Sustainability keeps Caribbean locals and tourists happy | Globalization | DW | 21.03.2014
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Sustainability keeps Caribbean locals and tourists happy

How do you make an island paradise with limited business infrastructure into a winning combination for both tourists and locals alike? You take a leaf out of Dominica's book.

For the many tourists that come to the Caribbean nation of Dominica, this place could be their first exposure to a natural island paradise. Whale-watching trips and hiking are popular activities, and the guests generally sleep in so-called "eco lodges." For many of them the accommodation is a new experience. For local authorities, it's all part of a master plan.

Depending on how much they want to spend, guests can bunk in simple wooden huts or luxury accommodation like at Papillote Wilderness Retreat or the Jungle Bay resort. At the latter, huts on stilts look out onto the deep, blue water and the scent of bay tree oil hangs in the air. The oil is made by hand in the next village.

"Our philosophy is that we get as many products as possible from the local farmers in the region," says Nancy Atzenweiler of Jungle Bay resort. That means no red meat for the guests, since there only few cows on Dominica.

It's part of a concept that Dominica has been following for some time. In 1997 the government of the 70,000-strong island was the first in the region to sign an agreement with the World Travel and Tourism Council. The aim was to make Dominica a center for sustainable tourism.

But compromises also need to be made, says Atzenweiler. "People do want milk in their coffee after all," she admits. "But the fish, chicken, vegetables and fruit: That's all from here."

The new 'green gold'

Valley of Desolation in Dominica

Tourists come to the island to enjoy natural beauty, like here at the Valley of Desolation

It's no coincidence that Dominica has been forced to think outside the box to keep local business going. Until the mid-1990s the island lived from just one type of 'green gold:' bananas. Each week ships loaded with the fruit left these shores for sale in Europe. But Europe eventually changed the trade agreement, and pretty soon the banana boom was over.

"The people in this region were government employees, producing bananas," Atzenweiler says. "No one was used to working as a farmer. They didn't know that you need to plant different produce, and that you can demand money for it."

The resort here even helped local farmers with their business plans. Local farmers like Desmond and Tony are now becoming so successful that they are supplying local supermarkets. Hotel guests at Jungle Bay resort can also visit their farms to get a sense of the more exotic local plants like the chayote or the prickly custard apple.

Tourism expert Jürgen Schmude has been travelling to Dominica for five years researching how the island is achieving its sustainable tourism goals. He describes Dominica as having community-based tourism, which keeps local businesses and farmers involved.

"The problem with many of these sorts of projects is that not enough money is being made," Schmude explains. "But that's not a problem here, and what they are doing is ecologically viable."

Still a rare example

Jürgen Schmude

Jürgen Schmude says Dominica is a perfect example of sustainable tourism

Non-sustainable tourism is a continuing problem in many parts of the world, Schmude laments.

"We know of many German hoteliers, for instance, who have tried to just serve local fruits and vegetables that are in season," the Munich-based professor told DW. "They then have problems with their guests because there is no fresh orange juice."

Sustainable tourism can only exist when hotel owners and guests are both committed to it. Hotel owners in Europe could learn from Dominica how to run a genuinely sustainable hotel that is still attractive to guests, says Schmude.

Many other Caribbean islands are still more interested in cruise-ship tourists or wedding parties and invest in building big boat harbors and even bigger airports.

"Of course we are concerned that we are not developed enough as an island," says Kerry, a local resident on Dominica. "But the other islands are getting too touristy and a little bit overcrowded. They don't have the really relaxed island vibes anymore, like here."

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