As the Caribbean Tourism Organization's (CTO) Sustainable Tourism Conference unfolds in St. Vincent this week, keynote speaker Elizabeth Thompson, Barbados' ambassador to the United Nations, is focused on the need for the development of community-based tourism as a way to meet challenges facing the region and to remain competitive in global tourism.
The theme of this year's conference: "Keeping the Right Balance: Tourism Development in the Era of Diversification," is right up Thompson's alley, as she has worked in development policy for 25 years as a member of Barbados' parliament and held various ministerial posts before joining the U.N.
Keeping the tourism product relevant, appealing, authentic and diverse is a key issue facing the region, she said.
And community involvement is critical to ensuring that local enterprises are integrated into the tourism plan for each destination. Thompson pointed out that there should be emphasis on the development and expansion of community-driven attractions and products, in order to encourage more visitor spending.
"With so many holidays prepaid before visitors arrive, not much revenue flows into the local economy," she said. "And with the impact of more flights coming into the region, the arrival of larger and larger cruise ships and the footfall of more visitors, vigilance and innovation are required to ensure that local enterprises are integrated into the overall tourism plan for each destination."
As an example of a successful attraction involving -- and benefitting -- locals, Thompson cited the weekly Oistin's Friday Night Fish Fry near St. Lawrence Gap in Barbados, which is filled with residents and visitors feasting on grilled seafood, sweet potatoes, macaroni pie and coleslaw.
Thompson also advocated for targeted public education programs to inform locals about how they can implement community programs to their long-term benefit.
As she told me prior to the conference kickoff, "The Caribbean is an excellent tourism destination, but we must not ever take it for granted.
"Sustainability takes hard work, and unless we can make it sustainable, the region moves to a downcycle in terms of visitor appeal and demand."