The Caribbean Tourist Trade and Climate Change

By Williams, Petre | Contemporary Review, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

The Caribbean Tourist Trade and Climate Change


Williams, Petre, Contemporary Review


HURRICANES and rising sea levels are threatening Caribbean tourism. So how will the region's most important industry safeguard its future?

Kory South has spent the last fifteen years building his dream resort in St Elizabeth, Jamaica. But his dream is in peril from rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes. South has incurred millions of dollars in losses from hurricanes affecting the island over the last three years.

The passage of Hurricane Dean in 2007 left his Sunset Resort in Treasure Beach with damage to several rooms. Overall damage to the five and a half acre property from the storm--which packed winds of up to 230 km per hour--was estimated at around US $50,000.

South said the damage and attendant loss of income from having no guests was hard to take. It was equally hard, he said, to make a comeback from such natural disasters. 'It is heart wrenching. Even though you have insurance, your natural instinct is to try to save everything', said the hotelier, who had nine guests at his 14-room property at the time of the hurricane. 'We really try to protect the place. We have business coming in and we don't want to lose it'.

South is not the only one whose tourism business is under threat from climate change. Tour operator Conroy Walker is in the same boat. According to Walker, tourism has given him the freedom to be his own boss and the hope that his children will have something to inherit from him. 'I don't know my father. So part of my plan is that I really want something to pass down to my son, who is 17 right now', he says.

In six years, he is hoping to pay off the cost of the tour bus he recently purchased while expanding his service. 'If I can create employment for my son that would be good because I didn't get that start. Without a father to help me, life has really been struggle', says Walker.

He has, however, acknowledged that climate change and its effects on the Caribbean tourism industry could derail his plans. So he has added his voice to the call for regional governments to put pressure on rich, industrialised countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.

'It will take a collective effort from not Jamaica alone but all the Caribbean states. All the Caribbean countries have to come together, have a conference and talk about the issues', says the 42-year-old, who is also general secretary for the Montego Bay-based Maxi Tours.

He notes that the effects of climate change will be due in large part not to Jamaica's own actions but to those of countries that emit high levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. 'Most of what is going to happen, Jamaica is not going to be a contributor to that. It is countries like America and so on who are contributing to [global warming]', Walker says.

The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made clear that the region--as is the case with other developing countries--is in peril from the changing climate. It is an ongoing change, the IPCC said, that will herald not only higher sea levels and fiercer storms but also warmer temperatures.

Despite this, Jamaica and the Caribbean appear slow off the mark in dealing with the devastation that the changes will bring to tourism livelihoods. To date, only limited measures have been put in place. And even then, the measures have not been geared to addressing climate change and its implications.

The President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA). Wayne Cummings, admits that a policy strategy on how climate change will affect the sector has not been forthcoming. …

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