The concept of the Caribbean as a united region, as a means to guarantee the sustainability of tourism development, is at the center of the efforts of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), an intergovernmental agency whose main objective is to provide, through its membership, services and information necessary for the development of sustainable tourism for the economic and social benefit of the region’s populations.
Officially established in 1989, it is explicit in its mission to promote the development of sustainable tourism in the area towards a viable, resilient and high-quality tourism sector.
In response to the need to consider the environmental and sociocultural components in their fair value, in 2008 a Strategy for the Development of Sustainable Tourism in the Caribbean was created — the Regional Sustainable Tourism Framework and a Plan of Action — which has the purpose of: initiating projects and activities with focus on addressing economic, environmental and sociocultural issues linked to the tourism activity; ensuring the sustainable use of the natural environment and the cultural heritage for the benefit of all; managing the health, safety and security issues that impact the sustainability of tourism; and working in a collaborative and advisory capacity with key regional and international agencies.
In this context, the CTO has organized, since 1997, its Annual Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development, a part of the information dissemination and regional awareness component of the aforementioned Strategy…, and examines how member states can design and implement sustainable tourism policies and programs, thus offering a regional forum for the exchange of information on the successes and pitfalls of national, regional and international initiatives.
It has promoted other key initiatives to support sustainable development, such as the Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action Program; and the Regional Monitoring and Evaluation System for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in the Caribbean Tourism Sector Project, 2010-2012, which facilitated the emergence of the Regional Disaster Risk Management Strategy and Plan of Action for the Tourism Sector in the Caribbean.
In addition, there is a Climate Smart and Sustainable Caribbean Tourism Industry Project 2017-2021; and the Regional Tourism Health Capacity Enhancement and Digitization Project: Advancing Caribbean Travelers Health Assurance for Healthier Safer Tourism 2021-2023, with a comprehensive approach to support the economic recovery after the COVID-19.
The CTO has identified community-based tourism as a regional tourism development strategy that supports entrepreneurship and local prosperity, while creating unique experiences and product offers for visitors. In this sense, the aim is to: contribute to diversification and enhancement of the region’s tourism product offerings to meet the varied and changing market demands; provide opportunities for the meaningful engagement of visitors with host communities; expand the participation and benefits in tourism for local communities while also ensuring that rural and indigenous communities have equitable access to tourism markets.
It is well known that the Caribbean is the world region most dependent on tourism, an increasingly important line for the survival of the respective economies, which is why the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on all its countries, given that this sector has been the most affected.
Advancing towards recovery is also an opportunity to rethink the future of tourism. The CTO prioritizes the development and implementation of strategies to instill the necessary confidence in both the local community and visitors to create a safe, yet welcoming environment. This would imply collaborative efforts that involve all local actors, under the premise of the CTO’s own commitment to support the structural transformation required to build a stronger, more sustainable and inclusive regional tourism industry.
Special mention should be made of the strong association of the CTO with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in favor of sustainable tourism development in forums, conferences and knowledge-sharing events and in initiatives related to education and training — the CTO participates in the meetings of the UNWTO Regional Commission for the Americas.
The Caribbean vision for the future is set out within the framework of the CTO’s Sustainable Tourism Development Policy, which defines it as: “Tourism that is sustainable, viable, of high quality, climate-smart, resilient and that promotes local empowerment and inclusion.”