Nature Island Tourism: Applying an Eco-tourism Sustainability Framework to the Island of Dominica
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Eco-tourism continues to experience fast growth, as the desire for more sustainable tourism amongst tourists increases and as economic situations in developing countries demand new avenues for development. In many Caribbean and other developing countries, tourism serves as a promising alternative for development in the face of struggling primary industries and is identified as a possible means through which sustainable development can be achieved. However, not many Caribbean islands are developing and benefiting from an eco-tourism defined as tourism which demands a high level of human responsibility involving “active contribution towards conservation and/or the improvement of host community welfare” (Stone, 2002:16). The Caribbean island of Dominica will benefit greatly from an assessment of its present approach to eco-tourism development and recommendations for realizing more positive contributions to sustainability. The case study of Dominica was used, together with information from a sustainability and sustainable tourism literature review, to (1) develop a comprehensive eco-tourism sustainability framework, and (2) test its application by exploring the current practice of eco-tourism on the island. The literature review revealed the current trends and debates surrounding sustainability and sustainable tourism. This was used to create an initial framework for sustainable tourism, which was subsequently elaborated to reflect the island’s situation. Key informant interviews from the public and private sectors ensured varied perspectives, which were corroborated by participant observations and other secondary research to highlight key issues affecting tourism on the island. This research has revealed that early attempts at conservation and sustainability by the Forestry Division, though not driven by tourism, contributed to preservation of the physical attractions on the island. The major factors affecting the potential for sustainable eco-tourism in Dominica were identified as the geo-physical setting, political/economic motivations, trade agreements, culture, social capital, attitudes, behaviour, habits and customs, environmental considerations, public awareness, outreach, human resource development, and education, site development, and external assistance/ collaboration for research. Continued growth and development of tourism are hindered by limited resources (financial, physical, and human), insufficient collaboration between and among private and public sectors, weak law and enforcement, poor physical planning, conflicting Government priorities, the rugged topography, the dilemma of needing to increase number of visitors while also protecting the environment, the challenge of partitioning the resources between traditional and recreational users while maintaining sustainable use of resources, climate change, changes in the world economy, and the intrinsic vulnerability of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). In light of the myriad of challenges to sustainable eco-tourism development and key considerations from the eco-tourism sustainability framework, the recommendations are focused on addressing the most significant challenges, by suggesting an action plan geared towards improving solid waste management planning and disaster management planning; developing a national stewardship plan to build awareness about environmental protection, conservation and responsibility; and a literacy training programme for tourism service providers who may be illiterate. The eco-tourism sustainability framework and recommendations emerging from the test of its application can guide planning and management within this field and improve the capacity for eco-tourism to make more positive contributions to sustainability on the island of Dominica and more generally, throughout other Small Island Developing States (SIDS).