Optimism about the marketability of the natural environment and cultural heritage is fueled by a growing worldwide interest in these things. Many tourists flocking to the Caribbean are interested in more than a tropical beach.
At the same time, decreasing transportation costs are making travel more accessible to more people. Caribbean countries are seeking to broaden the appeal of their tourism products to draw a greater share of the market. Virtually every island of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States has a list of natural or heritage attractions for potential tourism development.
Until recently, the need for financing nature and heritage tourism projects has been limited. Caribbean member countries of the OAS are now increasingly eager to tap the economic potential of this kind of tourism as a source of revenue for economic development while addressing preservation of the local environment, i.e., sustainable development.
The development of these attractions has not kept pace with overall tourism development. Most new investments in tourism are still in hotels and other infrastructure projects to satisfy the traditional market. Investment in nature tourism is paltry for many reasons, ranging from perceived project risk to a lack of awareness of its viability.
Participants in ecotourism conferences have repeatedly reported difficulty in obtaining financing for nature and heritage tourism ventures. These meetings include four annual Caribbean Conferences on Ecotourism and three annual Ecotourism Society Funding Policy Committee Meetings. Several studies also have alluded to the lack of support from the development and financing community. Consequently, the Department of Regional Development and Environment of the OAS General Secretariat responded to a request from the Caribbean Group for Cooperation in Economic Development and undertook a study of nature and heritage tourism in the Caribbean. The study is intended to contribute to a wider assessment of tourism being coordinated by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). The OAS has focused its efforts on nature and heritage tourism, in particular on a) how this tourism can contribute to enhancing and maintaining the natural resource base, and b) the special financing needs of this type of tourism.
To analyze the adequacy of current sources, costs, terms, and procedures and to recommend measures to facilitate financing, the OAS engaged the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC). The analysis is largely based on a review of the operation of nature and heritage support facilities and attractions. A tourism master plan for St. Kitts and Nevis and documents from a number of the smaller Caribbean countries were examined, and field research in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago was conducted. The study incorporates observations of the Caribbean Financial Services Corporation and the Business Advisory Services/Enterprise Development Limited. Jorge Roldán, IIC Senior Economist, conducted the study.
This report analyzes the characteristics of the financial support provided for nature and heritage tourism projects in the Caribbean, and assesses the adequacy of financing flows. The study revealed certain patterns among the types of attraction, institutional management, source of investment financing, and the financing of operations and maintenance. These are explained further and displayed in three charts.
Finally, given the potential for growth of this sector of the tourism industry, recommendations are made to facilitate financing to develop public and private sector nature and heritage tourism projects in the Caribbean. Some of the measures are directed toward governments, others toward private operators, and others toward nongovernmental organizations. These recommendations do not represent a definitive analysis, nor do they provide a comprehensive solution to the problem.