H.E. Dr. Dario Item, Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to the UNWTO and Head of Mission for its embassy in Madrid, is a strong believer in the potential of tourism to drive sustainable development and economic growth.
In recent years, Antigua and Barbuda have made great strides in diversifying their economy away from reliance on a single industry – namely, tourism – and towards a more resilient and sustainable model of development and growth.
The island nation’s robust tourism sector has been a key driver of this transformation, with visitors flocking to experience its natural beauty, cultural heritage and friendly hospitality.
However, as Item is well aware, such success cannot be taken for granted. In order to maintain its position as a leading luxury tourist destination, Antigua and Barbuda must continuously evolve and innovate.
The need for change was brought into sharp relief by the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma in 2017, which caused widespread damage across the islands.
In the aftermath of the storm, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, under his leadership and the EU officials, came up with a comprehensive recovery plan for its people and the tourism sector.
The plan included measures to improve infrastructure and emergency preparedness, as well as initiatives to further develop sustainable tourism practices.
Showing Leadership and Value of Cooperation Within the Region
In spite of their own extensive damage, Antigua and Barbuda even embarked in efforts to help rebuild neighboring countries as it pledged $300,000 to Dominica’s relief efforts. “Even among countries that were devastated, there is a form of human cooperation to help each other,” stated Prime Minister Browne.
Thanks to the determined resilience of its people and these efforts – Antigua and Barbuda bounced back quickly from the hurricane’s destructive force; within just six months, tourism had returned to pre-storm levels.
This remarkable comeback is testament to both Item’s belief in Antigua’s potential as a top tourist luxury destination and the Antiguan government’s commitment to building a more sustainable future for all residents of the island nation.
Under Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s leadership, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Tourism continues to invest in long-term planning that will make the country even better prepared for any challenges that lie ahead.
Membership to the United Nations World Tourism Organization
In January 2022, Antigua and Barbuda became a member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) with Dr. Dario Item as the country’s permanent representative.
The UNWTO’s Secretary-General, Dr Pololikashvili, received the credentials for Dr Item at the UNWTO’s headquarters in Madrid. With tourism having such a significant economic and social impact on the islands, a restart of tourism would be well worth the effort. The tourism industry in Antigua and Barbuda generated $349 million in 2020.
With Antigua and Barbuda becoming a Member State of UNWTO, the two organizations will work together to emphasize the tourism sector’s role in sustainable development, with emphasis on innovation and tourism education.
Government Leads Efforts to Sustainable Tourism
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has placed considerable emphasis on the development of sustainable tourism.
This is demonstrated by the launch of the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan – a comprehensive document that provides a roadmap for the sustainable development of tourism in Antigua and Barbuda over the next ten years. The main goals of the Master Plan are to:
- Position Antigua and Barbuda as a world-class sustainable tourism destination
- Generate increased economic benefits from tourism
- Enhance social and cultural wellbeing
- Protect and enhance environmental assets
The implementation of the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan is overseen by the Sustainable Tourism Oversight Committee, which is chaired by the Minister of Tourism and International Transport. The Committee comprises representatives from key government agencies, private sector organizations, NGOs, academia, and civil society.
Achieve Wider Sustainability Goals
One of the first initiatives to be implemented under the Master Plan was the establishment of an Environmental Fund. The primary purpose of this fund is to finance projects that will help to achieve greater sustainability in the operations of businesses within the tourist sector while also providing environmental education and awareness raising opportunities for tourists themselves.
Another initiative linked to this is ‘Greener Places’ – an accreditation scheme that recognises businesses which have made significant strides in reducing their environmental impact. To date, 22 businesses have been accredited under this scheme.
In addition to these ongoing efforts, various awareness raising campaigns are regularly carried out on topics such as energy efficiency, water conservation, reef protection, solid waste management etc.
The Government continues to invest heavily in attractions and infrastructure that support sustainable tourism growth whilst also protecting natural resources.
One such project is Fort James Beach Park redevelopment – a $17 million investment which will see major improvements made to one popular beach whilst also ensuring its long term ecological health through measures such as planting thousands of square meters of coral reef gardens nearby Fort James Point.
Other notable projects include extensive rehabilitation work undertaken at Shirley Heights Lookout – one of Antigua’s most popular tourist sites, construction of new cycle tracks linking different parts the island together, setting up a fully functioning municipal recycling facility;adding more electric vehicle charging stations across the island, and carrying out beach cleanups on a regular basis.
All told, these various projects showcase the genuine commitment of both government agencies and businesses working together to make Antigua and Barbudathe leading role model for sustainable tourism development in the Caribbean.
Looking to the future, the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan sets out a number of ambitious targets for the next ten years.
These include achieving:
‘Gold Standard’ status in the Global Destination Sustainability Index by 2025, increasing the proportion of tourism establishments that are accredited under the ‘Greener Places’ scheme from 22% to 50%, and increasing tourist spend on environmentally-friendly activities from $2 million to $20 million per year.
Other goals of the programme include reducing Green House Gas emissions from tourism-related activity by 10% below 2010 levels, ensuring that at least 60% of all tourists visiting Antigua and Barbuda participate in an environmental awareness or education activity during their stay, and establishing a comprehensive system for monitoring and reporting on progress against the sustainable tourism indicators set out in the Master Plan.
The above examples only scratch the surface in terms of the efforts that are currently being made by both the public and private sector to drive sustainable tourism development in Antigua and Barbuda.
In order for this commitment to be effective,it is essential that all stakeholders embrace its principles and work together to implement the necessary actions. By then, Antigua and Barbuda is well positioned to become the leading light for sustainable tourism not only in the Caribbean region, but also globally.
Building a Sustainable Future
With its rich history, diverse culture and vibrant spirit intact, there is no doubt that Antigua and Barbuda will continue to prosper for many years to come – making it a shining example of how sustainable development can empower a small dual-nation to thrive in today’s tourism landscape.