Photo Credit: St. Kitts Tourism AuthoritySt. Kitts and Nevis, located in the northern Leeward Islands in the West Indies, was one of the first destinations in the world to be selected as a GSTC Early Adopter, and the first in the Caribbean. St. Kitts still retains “hidden gem” status, not being a mass-market Caribbean destination. However, development on St. Kitts is advancing swiftly, with significant new infrastructure under development, including five-star resorts, luxury residential properties, a marina, and with plans being made for a second cruise port.

Recognizing that the small island nation is at a critical turning point to ensure that its growth balances development interests with safeguards for the local environment, culture, and community livelihoods, St. Kitts has begun pursuing innovative destination stewardship programs under the leadership of Minister of Tourism and International Transport Ricky Skerritt—himself a keen environmentalist and Rhodes scholar. “I pledge continued support from the Tourism Ministry as part of our national quest for achieving global sustainable standards in tourism product preparation and delivery,” Minister Skerritt has said of efforts such as St. Kitts and Nevis’ participation in the GSTC Early Adopter Program.

In this post, we look at just few of these efforts St. Kitts and Nevis has launched in the last two years since its July 2012 GSTC assessment.

Community Action Planning

In 2012, following the GSTC assessment benchmarking St. Kitts and Nevis’ policies and practices against the GSTC Criteria for Destinations, the Ministry of Tourism set in motion a process to start implementing the GSTC recommendations. The first step was an inaugural Sustainable Tourism Forum, held in November 2012 by the Ministry of Tourism and facilitated by Sustainable Travel International, the consultant that conducted the destination assessment on behalf of the GSTC. The forum brought together approximately 50 St. Kitts and Nevis stakeholders from across sectors such as tourism, agriculture, culture, investment, sustainable development, and environment, to collectively prioritize the GSTC’s recommendations and plan action projects to advance those priorities. In addition to identifying steps to begin implementation, the forum discussion aimed to raise awareness among the broad group of participating stakeholders about the importance of sustainable development of tourism, St. Kitts and Nevis’ top economic sector.

Sustainable Destination Management Council, and Stakeholder Training

One of the GSTC focus areas identified by St. Kitts and Nevis stakeholders as high priority was improvement of capacity building and coordination among key destination decision-makers—especially public sector—regarding sustainable tourism development. Stakeholders envisioned an interagency sustainable tourism governance body with wide representation across offices of government, and including private sector membership. The interagency council would receive training in sustainable destination management, and meet regularly to collaborate on advancing sustainable development priorities.

Originally envisioned at the Sustainable Tourism Forum in November 2012, the St. Kitts Inter-Agency Sustainable Destination Management Council (“IASDMC”—pronounced “I as DMC”) officially launched one year later in November 2013. The IASDMC is chaired by Diannille Taylor-Williams, Assistant Permanent Secretary of the St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Tourism and International Transport. In addition to Tourism, the IASDMC includes representation from organizations such as the Bureau of Standards, the Ministry of International Transport, the Investment Promotion Agency, Ministry of Sustainable Development, and Departments of Water Services, Culture, Marine Resources, Constituency Empowerment, and Environmental Health. Private sector representatives include electricity provider SKELEC, the Hotel and Tourism Association, and Kittitian Hill, a sustainability mission-oriented new luxury resort development on St. Kitts.

Last year, members of the IASDMC, along with an additional group of St. Kitts stakeholders, received USAID-developed online sustainable tourism training, as well as in-person capacity building in sustainable destination management. An additional training is scheduled for another group of destination stakeholders this year, as well as continuing education for members of the IASDMC, provided by Sustainable Travel International.

In addition to the cross-sector collaboration of the full council, the IASDMC has established three working groups to implement projects in three priority areas:

(1) Tourism Workforce Development—enlisting both demand and supply sides to attack the challenges of developing a Kittitian workforce with the necessary skills to succeed in today’s tourism sector;

(2) Public Awareness—focused on raising the public profile of sustainability throughout St. Kitts and Nevis; and

(3) Visitor Philanthropy—designing programs for travelers and residents alike to give back to the community, with an initial project creating opportunities to contribute to coconut tree replanting on island.

The IASDMC is a cutting-edge mechanism to build capacity among a broad-based, cross-sector body of key destination decision-makers, and engage their commitment and influence to achieve sustainable development goals. Sustainable destination management is still a relatively new field. Forward-thinking destinations—beginning with the Early Adopters—that recognize the value of implementing the concerted policies and practices in the GSTC Criteria are truly innovators. It will be important to monitor the results from structural approaches like the IASDMC, and apply the lessons learned.

“Tourism can have a positive impact on the surrounding community and environment, but that doesn’t happen by accident,” says Minister Skerritt. “Sustainable development of tourism that benefits hardworking people living in local communities, and nurtures authentic culture and environmental protection—that is the kind of development it has been my Ministry’s priority to pursue on St. Kitts. That kind of responsible development is what delivers the best possible island experience to our visitors, while ensuring that our own residents continue to enjoy living and doing business here in this country that we love so dearly.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Tourism and International Transport has been named one of two finalists for the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (“CTO”) 2014 Sustainable Tourism Award in Destination Stewardship. CTO will announce this year’s Sustainable Tourism Award winners at the State of the Industry Conference in the U.S. Virgin Islands later this month.

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Note: Kathleen Pessolano, GSTC Associate Technical Director, authored this post.

Photo credit: St. Kitts Tourism Authority.

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About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.

 

Flyer for Sierra Gorda's Carbon Offset Program

The GSTC Early Adopter destination Sierra Gorda is a biosphere reserve covering one-third of the state of Querétaro, in north-central México. The Sierra Gorda Reserve is of the most biodiversity-rich protected areas in México, and is a member of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program. Sierra Gorda cuts across five municipalities in Querétaro: Jalpan de Serra, Pinal de Amoles, Landa de Matamoros, Peñamiller, and Arroyo Seco. The destination is spectacularly beautiful and contains a vast array of ecosystems and wildlife.

The GSTC’s Early Adopter assessment of Sierra Gorda took place in December 2013, as part of the pilot test of the GSTC Criteria for Destinations. Sustainable Travel International, on behalf of the GSTC, conducted a 10-day site visit and evaluation, and recommended improvements to destination management policies and practices based on the GSTC Criteria. Stakeholders in Sierra Gorda, in turn, provided feedback on the scope and applicability of the Criteria, to ensure their validity to destinations worldwide.

The NGO, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (“Grupo Ecológico”), served as Destination Liaison for Sierra Gorda during its participation in the Early Adopter program. Under the dynamic leadership of its Director and founder, Martha (“Pati”) Ruiz Corzo, Grupo Ecológico spearheads community engagement in the Sierra Gorda Reserve, and serves as the founding organization of an alliance between civil society groups and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (SEMARNAT) in developing community-based pro-poor economic development and environmental education and conservation.

We at the GSTC recently followed up with Grupo Ecológico to find out some of Sierra Gorda’s latest destination stewardship initiatives following the Early Adopter assessment late last year. In this post, we highlight a few of Sierra Gorda’s recent initiatives consistent with the GSTC Criteria.

Economic Benefits for Local Communities

An entire section of the GSTC Criteria for Destinations is dedicated to maximizing the benefits from tourism to the host community—a key tenet of sustainable destination management. This involves optimizing local economic benefits as well as public participation and satisfaction with destination planning and decision-making.

Sierra Gorda is a model for social inclusion. Grupo Ecológico’s innovative programs to build capacity, awareness, and revenue-generating opportunities for micro-enterprises and rural communities in both tourism and conservation-focused entrepreneurship are world-class. The communities within Sierra Gorda, together with Grupo Ecológico, have built a network of micro-tourism operators. Grupo Ecológico has helped them organize into an association, and has provided technical assistance, including improving micro-enterprises’ infrastructure and adding interpretive signage informing visitors of the natural and cultural significance of sites. Grupo Ecológico has also built capacity among community entrepreneurs through training in areas including bookkeeping and other fundamental business skills, and environmental sustainability practices, such as energy efficiency and recycling.

To better incorporate micro-enterprises into the tourism value chain, Grupo Ecológico and the community have worked together to package and promote a network of tourism products, including eco-lodges, a “tasting route” of delicious roadside family-run restaurants, community museums, and artisanal craft workshops (see www.sierragordaecotours.com). Sierra Gorda’s tour packages are one-of-a kind experiential offerings that represent sustainable tourism at its best—community ownership and benefit, connection with and awareness about the gorgeous environment, and engagement with the people of Sierra Gorda and their tradition, culture, and—perhaps most notably—their delicious local cuisine.

Today there are 83 micro-enterprises integrated in the project, and Sierra Gorda reports that others are eager to join. The improvements and unified tourism branding of roadside businesses has inspired new micro-entrepreneurs to join the movement. According to Director Martha (“Pati”) Ruiz Corzo, a world-renowned conservation leader and social entrepreneur herself: “This has awakened interest in potential donors who support us in the strengthening the micro tourism businesses with improved infrastructure and training. This encourages not only entrepreneurship in communities facing extreme poverty, but also encourages them to strengthen the value of the spectacular Sierra Gorda.”

Environmental Conservation

Sierra Gorda has made exceptional efforts instilling participatory conservation practices and building a community culture valuing natural resources and services. Grupo Ecológico runs programs to raise awareness and train the many surrounding local communities in soil regeneration, local food production, and forest and biodiversity conservation. Sierra Gorda also has an innovative climate program, in which visitors to Sierra Gorda can purchase carbon offsets tied to carbon capture projects run by forest landowners. Grupo Ecológico trains these local landowners and manages carbon compensation payments for them to remove their cattle from the forest and participate in carbon capture activities instead (See www.carbonneutralplanet.org). This program tackles climate change the Sierra Gorda way—while benefiting local landowners and literally placing community value on conserving the natural environment.

Sierra Gorda credits the GSTC Criteria regarding attraction protection and visitor management, as well as its involvement in the Early Adopter program, for the destination’s recent ability to control quad bike tourism in the Reserve. “Today, with the support of local law enforcement, the quad bikes have been prohibited from driving through the riverbed,” reports Ruiz Corzo. Additionally, pursuant to the GSTC’s Criteria and destination management recommendations from the Early Adopter assessment, Sierra Gorda has formed a Biosphere Reserve Technical Advisory Council, with a sub-advisory board chaired by Grupo Ecológico, to institutionalize sustainable destination management.

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Note: Kathleen Pessolano, GSTC Associate Technical Director, authored this post.

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About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.

Photo Credit: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conducted its Early Adopter program from 2012 through early    2014. During the program, a diverse group of fourteen forward-thinking destinations worldwide pilot tested the  Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations.

Each Early Adopter underwent a baseline destination sustainability assessment applying the Criteria, and  received recommendations to address any gaps. Early Adopters also provided their feedback on the Criteria. This  input from the fourteen diverse destinations was critical to ensuring that the GSTC Criteria for Destinations are  appropriate and applicable as the global performance standard for destination sustainability.

Several Early Adopter representatives joined us in Bonito, Brazil, in April during the GSTC’s 2014 Annual General  Meeting (AGM), and discussed their experiences. They shared their insights about tourism planning, economic  development, community involvement, heritage protection, and environmental conservation. They discussed the considerable progress their destinations have made on sustainability issues and the challenges they currently face.

Richard Malesu, Environment & Safety Coordinator at Botswana Tourism Organization, described the difficulties his destination faces, including “finding balance betweeen community and farming” in an effort to sustain natural and cultural integrity in the Okavango Delta.

Riviera Maya’s brand slogan is paradise is forever. Beatrice Barreal, who directs Sustainable Riviera Maya, explained: “For a paradise forever,” she “it has to be for everyone, as there are no private paradises.” Barreal outlined the challenges the organization she directs faces in ensuring a long-term tourism model to benefit all Riviera Maya stakeholders.

Similarly, Jorge Moller, who represented Lake Llanquihue, Chile, at the AGM, explained the intricate relationships between the Lake Llanquihue DMO and local farmers regarding “what to do with its beautiful landscapes” in the Northern Patagonia region.

It is now several months—and, in some destinations’ cases, two years—since the Early Adopters received their GSTC baseline sustainability assessments. As a result of the GSTC interaction during the AGM, we are now gearing up to check in with the Early Adopters again, in a blog series called, “GSTC Early Adopters, Revisited.” As part of this series, about every few weeks, we will showcase one of the Early Adopters—briefly profiling their destination stewardship activities post-GSTC assessment.

Have the GSTC’s recommendations served as a catalyst for sustainable development and management of the Early Adopter destinations? What have the fourteen participating destinations been up to in destination stewardship since the Early Adopter program? Stay tuned.

 

About the GSTC

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism efforts around the world. Housed within the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the GSTC works to expand understanding of and access to sustainable tourism practices; helps identify and generate markets for sustainable tourism; and educates about and advocates for a set of universal principles, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The Criteria, a set of voluntary principles that provide a framework for the sustainability of tourism businesses and destinations across the globe, is the cornerstone of our initiative. For more information, visit www.gstcouncil.org.

About the GSTC Destination Criteria

A panel of business owners, academics, government officials, and other experts, who examined the UN World Tourism Organization’s Indicators of Sustainable Development and other such guidelines currently in existence, developed the GSTC’s Destination Criteria. Because the Criteria are intended to describe a globally applicable set of minimum steps needed to approach sustainability, the criteria are seen as a baseline that each destination should add to or adjust as needed.

The GSTC does not aim to certify destinations as sustainable; rather, the Council reviews existing certification standards and acknowledges those that meet its Criteria. However, any destination may use the new Criteria as a guide to improve environmental, cultural, and social practices.

 


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