Tourism is a vital sector of the economies of most SIDS For more than a half of them, it is the largest source of foreign exchange. The social, economic and environmental well-being of many SIDS is tied to this sector. Tourism receipts represent more than 30% of their total exports; in comparison, the average for the world is just over 5%.
Climate change presents one of the most significant challenges to the sector. Rising sea levels can cause loss of land along coastlines of low-lying islands, disrupting economies and livelihoods. For example, a 50-centimeter rise in sea level will result in Grenada losing 60% of its beaches, while a 1-metre rise would inundate the Maldives.
Climate change may also cause coral bleaching to become an annual occurrence causing further losses in revenue. Dominica, for instance, has reported that 50% of its corals are bleached, and coral bleaching in Tobago affected an average of 66% of its hard corals in 2005 alone.
The tourism industry should be one of the lead industries in the promotion of green initiatives, being both an industry dependent on natural resources and a major contributor to employment and economic growth. Greening the sector will involve the promotion of principles and initiatives that can be sustained within social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts as the economic benefits derived can be used to address poverty alleviation.
Greening tourism is more than promoting ecotourism. Rather, it requires a shift across the entire industry pertaining to the implementation of policies, practices and programmes that embrace sustainability, focusing on:
- Conservation of natural resources, maintaining the resource base and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems
- The use of renewable sources of energy
- Reduction of water consumption
- Maintenance of culture, traditions and heritage, and the promotion of cultural tolerance and respect
- Generation of income for local communities; and the alleviation of poverty in communities
The shift to green tourism relies not only on government efforts. It is also up to the global community to make conscious and sustainable choices as travelers and as global citizens.