Travel and tourism’s economic impact around the world is, in a word, huge — and it’s growing.
In November, the “UNWTO (United National World Travel Organization), the Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnership for Sustainable Tourism” conference will be held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Jamaica.
The meeting is the result of the collaboration between 800 tourism decision makers from 157 countries, including the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, Chemonics, George Washington University and the U.N. General Assembly.
The focus of the meeting is to bring awareness that tourism, done the right way, has a tremendous capacity to create good jobs; provide opportunities for inclusion and education of minorities and young people; and contribute to preserving cultural heritage and the environment.
Done the wrong way, it can do harm.
In 2016, the UNWTO declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The group created Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that state that sustainable tourism must promote:
• Inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
• Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction.
• Resource efficiency, environmental protection, and climate change.
• Cultural values, diversity, and heritage.Mutual understanding, peace and security.
It is the economic and environmental sustainability of travel that makes the difference to the places people go. For those destinations, travel as an economic driver can only be considered truly sustainable if it generates good jobs and raises standards of living.
Sustainable travel must stimulate trade and linkages between the destination and the travel providers, respecting and protecting the natural and cultural environments that draw all those tourists in the first place.
As travelers need to be aware of their impact on destinations, tourism stakeholders, hotels, local governments, entertainment, and food and beverage providers must embrace more ecologically, socially and economically sound forms of tourism opportunties.
Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett visited Washington, D.C., at the end of June to speak with representatives from both the government and private sectors. During his visit, he discussed the impact of tourism as an economic driver of global economies as well as a tool to reduce poverty.
Mr. Bartlett says the answer to poverty in his and other vacation destinations is to tap into those tourism dollars by providing vacationers with a more authentic experience than the box resort.
“The corporate resorts are important to our tourism economy,” he says. “However, as a destination, we can encourage visitors to leave the resort to visit and give patronage, to the towns of Jamaica — to take advantage of the many outdoor activities we offer, to learn about our agro-tourism, eco-tourism, and natural environment. “
An example of tourism as an economic driver can be found at Bluefields Bay Villas, Jamaica, where visits to the schools, homes, farms and women’s co-ops create a vacation experience far beyond the island’s beaches and blue waters.
Located in Jamaica’s Westmoreland Parish, Bluefields Bay Villas has made significant efforts to bring awareness of the community, and all it has to offer, to vacationers drawn by the resort’s six, private, luxury bay-front villas.
Divided among the villas are 23 bedrooms, which translate into more than 5,000 guest nights annually with a 60 percent occupancy rate. The result is that the Jamaican-American company is able to annually invest $2 million into the Westmoreland economy.
“As a Jamaican-American company, we have always been aware of our responsibility to the community of Bluefields Bay and Jamaica as a whole,” said Houston Moncure, managing director of Bluefields Bay Villas.
“Our entire staff of 80 persons is Jamaican, including the higher-paid management positions. We use local food to make gourmet meals, and products whenever possible that come from the community. We work with the schools to increase educational resources and infrastructure.
“We are proactive about not only giving back to the community but also making sure that we help provide a framework for long-term educational and economic improvement to this gorgeous area of Jamaica.”
Bluefields Bay Villas demonstrates how the public sector and private enterprise can work together to bring tourism dollars to the people and spur local development.
Another example is Adventure Canada, an expedition cruise-ship operator that collects $250 (U.S.), the Discovery Fund Fee, from passengers. Those dollars directly assist local and national organizations in social and economic community development in addition to environmental and wildlife preservation.
The support goes to nonprofit groups and grassroots initiatives.
“Students on Ice is one group we are particularly proud to support,” says Cedar Swan, CEO of Adventure Canada. “We sponsor students, particularly the Inuit students who live in the small communities we visit, to travel outside their community, act as ambassadors to bring awareness to their home while also learning about a greater world, expanding their horizons.”
For the students, it opens up what could otherwise be a very sheltered life experience and, according to Swan, “… lifts their spirits as it opens their horizons.”
A more direct way that Adventure Canada has supported its travel routes is when, after a storm destroyed a family home in Francois, Canada, a small town accessible only by water or air, Adventure Canada donated to help the family rebuild.
Adventure Canada also creates personal experience between the towns it visits and the travelers it ferries. As the ship travels Canadian waterways, daily onboard briefs introduce travelers to the town, national park or ecologically interesting area they are visiting. The company exposes their passengers to authentic and distinct products and services, from regional food demonstrations to heritage parks and learning environments.
These efforts not only help to alleviate poverty in the places the ship visits, but also produce an authentic experience for travelers — which is what travel should be about.
• Jacquie Kubin is an award-winning travel and food writer and travel editor at Communities Digital News.