-being of its residents is the way to go,” he told delegates at the just-concluded Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Both men, advocates of the sustainability of the region’s tourism sector, have urged Caribbean leaders to produce a travel product that will distinguish it from its competitors.

Four-pronged approach

Outlining a four-pronged approach, Tourtellot explained the significance of extending the concept of sustainable tourism 21st-century travellers’ need for naturalness.

“Increasingly, leisure travellers want authenticity, experiences. Quality of place is a selling point,” he told the approximately 400 industry officials and media gathered at the Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre in Barbados from May 9-13.

His suggestion includes identifying and sustaining distinctive features, as well as developing the product and marketing geotourism assets.

The keynote speaker also described the three main categories of modern-day travellers – touring-style travellers searching for destinations’ natural authenticity; rest-and-recreation-seeking travellers; and entertainment-focused travellers, predominantly interested in casinos and fast food rather than architecture and fine cuisine. He suggested tourism planners should be mindful of these submarkets and tailor the sector to cater to all travellers.

Vulnerable to disasters

Tourtellot’s hourlong presentation, titled ‘Sustainable Tourism: Going Beyond Green’, was complemented by Maginley’s call for policymakers to begin bold, new initiatives to protect the region from the impact of climate change.

Reminding delegates that, like other regions in the world, the Caribbean was vulnerable to natural disasters, the CTO chairman said they should do all they could to mitigate the effects of natural occurrences.

“We know what it’s like to have to cope with storms. We know what it feels like to deal with periodic drought and, most recently, we have experienced the trauma of earthquakes here in our region, a phenomenon from which the people of Haiti are only now beginning to recover,” he said.

Maginley, who is also Antigua and Barbuda’s minister of tourism, argued that it was critical to increase the industry’s competitive edge.

“This, after all, is the primary means of sustenance for the vast majority of the citizens of the Caribbean. This means we must produce a superb tourism product that is sustainable and which clearly distinguishes us from our competitors,” he stated.