Policy-Practice Mismatch? Sustainable Nature-Based Tourism in Trinidad and Tobago.
Edwards, Leisel Kathleen
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Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island Caribbean nation has always been heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry for its economic survival. Due to the volatility of the energy sector, government’s efforts are now geared toward economic diversification and the achievement of sustainable development, primarily through the advancement of emerging industries like tourism. The recent formation of the national tourism policy is therefore a strategic approach by government in the accomplishment of these stated national goals. Trinidad and Tobago is also the home of a rich and diverse biodiversity, boasting of natural resources that are inherently unique to the Caribbean region. If developed in a sustainable manner, the country’s nature based profile has the potential of becoming a distinct tourism offering, with access to untapped and potentially lucrative niche markets. Taking all this into consideration, this research aims to analyse the development and implementation of Trinidad and Tobago’s national tourism policy. This will be done by assessing the policy’s adherence to principles of sustainable tourism development and evaluating its impact on the implementation of sustainable nature based tourism. A qualitative case study approach was utilized consisting of different units of analysis. These included a thematic content analysis on the policy document where themes were generated to determine the policy’s adherence to principles of sustainable tourism development. Additionally, a focus group and semi structured interviews were conducted, comprising a cross section of stakeholders who either assisted in the development of the tourism policy, are currently responsible for policy implementation initiatives, or are actively involved in environmentally based operations or sustainable nature based tourism activities. These primary research methods were complemented by secondary data sources, providing a base to compare and justify primary analysis. The inherent nature of this study provides insight into the motives, strategies and processes involved in the formulation of the tourism policy together with the sustainable nature of its content. In examining the policy’s influence on the practice of sustainable nature based tourism, stakeholders’ perceptions and feedback revealed disparities between policy and practice. From these findings, data was used to provide a host of action based recommendations aimed at bridging the gap between the tourism policy and the sustainable operation of nature based tourism in Trinidad and Tobago. The evaluation of tourism policies within the Caribbean context, much less its link to nature based tourism is rare within the region. As such, this research offers a glimpse into the motives, undertakings, facilitators and challenges involved in the development of tourism policies as well as the disconnect that exist between sustainable tourism policies and practices.