Sustainable Tourism Workshops
As hotel development in Tobago continues to proceed at an increasing pace, one can't help but be painfully aware of how fragile and finite this little island really is. It is therefore extremely encouraging to see initiatives that give attention to the plight of small islands trying to build an economy around their pristine natural beauty. One recent initiative was the workshops run by the Tobago arm of the Trinidad and Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (TTHTA) in association with the Caribbean Association of Sustainable Tourism (CAST) on environmental conservation and management by hotels. This was coordinated by the Environment Committee of the TTHTA in Tobago.
On small islands like Tobago, where tourism is the main industry, hotels have a huge ecological impact. The onus is therefore on hotels to ensure that this impact is as positive as possible. It was therefore highly distressing to see the lack of participation of the large hotels in this workshop series, including the hotels represented on the Tobago Board of the TTHTA. While some of the smaller, more remote hotels with tighter budgets and smaller staff rosters managed to send at least two representatives to every event, the overwhelming majority of hotels in the Crown Point area were absent. With a few commendable exceptions, the hotel stretch from Buccoo to Black Rock was just as poorly represented and the larger, more environmentally controversial beachfront hotels on both coasts were notably absent.
The TTHTA members and others that participated were: Cocrico Inn, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Environment TOBAGO, Footprints Eco-resort, Golf View Apartments, Kariwak Hotel, Man O War Bay Cottages, Manta Lodge, Mt. Irvine Hotel, Sanctuary Villas & Resort, Trin Air Services, and Viola’s Place.
CAST provided a team of dynamic, well-informed lecturers for this weeklong series of workshops. The workshops were extremely relevant to all levels of hotel staff. In the Organic Housekeeping workshop, room attendants were introduced to the basics of conservation and involved in a compelling hands-on demonstration of safer, natural alternatives to the harsh chemical cleaners that they handle on a daily basis. The two-day Environmental Management Systems workshop provided a wealth of practical advice on formulating and implementing environmental policy at all operational levels in keeping with ISO-14001, Green Globe, and the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) standards.
Other workshops offered similar practical advice on how to implement environmentally friendly and cost saving ideas in hotels. Needless to say, participants in all the workshops were highly enthusiastic and left with a real feeling of responsibility not just to the environment but to themselves and their respective properties.
Running an environmentally friendly business is not only the right thing to do socially and morally, it is also highly cost effective and produces a considerable marketing edge. The growing environmental awareness worldwide is producing a more discriminating consumer. Recognition of this has led to the development of international standards for environmental management in all industries (ISO-14001), as well as market-specific standards like Green Globe developed by the World Travel and Trade Council. The TTHTA/CAST workshops not only provided local properties with an introduction to the Green Globe criteria, but also gave participants the practical tools to start the certification process in their respective hotels.
Environment Tobago (ET) would like to highly commend the hotels that participated in the workshops, and encourage implementation of the ideas discussed. These hotels continue to show their commitment to sustainable development and already practice some of these principles on their properties. The CAST facilitators, who have carried out countless of these workshops throughout the Caribbean, also expressed their deep concern over the unbelievably poor turnout. Participants also regretted that more hotels could not have benefited from the workshop series; their overwhelming feeling was that the hotels that most needed to be there were not.
It is unfortunate that these workshops were only able to preach to the converted, and could not reach the many large hotels that most need to adopt environmentally and socially responsible tourism. This lack of participation further supports the growing public perception that these hotels just don't care. If apathy or just sheer ignorance is their excuse, then may this article as least be enlightening. - Tanya Clovis - Save Our Sea Turtles (SOS) & ET member