The argument for building a sustainable development tourism plan must be anchored in fundamental measures that will have a lasting effect, Trinidad & Tobago’s acting Prime Minister, Winston Dookeran, said in his feature address at last week’s Caribbean Tourism Organization’s 14th annual sustainable tourism development conference in Port-of-Spain.
“For far too long, we have addressed the issue of financing infrastructure through traditional models of financing,” said Dookeran. “Private-public sector participation in infrastructure development of roads, airports and ports are now required. In the final analysis, it is the flow of funds that determines the future of an industry and that flow of funds will depend on the method of financing.”
A graduate of the University of Manitoba, where he made his political entrance as the student union president, Dookeran said it’s critical that T & T develop a capacity to adjust to evolving and challenging situations.
“We also must have a capacity to be able to be comforted by buffers that were put in place so when the rainy day comes, we are covered by those buffers,” said Dookeran who is also his country’s foreign affairs minister. “That is the new broad definition of sustainability that is engaging the attention of many practitioners in the field. Regrettably, as of now, we still have to convince our international financial institutions that the main measurement of sustainability through arithmetical formulas is in fact an imperfect measurement. For the Caribbean, we must develop our own measures of sustainability and when we identify sustainability in the context of tourism development, there are even more issues that must be brought into the fray.”
Dookeran also addressed the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) tax imposed on travellers from Britain to the Caribbean that severely impacts on Caribbean nations that are transitioning to service-based economies that are largely tourism-centred.
APD was introduced in 1994 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, as a “green tax”, but there has never been any coherent accounting of how the revenue generated has been used by the treasury to offset the effects of carbon emissions.
“We have always opposed the imposition of an additional passenger tax that has been placed on the Caribbean by the British authorities,” said Dookeran. “We have made numerous efforts to have a review of that. The tax is inimical to the interests of a level playing field. We make a call again that that must be reviewed so that we can create a sense of competitiveness in our approach to developing a sustainable approach for development.”
In the keynote address, United Nations World Tourism Organization regional director for the Americas, Carlos Vogeler, said taxes and duties in many instances are a clear market distortion and a trade barrier as they hamper fair competition between destinations.
He pointed to the APD as being sold as a “green tax” when in reality there’s no link to investment in green technologies.
“This is contrary to the objectives of supporting development as it creates an obstacle to the economic growth and job creation in many regions around the world, namely the Caribbean,” said Vogeler. “This issue needs to be addressed, as with connectivity, by collectively positioning the benefits of air transport and tourism with cross-silo analysis and guidance to states on the impact of taxes and other levies and by searching, as much as possible, for global solutions that ensure a level playing field.”
CTO chairman, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commended T & T for its vision and dedication as the only member to host the conference three times. Trinidad hosted in 1998 and Tobago seven years later.
“This demonstrates a commitment to the preservation of the region’s natural resources and speaks volumes for a country whose economy is driven by the energy sector,” she said. “It is also a very smart decision because figures are showing that sustainable tourism not only preserves resources for the enjoyment of future generations, but it also produces profits in the present. Devoting resources to develop a sustainable tourism industry for today and the future has a very strong potential for a high return on investment. This is especially true for a region like ours which is rich in natural resources and cultural heritage. Other regions with few natural attractions have profited from sustainable management and conservation of their resources.”
Nicholson-Doty, who is also the United States Virgin Islands’ tourism commissioner, said travellers are specifically seeking out destinations that care for their environment and for their people.
“They feel the quality of their stay is linked to a destination’s commitment to sustainable tourism,” she said. “Resources must be allocated to both the preservation of our natural resources and the development of a cutting-edge hospitality sector driven by high levels of service excellence in order to provide a well-rounded visitor experience. We have to pay close attention because it is our very success which can threaten our most valuable assets, and industry specialists tells us visitors are becoming increasingly aware of the potentially negative impact of tourism on the natural beauty, cultural and historical offerings of a destination if not managed well. They want to feel their visit contributes to the conservation and enhancement of a destination’s environment, culture, health and general well-being.”
The inaugural conference took place in 1997 in Dominica.
CTO secretary general, Hugh Riley, said an action plan has to be an essential component of the region’s sustainable development strategy.
“We must face the issues head-on and implement solutions,” said Riley. “There is no sense in pretending we don’t see what needs to be done when visitors complain about intra-Caribbean air service.
“There is no point in pretending our aviation taxes are not high when we see the tickets dissected before our eyes and the portion that is actually going towards taxes. We can fix that by providing the proper evidence to convince our leaders that we can generate more revenue by lowering the taxes and substantially increasing passenger volume. We must produce the evidence because if we don’t, we run the risk of reaching the point of the APD which is now sacrificing more revenue than it’s generating.”