Sustainable Tourism
Environment TOBAGOFocus On Tobago´s Environment
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Sustainable Tourism

"Sustainable development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
World Commission on Environment and Development.1987.

Following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the World Travel and Tourism Council, the World Tourism Organization and the Earth Council joined to produce a report titled "Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism Industry: Towards Environmentally Sustainable Development."

This document sought to translate the sustainable development principles adopted at the World Summit into a framework for sustainable development of the Travel and Tourism Industry.

Agenda 21 for the Travel and Tourism industry identifies twelve (12) guiding principles for tourism development. These principles are as follows.

· Travel and Tourism should assist people in leading healthy and productive lives in harmony with nature
· Travel and Tourism should contribute to the conservation and restoration of the earth's ecosystem.
· Travel and Tourism should be based upon sustainable patterns of production and consumption
· Nations should cooperate to promote an open economic system, in which international trade in Travel & Tourism services can take place on a sustainable basis.
· Travel & Tourism, peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent.
· Protectionism in trade in Travel & Tourism should be halted or reversed.
· Environmental protection should constitute an integral part of the tourism development process.
· Tourism development issues should be handled with the participation of concerned citizens, with planning decisions being developed at local level.
· Nations shall warn one another of natural disasters that could affect tourists or tourist areas.
· Travel & Tourism should use its capacity to create employment for women and indigenous peoples to the fullest extent.
· Tourism development should recognize and support the identity, culture, and interests of indigenous peoples.
· International laws protecting the environment should be respected by the Travel & Tourism industry.

When one examines the present trends of tourism development in Tobago in the light of these guiding principles, one immediately sees that we are headed in the wrong direction.

Let us take the principle of tourism development issues being handled with the participation of concerned citizens with planning decisions being adopted at the local level. The Tourism Investment Bill that is presently being debated in the National Parliament reportedly seeks to give to TIDCO the right to make final decisions for tourism development projects in Tobago. If what the media has reported is correct (There has been no public consultation on this Bill) then this proposal is not in keeping with the above stated principle and should be rejected. The people of Charlottesville or Plymouth or Parlatuvier must play an integral role in any decisions about tourism development in their communities.

To proceed otherwise is to run the risk of engaging in conflicts with local populations and which in the long run will not benefit anyone. The conflicts over developments at Pigeon Point, Plymouth, Kings Bay and Lowlands are clear illustrations of the results of failure to follow the principles of full local participation in development decisions. Imagine that one developer wants fisherfolk to access their beach only between 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Does he not realize that there is a relationship between fishing and the rise and fall of the tides and that the tides do not operate only between 7:00 AM and 6:00 PM. What absurdity! Is the livelihood of the local community to be sacrificed so that an investor can maximise his or her profits?

The principle that environmental protection should constitute an integral part of tourism development process also needs to be made a pillar of Tobago's Tourism development. There is clear and abundant evidence of the environmental degradation that tourism development has already brought to this island. This does not mean that tourism development has to be destructive. On the contrary, proper tourism development can actually lead to improved conservation of the environment when the right policies are implemented. If we seek to attract investment without the right policies and regulations in place then some investors will seek to make a fast buck and the inevitable negative consequences will follow.

After their tax holidays are over, some investors will seek greener pastures and leave us with the problems on our hands. We have seen it happen before right here. Before any further attempt to attract investment, we must put the regulatory mechanisms in place. Where are the guidelines to govern eco-tourism? How can a developer destroy dozens of acres of forest and be allowed to market the development as eco-tourism? Another development moved a whole beach overnight in an attempt to create a private enclave. We all know how Mother Nature eventually dealt with that one. Where is the integral protection on the environment?

Space does not allow for discussion of the other principles of sustainable tourism but by now you should have the picture of where we are headed.

- Press Release - March 13, 2000 - Kamau Akili
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