In 1998, St. Lucia, a beautiful island in the Caribbean, rich in natural resources, was a “best-kept” secret. Twelve years later, the island is a popular tourism destination, dotted with luxury developments, chain hotels and a compromised ecosystem.
This past December, under the theme of “sustainable tourism,” the Caribbean Media Exchange (CMEx) brought together industry executives, government officials, youth and media professionals in St. Lucia for the purpose of creating an eco-friendly blueprint for tourism. The blueprint would apply not only to St. Lucia but also to the wider Caribbean and African Diaspora. Bevan Springer, CMEx founder and CEO, created the organization in 2001 as a neutral platform to discuss linkages between media, government, private sector and civil society in ensuring that tourism enhances the health, environment, education, culture and wealth of destinations in a climate-friendly fashion.
“Sustainable tourism is the wave of the future for the Caribbean and the African Diaspora. If tourism is not sustainable it can severely damage the environment, culture, health, climate and wealth of the region,” says Springer. “Africa and its Diaspora are huge and growing markets that will fuel the future of the Caribbean. We cannot stress enough the critical importance of education. Sustainable tourism should be taught in the first year of school.”
A persistent image of Caribbean people is one of women and men in colonial uniform, wearing the biggest smile as they serve up food, drinks and entertainment to Europeans. St. Lucia is bent on changing that image. Under the country’s new plan for sustainable tourism, St. Lucians will participate in and profit from tourism as entrepreneurs and other key stakeholders — from educating teams and leading tours in “cocoa eco-tourism” (St. Lucia produces some of the best cocoa) to supplying everything from handmade furniture, soap and freshly baked bread. Hotels, schools and corporations will use homegrown goods, and local entrepreneurial endeavors will be cultivated, marketed and supported.
“St. Lucia’s tourism minister, Allen Chastanet, is committed to spreading the benefits of sustainable tourism from the boardrooms to communities and individuals,” Springer says. “The government will move quickly on educating Europeans and North Americans that St. Lucia is climate friendly.”
Springer spoke with The Network Journal about CMEx and its role in promoting sustainable tourism.
TNJ: What is CMEx doing to encourage sustainable tourism?
Springer: The neutral platform provided by CMEx stimulates a healthy debate of all issues relating to the sustainability of the Caribbean’s largest earner, employer and economic driver. This makes the industry more resilient.
TNJ: What was the outcome of the 2009 CMEx conference in St. Lucia?
Springer: The CMEx conference highlighted the importance of attracting many cultures, in addition to the traditional segments drawn to the region. It also recognized the need to educate youth at the earliest opportunity to ensure the best and brightest of the region to choose tourism as their first, and not last, resort.
TNJ: What are CMEx’s plans for 2010?
Springer: To examine the linkages of climate change and tourism in the wake of the U.N. Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in 2009) and how to make tourism more climate friendly.
TNJ: What are some of CMEx’s success stories and/or references on sustainable tourism?
Springer: The youth have stepped up to the plate at CMEx. One of our youth delegates was awarded a Rhodes scholarship for the Commonwealth Caribbean. (Among other successes):
Cabinet ministers and industry leaders have credited CMEx with a palpable increase in the sharpening of skills among the press corps;
Better communication between media and industry;
Smart partnerships between public and private-sector organizations;
Implementation of sustainable tourism initiatives that safeguard the environment and enrich the Caribbean communities at large;
The staging of town hall meetings with Air Jamaica on Caribbean Diaspora communities;
The promotion of sustainable tourism on a global scale with the U.N. World Tourism Organization and TOURCOM;
Providing assistance in the shape and design of the agenda and outcomes of the 2005 U.N. Meeting on Small Islands in Mauritius;
An alliance with the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD) in the Dominican Republic to reduce poverty through sustainable tourism and community development.