Ecotourism is one of the buzzwords of the '90s whose definition has more interpretations than agents have heartburn.

To one hotelier, it can mean changing the guest towels and bed linens every other day instead of daily to conserve wash water. To another, it can translate into a complex initiative based on recycling and reusing product as well as rethinking policy.

In any event, environmental conservation is as much a part of doing business in the lodging industry these days as offering hotel guests smoke-free rooms and low-fat menus.

It is no wonder that the Caribbean region is proactive on this issue, having borne witness to islands that have sacrificed natural resources, water quality and marine life for sprawling resorts and megaliner piers.

Two years ago, the Caribbean Tourism Organization put together the region's first Sustainable Tourism Development Conference on Dominica. The conference was held on Trinidad in 1998.

This year the venue was Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America but a CTO member nonetheless. Suriname's independence from Holland came in 1975, but a military coup stalled progress through most of the '80s, and the island's officials are frank to admit that they are newcomers to tourism policy and strategy.

Things are on track there now, with elections every four years, and we are pleased that the CTO had enough confidence in Suriname's potential as a destination and ecotourism partner to put it in the ecological spotlight. That Suriname had the wisdom to seek the counsel of its peers and of environmental experts is to its credit.

Some better-known destinations in the region would do well to emulate this evolving country's approach to addressing troubling tourism issues.

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