The challenges posed to the travel industry by climate change are front and centre in St. Kitts this week, as the St. Kitt's Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism Forum (CSSTF2017), got underway yesterday (Dec. 12).
Hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and sponsored by several partners including the Caribbean Development Bank, St. Kitts Tourism Authority, and the Heart of St. Kitts Foundation, the forum opened last night with a welcome reception, and runs until Dec. 14, covering topics of discussion that highlight just exactly how tourism and climate change go hand-in-hand.
This year, the Caribbean Tourism Organization selected Greg McKenzie, award-winning broadcast journalist and television presenter for the BBC, as its keynote speaker.
Having visited more than 30 countries, McKenzie has spent the last five years on flagship travel program, the BBC Travel Show, where he directs and produces content for the show which is broadcast to more than 300 million viewers a week. Most recently, McKenzie picked up the CTO’s Travel Media Awards UK, in the category of Best Broadcast Award for 2017 for his portrayal of St. Maarten on the BBC Travel Show.
McKenzie opened discussions this morning, highlighting how his work as a travel journalist has opened his eyes to the issues the Caribbean, and the rest of the world, are currently facing due to global warming and heavy migration patterns.
Due to his career with the BBC, McKenzie has stayed in hundreds of different hotels, but admits climate change and sustainability were not something he associated with the hotel industry directly until quite recently.
“In the last two years, I’ve really started to see the changes in terms of hotels and the way they operate,” McKenzie said. "Broadcast is all about the ratings, and sometimes the viewer doesn’t want to know about things like climate change; maybe they’re not interested, or they don’t understand, so it’s our role as broadcasters to make it accessible and make people understand that this climate change is real, and it’s definitely happening.”
Hugh Riley, secretary general and CEO, Caribbean Tourism Organization, introduces Greg McKenzie at this year's Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism Forum in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Climate change: no room for denial
Fresh on everyone’s minds this week are the two most recent hurricanes to hit the Caribbean, Maria and Irma. McKenzie shared with the audience a recent poll that he stumbled across just two days ago, prior to preparing for this week’s conference.
“British tourists visit the Caribbean at rates of about 29 million, and already the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association have dropped their forecast for visitor numbers this year because of the hurricane season,” McKenzie said. “According to the Caribbean Development Bank, their assessment of a one per cent drop in visitors translates to about 227,000 less visitors, which in turn, equates to about $138,000,000 in lost expenditure.”
Due to exuberant and sensational media reports around the world, McKenzie noted that after both hurricanes left the Caribbean, there were many misconceptions about the remaining state of the islands.
“The recent hurricanes are living proof that climate change is real, and it’s affecting people’s livelihoods,” McKenzie said. “Hurricane Irma was the strongest hurricane to come since 2005, and it’s cost the region an estimated $64 billion. Despite this, 70 per cent of the Caribbean wasn’t affected, yet if you try Googling that stat online, you won’t find it, because it’s lost amongst the narrow mindedness; people forget there are different islands, so in terms of tourism, I don’t know if it will ever be completely sustainable, but it can work towards becoming more sustainable, like it already is.”
As more countries develop their tourism industries, it produces a significant impact on the region’s natural resources, and drastically adds to pollution. “Climate management is imperative for a country to survive,” McKenzie said. “Global tourism is reaching unprecedented levels, and the demand is huge.”
The role of the consumer
According to McKenzie, the role of the consumer as far as sustainability and climate mitigation is concerned shouldn’t be overlooked.
“As far as tourists go, if you’re asking people to a destination it should have a positive impact on society because anything less isn’t sustainable,” McKenzie said. “If the industry isn’t demonstrating a positive impact, then what is it doing?”
Mckenzie believes that in order to meet the needs of a changing tourism industry that also aligns to sustainable action, social, economic, and environmental impact should be assessed, and then information should be requested form destination managers. “In terms of tourists, the last thing they’re thinking about on holiday is ‘where do I put the plastic, or what do I do with that’, but we can change that,” McKenzie said. “We can change their mindset by showing them a series of different incentives or initiatives. In Berlin last year, a hotel I was in stated that if you didn’t have your towels washed everyday, you got 10 euros off your bill to go to the gift shop, so in the end, I walked away with 30 euros. It was a win-win, and it got me thinking that it was a simple idea, but something that could potentially be rolled out.”
Greg McKenzie, broadcast journalist, BBC Travel and keynote speaker for the CTO's Climate Smart Sustainable Tourism, Forum, and his twin brother, Mike McKenzie, producer, BBC in St. Kitts and Nevis.
At home, the average person might use one to two towels a week prior to doing a load of laundry, but when away on vacation, travellers are quick to overlook the impact of their actions, like using upwards of six towels per day when you’re staying two or three nights, or taking long, hot showers, which on an island, can be quite harsh on natural resources. For example, the majority of travellers come to the Caribbean during the dry season, when temperatures are hot and the sun is always out. However, not many stop and think about the fact that a dry season on a Caribbean island with a limited water supply can be harsh on the locals who live there, and the country’s economy as a whole.
The rise of storms
One of the most obvious indications of climate change in the Caribbean is the presence of tropical storms, and this is an unnatural occurrence that is becoming more and more frequent.
“In the case of really bad storms, climate change makes it totally disastrous and catastrophic,” McKenzie said. “It could take months or years to collect and analyze the information of Irma and Maria’s affect, but the science is this: hurricanes thrive over warm water and strengthen in intensity. Oceans have warmed, on average, one to two degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and sea levels have risen to about seven inches during that time. Throw in compound flooding, rising sea levels, global warming, and extreme rainfall, and you have the perfect mix for record flooding."
Is there a solution?
Although the scientific statistics and research may at times feel overwhelming, McKenzie asserts that mitigating rising temperatures on the planet boil down to education. Economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development must be included in order to strategize future climate change prevention methods. McKenzie notes that the interests of all stakeholders must be respected, in order to efficiently address environmental concerns through policies and practices.
“It’s scary but we’re responsible as humans,” McKenzie said, “and sustainable tourism is about refocusing and adapting, so a balance has to be found between limits and usage, to ensure that tourism can be managed. This requires thinking, and the realization that change is often gradual, and often irreversible. The most dangerous myth that we, as a society, have arrived at is not the myth that climate change isn’t changing, or that we aren’t responsible, it’s the myth that it doesn’t matter, and that’s absolutely why this is the time to be talking about climate change, amplify it, and exacerbate it to drive it home, because you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”