Finding the right balance: sustainable growth in SIDS

Written by Kimberly Wakkary, on 9 July 2019

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are located in the most vulnerable regions of the world and frequently experience natural disasters. Such disasters lead to disproportionately high negative economic, social and environmental consequences. Tourism is one of the most important economic pillars of these islands. Considering tourism often depends on natural resources and the physical environment, understanding its fragile relation with natural resources is of utmost importance in the process of making tourism sustainable.

The impact of tourism

The management of natural resources in SIDS is a key issue, particularly when it comes to water. The quality and quantity of water needs to be preserved for the people, the environment and for the economic prosperity of SIDS. Additionally, ecosystems help to protect the islands from e.g hurricanes and flooding, and damage of these ecosystems as a result of excessive tourism or climate change can have a negative impact on the environment. This, in its turn, can lead to a decrease in tourism, which can negatively affect job opportunities in SIDS.  In sum, the unsustainable growth of tourism can bear negative consequences for the economic growth of SIDS. 

There are two types of tourism on the islands: cruise-tourism, which are short stay tourists that arrive by cruise ship, and stay-over tourism, which refers to tourists that spend the duration of their holiday on an island. To understand how the impact of tourism on the environment can be best reduced, the impact of both types of tourism on the ecosystem should be analysed first. The second step to be taken is to analyse its economic impact. While more tourists generally equals more job opportunities for locals, it does not necessarily equal more financial investment into SIDS.

Addressing the issues

A recent workshop facilitated by Stijn Schep of Wolfs Company addressed the issue of tourism and natural capital in SIDS. During this workshop IHE Delft students from SIDS countries were provided with tools to enhance their understanding of the relation between tourism and natural capital in SIDS. Students also explored ways in which they can support decision makers in their respective countries in finding the balance between the preservation of the environment and economic growth.

During the workshop, students were presented with an assignment and put themselves into the shoes of legislators at the executive council for Bonaire. The challenge students faced was to find a balance in the growth scenarios of economic development, ecological sustainability and social well-being through either investing in cruise or stay-over tourism. Students weighed the benefits of shortcomings of both types of tourism, and ultimately concluded that investing in stay-over tourism is more beneficial in comparison to cruise-tourism. One of the main reasons cited was that stay-over tourism carries more benefits as these tourists stay on the actual island, rather than on a cruise ship.

However, students also acknowledged that investing in stay-over tourism can bear negative consequences. While bringing in more tourists can lead to more job opportunities, it can also create enormous pressure on the environment and energy resources. The issue lies in finding the balance between preserving the environment for tourism purposes, and not hosting too many tourists at the same time in order to preserve nature.

“I understand the impact of tourists in my country and on our economy. However, it is the impact on the environment that concerns me the most, especially related to stay-over tourists, as the hotels spend a lot of water on cleaning and they generally leave a trail of pollution behind”, said a student from Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand, for a student from Mauritius, the problem does not lie with tourists but with the local population. “The beaches are the ones suffering the most impact of tourists. That is because there was an increase of food trucks near the beaches and the owners of the trucks, which are locals, do not take care of the environment. On top of that, to have the space available to sell their food, many trees had to be cut off and that destroyed much of the coastal area of our country” he stated.

About SIDS

The idea behind facilitating such workshops focussed on SIDS issues is to create a lively community where students and professionals can come together to discuss and address issues specific to SIDS. During the workshop students mentioned that although such a platform already exists, it lacks interaction among people: “the platform only uploads reports and research papers, but there is no one sharing their own experiences” a student claimed. The SIDS programme strives to create a stronger and more interactive platform hopefully lasting far after SIDS students have graduated.

The SIDS fellowship programme, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the DUPC programme, aims to strengthen the capacity of professionals and decision makers in SIDS in order to improve water management and better address future challenges. The programme offers fellowships for Master degrees and short courses for mid-level and senior professionals working in the water sector.

Find more information on the SIDS fellowship here. You can find more stories on SIDS here and here.

This story was written by Deborah Lemos Correa, DUPC2 intern January – June 2019.

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