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Reigniting the tourism

Community tourism is defined as tourism which takes into account current, future, economic, social and environment impacts, even as it strives to provide for visitors, homeboys, big industry players and the afterthought, natural environment. Even as we speak Tobago, armed with this definition - niftily provided by the World Tourism Organization, is reaching out once more to the traveling public in the developed north. If we persevere we might get lucky; assuming the budget goes where its supposed to and hurricanes are fake news.

From a people standpoint though the Tobago House of Assembly is not wrong to try for more income. All progressive societies must these days, it's the economic model at work. But trust our leaders to serve the cake half-cooked. Yes they've begun the marketing, is sensitizing the borrower market, is mobilizing business and are rocking the roots of the local hospitality corps. What they've not yet done, and which ought to have headed the list, is ensure systems are in place to protect our natural environment from overuse.

Consider the recent trip by the Tobago Tourism Agency (TTAL) to the British Birdwatching Fair at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in Leicestershire, UK. According to TTAL the trip is part of ongoing efforts to promote Tobago as a premier, globally competitive bird-watching destination and eco-holiday option. “With birding being identified as one of the core attractors for the destination, it was important for us to showcase Tobago at this event, particularly because the United Kingdom accounts for more than 50 percent of our international arrivals,” said TTAL's boss Louis Lewis. Citing Audubon Society stats, he further asserted that Tobago is fifth in the world among the top birding destinations per capita.

More interesting however is another observation published on the Birdfair website a snippet of which reads; “Although Tobago is a mere 300 square metres in area, more than 200 bird species can be found here. The Tobago Forest Reserve, is the oldest protected rainforest in the Western hemisphere and along the trails you could spot Blue-crowned MotMot, Collared Trogon, Red-crowned Woodpecker, White-fringed Antwren, Blue-backed Manakin and White-tailed Sabrewing. Little Tobago, a small island near Speyside, provides a refuge for various sea birds. You will cross pristine coral reefs on the way there and depending on the time of year, you will find nesting colonies of Red-Billed Tropicbird, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Sooty and Noddy Terns, Frigatebird and Audubon’s Shearwater.” The statement is more or less true and depending to whom one speaks.

The thing is the THA - Lewis' employers, have hired him to sell, birds and probably rooms in this case, but they haven't done anything to improve those particular 'hotspots'. But even if the Tobago Tourism Agency is only minimally successful in its marketing efforts and fills say, one jet in five that comes to Tobago with birders - they flock you know, then the Main Ridge will be an overloaded destination. So will Little Tobago. The THA through its Tourism Agency may argue perhaps that birders are responsible 'users'. That they generally older, wealthier and care more. Given the possibility that figures may be provided at some point in the future we can leave the first two arguments alone. The last point is highly debatable though.

The very premise of top level birdwatching is to tick off from a 'lifelist' as many avian species as possible. It requires very little stretch of the imagination to see that enthusiastic (and unregulated) guides may find it tempting to disturb nesting sites to impress (for a gratuity) their wealthy gaggle of punters. The logic of overuse extends just as easily to reef trips. The Buccoo example is already a posterchild for every horrid malpractice that bad tourism fosters. Actually now that the once popular Coral Gardens can't satisfy tourists, the operators down there are beefing up other offerings such as jetskis, food and music. Think loud, think garbage because that is what really occurs. Cry Buccoo indeed. Nonetheless the reignited tourism thrust will be sold by the politicos as 'working' once they can report food sheds, taxis, bed and brekfasses, water taxis and touts are turning over money.

Nature lovers have another point of view. Aside from dedicated birdwatchers, many visitors make it a priority to visit the Main Ridge, Little Tobago and the Buccoo Reef simply as key points of interest. The unregulated stream of human traffic and yes this is prior to TTAL's current efforts bearing fruit, places an untenable load on those environments. The impact of crowds on wildlife cannot be underestimated but predictably it is a bad thing. The scenario for Little Tobago in particular is beyond critical given the privacy its roosting seabirds crave. The Main Ridge is probably more resilient given the resurgence of various bird species - though the forest there should never be taken for granted considering its many other threats. The Coral Reefs? Well let's just say their safety rests in everyone's hands. In envirospeak a hotspot is an at-risk locality. Let's hope the Tobago Tourism Agency's Mr Lewis is not being prescient about what the new tourism thrust is bringing to Tobago.

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