By F. Martin
TTC Service.- The Caribbean tourism industry is currently facing a much more demanding problem than competition from other destinations around the world: climate change and its aftermath.
The most recent statistics indicate that the region, despite its problems, is competing successfully in a branch that means the key economic driver and local largest provider of jobs after the public sector.
According to official figures from international organizations in 2016 the Caribbean region surpassing 29 million arrivals for the first time and once again growing faster than the global average. Visitor expenditures also hit a new high, growing by an estimated 3.5% to reach 35.5 billion dollars. And the outlook for 2017 remains rosy, with expected increases of 2.5 and 3.5% in long-stay arrivals and between 1.5% and 2.5% in cruise passenger arrivals.
But everything seems to indicate that the progress of global warming is a serious challenge to be overcome by the region to maintain its success as a major tourist destination.
The Caribbean is one of the least polluting regions in the world but it is also one of the most exposed to global warming due to the importance of the tourism sector within its economy, estimates Carlos Fuller, an expert of Belize about the Caribbean.
“The Caribbean’s greenhouse gas emissions are very small because we have a small population, we are not very industrialized, and we don’t do a lot of agriculture, so we don’t emit a lot. However, mitigation is important for us because of the high cost of fuel and energy. Most of our islands depend on petroleum as a source of energy, and when oil prices were above US$100 per barrel, we were spending more than 60% of our foreign exchange on importing petroleum products into the Caribbean. In that respect, we really want to transition to renewable energy sources as we have considerable amounts of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy potential”, recommended Fuller in an article for the Climate Change Centre.
He explained the consequences of the region’s dependence on petroleum and analyzes the potential of public policy for supporting renewable energy.
According to Fuller the global warming “is severely impacting our natural attractions, our tourist attractions. For example, we have a significant amount of erosion because of sea level rise, wave action, and storm surges, which is causing tremendous erosion and affecting our beaches. Our coral reefs, which are a big attraction, are also suffering a lot of bleaching which is impacting our fish stock. Those resources are being affected significantly. We do have significant protected areas; however, we need more resources to enforce the protection of these”.
The Belize expert defended the development of more public policies to face the phenomenon. “Some countries, [we’re] doing reasonably well on this front. In Belize, for example, we now have independent coal producers and we have transitioned to an increased use of hydro, solar, and biomass, so more than 50% of our domestic electricity supply is from renewable energy sources”.
He added that “however, on many of the islands, we need to create an enabling environment to allow renewable energy to penetrate the market. We are going to need a lot of assistance from the international community to put in the regulatory framework that will allow us to develop renewable energy in these places. We then need to attract potential investors to provide sources of renewable energy in the region.
“Of course, the Caribbean’s tourism is an important sector of the economy, which is one of the reasons we need to protect our reserves and natural parks. We are also trying to make our buildings more resilient to the effects of extreme weather”, is one of his advices.
Last month Dominican Senator Francine Baron said at the general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in Mexico that the impact of more severe hurricanes and the destruction of our most valued tourism assets, our beaches and coral reefs, and the damage to our infrastructure threaten to reverse the developmental gains that we have made”.
It is quite true that the Caribbean tourism sector faces significant future threats related to both competitiveness and climate change impacts.
But with beaches and other attractions destroyed by excessive rains or eternal droughts it will not be possible to compete successfully with other destinations around the world.