By Drs. Magdalena AK Muir and Albert Salman
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face economic and touristic challenges, and require special treatment due to their unique characteristics of small size, isolated locations, vulnerability to sea-level rise, and exposure to natural disasters. These islands also host some of the largest marine protected areas, and are repositories of ocean biodiversity and ecosystems that are essential for sustainable tourism.
With sustainable tourism as an important current and future driver for economic growth, SIDS can progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and associated post 2015 policies. To do so, SIDS can use objective assessment tools and strategies to make their destination attractive and competitive including: sustainable tourism certifications and recognition; best practice examples; a shared focus on energy, water and climate adaptation and mitigation; capacity building and technology transfer; and attracting external sustainable investment.
Article 19 of the SIDS Conference Zero Draft discusses developing policies that foster responsive, resilient and inclusive tourism, and support the promotion and development of sustainable eco- and cultural tourism. It also refers to using the expertise of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) to provide direct and focused support.
A Green Destination is a tourism destination (city, town, island, national park or resort) that is exceptional, viewed as sustainable by visitors, and with a sustainable tourism policy that meets the GSTC Criteria for Destinations (GSTC C-D). Green Destinations are also those that receive an award from a GSTC C-D compliant programme such as QualityCoast.
The Small Islands – Green Destinations partnership, registered with the SIDS Conference, offers an assessment tool and data base that can contribute to sustainable economies of SIDS, and make them more attractive and competitive tourist destinations. By identifying strengths and challenges, SIDS can develop and implement individually suitable sustainable destination strategies. Through recognition as Green Destinations, SIDS become more visible and marketable. Their tourism strategy can reflect their unique sustainable characteristics, particularly their terrestrial and marine biodiversity and ecosystems. The sustainable energy, water and carbon approaches characterising a sustainable tourism sector can also increase the sustainability of entire islands and all communities.
For the tourism industry and the independent traveller, an objective and independent process is important to assess how islands meet sustainability criteria that are not linked to eco-labels and award processes. For example, the database BasiQ database 3.2 which underlies the Global Sustainable Tourism Review (GSTR) contains information based on more than 30 weighted sustainability performance indicators, applied so far to over 1000 coastal and island destinations. In addition to government data, and information from visitor reviews and expert assessment, nearly half the data comes from Google Earth, Google Maps and statistical data bases, allowing for the ongoing inclusion of geo-spatial data and continuous improvement of knowledge.
To prosper in coming years, SIDS need to target the high value growing sustainable tourism market, whilst contributing to the increasing marketing visibility of SIDS in this global tourism sector. Their unique sustainable tourism strategies should include the continuous improvement of local tourism knowledge and capacity, the development of appropriate policies, improving local businesses and attracting external sustainable investment. This could include focusing on targeted external investments in energy and water services and infrastructure through innovation advice and support provided by centres such as the Centre for Energy Technologies.
In summary, the GSTR makes the GSTC C-D operational for SIDS by encouraging islands to focus on various tourism sustainability and attractiveness aspects, and translating the difficult concept of “destination sustainability” into concrete information relevant to islands and travellers. By taking measures to improve under rating processes such as GSTR, SIDS improve their island image and brand.
To succeed as sustainable tourism destinations, SIDS need to monitor and communicate progress from research to marketing to destination verification and auditing. SIDS can also improve their status as sustainable tourism destinations through a shared focus on vital sectors such as energy, water, and climate adaptation and mitigation, and knowledge and technology transfer. Given the focus and breadth of partnerships on offer at the Conference, a SIDS focus on sustainable destination tourism would support not only tourism but complimentary economic development.