Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

I just received a score of 54 out of a possible  57 and earned a certificate "in recognition of the successful completion of 'A Roadmap to Destination Success.'"

It's the first section of a six-part free online sustainable tourism course launched by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Travel Foundation, a U.K.-based agency that promotes the benefits of tourism on the environment.

The course focuses on the practical dimensions of sustainable tourism and seeks to engage participants in the planning and design of tourism activities.

It certainly engaged me during the 45 minutes it took to read, digest and then be tested on the content of each of the six modules in the first section of the course.

Although I am not the specific target audience for this course, which is designed for ministries, government departments, tourism authorities and tourist boards engaged in destination management in CTO member countries, I learned a lot about how to increase tourism benefits, protect cultural heritage, manage environmental impacts of tourism and develop strategies for long-term sustainability.

Example: At a global level, the greenhouse gas emissions contribution of Caribbean countries is tiny (less than 1% of the total), yet these countries are very vulnerable due to their size and limited economic options.

The reefs, beaches and forests in the Caribbean region are deteriorating and, in turn, their ability to support local livelihoods and attract and satisfy visitors is diminished. Other physical impacts of climate change in the Caribbean are rising sea levels, bleaching of coral reefs and beach erosion.

On the question of what can be done to mitigate climate change, I had to pick the correct answer from a choice of four. It was tough. I reasoned that preserving sea defenses, ensuring that developments be set back from the coastline and reducing water usage and recycling grey water were all positive steps.

Turned out they are, but the correct answer, which I blew, is to set transport policies to reduce carbon emissions through vehicle design and practice.

The CTO has recommended that tourism ministries work with airlines to reduce the carbon footprint of travel to and within the region. I learned that Caribbean Airlines, among other carriers, invested $840,000 to fit winglets to its fleet to improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

The section on protecting cultural heritage was my favorite, because it pointed out that when cultural practices adapt to the tastes of tourists, they can become staged and not meaningful either to tourists or locals.

I've witnessed that myself, but an example of a cultural practice that has worked is the Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV) outside of Montego Bay.

A case study in the course I took explained that the Travel Foundation worked with RIV to create an attraction for international visitors and to secure long-term revenue for the village so it could maintain its traditions, lifestyle, music, foods and crafts.

Visiting the village allows visitors to immerse themselves into the Rastafarian culture and see firsthand how the residents' skills and beliefs shape their way of life and view of the world.

One module spelled out no-brainer techniques to help manage the environmental impacts of tourism, such as taking short showers, turning off lights and air conditioning when leaving a hotel room, biking and walking, recycling or reusing plastic bottles and eating local produce.

Governments can play a major role in dealing with the environmental impacts in their countries. Bonaire, for example has a marine park that encircles the island from the water's edge and extends out 900 feet to protect reefs, sea grasses and mangroves. The park is funded through user fees from visiting divers.

Five more sections await me before I complete the course, which I intend to do.

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