What is blue tourism?

Blue tourism is a term used to describe Coastal and Maritime tourism. The sector has become an increasing source of income for destinations with attractive coastlines thanks to the development of multiple tourism activities such as cruise tourism, boating, watersports, scuba diving, marine life observation, fishing and recreational use of beaches. 

However, these activities often put a lot of pressure on local ecosystems and tend to damage the destinations’ environmental assets, which, very often are what visitors are attracted to in the destination. Sustainable development of these blue tourism destinations is therefore becoming critical to avoid altering their natural resources to a point of no return. 

Islands, with their unique situation, make up a significant part of blue tourism destinations around the world and attract millions of visitors every year. However, sustainable tourism development in islands is complex, as they are subject to a wide range of challenges. 

Three unique challenges to sustainable tourism in islands

1. Economic dependency

According to a report written by IDDRI, Eco Union and ADEME in June 2019, tourism could account for up to 25% of the national GDP of Small Island Developing States and up to 50% when including indirect contributions. According to the same report, in 2019, 3% of the global market share of inbound tourism was to Small Island Developing States. In the Seychelles, the total contribution of tourism to the national GDP reached 65%. 

COVID-19 forced breaks in international tourism since the start of 2020 has revealed the need for a more sustainable and resilient blue tourism model for islands around the world, in order for destinations to be able to respond and recover from the crisis and limit its impact. Acorn Tourism worked with OECS to accelerate this transition in St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines.  Here you can find out more about how we addressed these issues. 

Natural disasters, a rise in sea level and extreme sea level events are also putting the tourism industry on islands at risk. Concerned tourists may not be as willing to travel to these destinations in future. “Tourism vulnerability hotspots” are destinations that are highly vulnerable to climate change as well as having an economy that is highly dependent on the tourism sector. UNWTO and UNEP have identified islands in the Caribbean, Western Indian Ocean and South Pacific as tourism vulnerability hotspots. 

2. Transport - carbon intensive

There aren’t that many options to travel to an island: by boat or by plane. Travelling by air is the most convenient way to access islands for many visitors. Islands’ reliance on air transport can cause multiple issues such as the high carbon emission this form of transport generates, or the alteration to the natural fauna and flora caused by the creation of airports, usually built close to the coastline for convenience. 

The creation of the first airport in St Helena, a small island in the Atlantic Ocean lying midway between Africa and South America, also disrupted local communities and the whole tourism industry on the island. Before the airport opened, visitors had to travel five days by ship to get to the island and were therefore quite forgiving when it came to the standard of quality of tourism businesses in the destination. The five-hour flight from South Africa meant that the island was no longer so remote, increased visitor numbers and, more specifically, brought visitors that had higher expectations of the quality of services offered on St. Helena. This challenge required a strong re-branding and marketing strategy for the destination to adapt to this new market, which Acorn Tourism helped with. You can read more about it here

Cruise tourism creates its fair share of damage as well, if not done sustainably. Construction and maintenance of ports, anchoring, the emissions linked to the use of fuels and chemical products, or the illegal dumping of waste, sewage and petrol endanger animals and plankton, damage the coral reef and eelgrass meadows, contribute to coastal erosion and alteration of benthic ecosystems, as mentioned in the report by IDDRI, Eco Union and ADEME, 2019. 

The challenge for islands is to increase visitor expenditure, to continue growing their tourism industry and increase benefits to the local economy, while limiting the increase in visitor arrivals to avoid increasing impacts linked to transport. Acorn has been working with the Falkland Islands for many years and supported the destination in establishing a new tourism strategy to achieve just that. Find out about how we accomplished this here

3. Reliance on imports

Islands often rely on imported goods and services for food, manufactured products, fuel, and industrial material. Some islands do not have large enough hinterlands to allow them to produce all these goods and services themselves. This dependency on imports means that local communities are vulnerable to fluctuations in costs, as well as regional economic agreements.  

Saba, a Caribbean Island, has won awards for its innovative and effective systems designed to fight their dependency on imported water and food (more specifically vegetables). They have created a drinking water bottling plant to ensure that their local communities and businesses, as well as visitors, can have access to water from the island and not rely on the import of bottled water. They have also created an organoponics garden that created jobs for the local communities and contributed to increasing the amount of locally grown food available for residents and visitors.

Small Island Developing Islands (SIDS) across the globe are putting together innovative and effective strategies to work towards a more sustainable blue tourism, preserve their environment, their local communities and remain a competitive tourism destination. Some of them have already joined a certification program to measure their performance against the highest environmental and social standards on the market. The Azores, in the Atlantic ocean, has received a Platinum award from the Quality Coast program, St Eustatius and Bonaire and Saba, in the Caribbean, have all received a Silver Award from the same program, organised by Green Destinations




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