June 2021 marks the 16th year since the official proclamation by the United States White House recognizing June as Caribbean American Heritage Month. Each year, this celebration, spearheaded by Dr. Claire Nelson, Founder and President of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) in Washington D.C. focuses on how the diverse culture of the Caribbean has helped to shape the American dream.
ICS views ‘Sustainable Tourism’ as a critical pathway to a SMART Future, particularly in the Caribbean’s post-pandemic rebuilding strategy. One June 5th World Environment Day, ICS joined forces with Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean (TASC), a private networking platform for travel professionals, to launch Caribbean American Heritage Month. The 1-hour virtual session was designed to highlight the importance of Sustainable Tourism, increase awareness of the symbiotic relationship between tourism and the environment and the need to rebuild the industry in a safe, climate-friendly manner.
Among the featured speakers on this panel were Mr Vincent Sweeney, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Caribbean Sub-Regional Office and two veteran tourism operators with a track record for environmental advocacy. They outlined critical elements for developing sustainable tourism in the Caribbean, as a way to protect the environment against economic and cultural impacts, while helping local communities generate economic and cultural benefits.
“The Caribbean is heavily dependent on tourism, but we have to be careful how we manage it. COVID-19 has shown us how vulnerable our tourism industry is and we have to be cautious about overdevelopment. We should aim to leave small footprints even as we enjoy the natural beauty that the Caribbean has to offer. We can deliver exciting experiences to your clients and showcase the beauty of the island in a responsible manner, while protecting the local culture, land and coastlines in a positive way,” said Eli Fuller, owner and operator of Adventure Antigua.
Phil Saye, co-owner of Dive Grenada and Vice President of the Grenada Scuba Diving Association is also the Founder of the Grand Anse Artificial Reef Project (GAARP). Saye gained approval to develop and fund the first purpose-built Artificial Reef in Grenada. “This project will have sustainable benefits for Grenada’s marine ecosystem and we are also passing on the knowledge, by educating the children in Grenada on Marine Conservation. We are helping to cultivate proud citizens who can show the world that Grenada is committed to preserving its natural heritage,” Saye stated.
“As the Caribbean reopens for tourism activity, TASC is proud to be a part of this symposium as one of the featured organizations in support of Sustainable Tourism. Virtually every Caribbean island has been affected by the restrictions on travel. This has led to a decline in visitor arrivals, loss of jobs and a weakening of our cultural heritage and assets. World Environment Day presents an opportunity to rethink how we can strengthen the Caribbean’s tourism industry by coming together to protect the environment and build a more sustainable product, said Derede Whitlock, Senior Administrator of TASC and Sustainable Tourism Advisor of the ICS Board, who moderated the discussion.
The launch of Caribbean American Heritage Month is a prelude to the ICS sponsored Blue Green Smart Economy Forum which begins on June 5th, World Environment Day and ends on June 8th, World Ocean Day. Dr. Nelson and her team will focus on the sustainable management of the Caribbean environmental ecosystems. It will bring together several developmental agencies and environmental advocates from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to explore alternative economic approaches to address financial uncertainty and vulnerability.
“The forum will bring us together to learn more about the importance of the environment and ecosystem restoration to the sustainable prosperity of the Caribbean region and introduce new ways in which we might think about the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Agenda for the Day includes the themes: Sustainable Tourism; Tech for Environmental Education; Trees & Ecosystem Restoration; and The Future we Want.”
The Blue Green Smart Forum will encourage awareness and action for the protection of the environment as part of a key developmental strategy for the Caribbean, especially as it relates to sustainable tourism. It will require proactive, meaningful and equal involvement from all stakeholders including governments, private entities and local citizens for the industry to be successful.