Guest Article: Charting a More Sustainable Course for the Tourism Industry | SDG Knowledge Hub


By Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister for Tourism, Jamaica

As the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers are increasingly globetrotting with the planet in mind. Recent studies show that over two-thirds of travelers are prioritizing sustainability and insisting on a lighter environmental and social footprint as they take to the skies. For destinations like Jamaica, sustainable tourism practices are essential for ensuring the long-term health of the ocean and its ecosystems, as well as for protecting the local communities and economies that rely on valuable tourist dollars.

However, coastal tourism hotspots are facing major challenges, ranging from global pressures like climate change to local pressures like pollution and runoff. For marine and coastal tourism to continue to thrive, companies and governments must find solutions to protect the natural resources on which the industry depends. After all, efforts to keep the ocean healthy are directly linked to the health of the tourism industry. If you were to show up to a tropical destination and there were no beaches, no sea life, and polluted waters how likely would you be to stay or revisit?

Rather than act as unchecked consumers, it is incumbent upon tourists to travel as agents of change, engage genuinely with the communities and destinations they visit, and support the regeneration of the local environment, economy, and community.

However, change starts with governments, companies, and consumers alike who can together ensure that the tourism industry adopts eco-friendly practices and is committed to sustainability. A sustainable tourism industry can contribute to multiple SDGs, including, for example, SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land), SDG 13 (climate action), and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), as well as support local communities by providing them with jobs and reliable incomes that lift people out of poverty (SDGs 1, 2, 8, and 11).

Across island nations and especially in small islands developing States (SIDS) like Jamaica, coastal and marine tourism is a major driver of economic growth and job creation. The Caribbean region is among the world’s leading ocean cruise destinations, holding over 40% of the global market share since 2017. And the industry is only growing. A new report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel), of which Jamaica is a member, finds coastal and marine tourism constitutes at least 50% of global tourism, worth USD 4.6 trillion, or over 5% of global GDP.

For the health of our oceans, our planet, our people, sustainability must take center stage. It’s time to chart a cleaner, more environmentally friendly path forward. With the right steps, the tourism industry can play a major role in delivering a sustainable ocean economy that supports local residents and tourists alike.

The future of the industry must be driven by investments in clean energy technologies that improve cruise ships’ efficiency and reduce their environmental impacts. Investments in new clean energy technology would improve air quality for passengers on the ship, while also decreasing the flow of emissions into the sea and atmosphere.

Sustainable cruise tourism can also be a transformational tool for communities whose voices have traditionally not been heard. Cruise port development can help communities transform tourist sites into sustainable environmental and cultural attractions, while preserving local heritage. It would also help to upgrade physical infrastructure and improve the economic and social conditions of residents. Through these initiatives, governments and businesses can work to better stem the flow of pollutants into surrounding environments and preserve local areas and culture.

The health and sustainability of the ocean and its seas are critical to ensuring that the tourism industry has long-term viability. As a Caribbean SIDS, Jamaica remains steadfast in its aim to sustainably manage 100% of the ocean area under national jurisdiction with its fellow Ocean Panel members. Like other island nations, Jamaica understands that protecting the ocean is not only good for our environment, but also for people and the economy. Importantly, it will help ensure that people continue visiting Jamaica with all its natural wonders.

The UN Ocean Conference, happening this week, is an ideal opportunity for governments, tourism companies, and civil society groups to come together and chart a path forward for a more sustainable tourism industry. But the work does not stop there.

These groups need to continue collaborating in the months and years ahead to move toward a new model of tourism that provides good economic opportunities for local communities, protects and restores the natural environment, and addresses climate change. Together we can ensure that both local communities and tourists can continue to responsibly enjoy the experiences and resources the ocean has to offer.

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