A child's bicycle is seen in a destroyed neighborhood in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas. Photo by: REUTERS / Loren Elliott

In 2017, Hurricane Maria swept through the Caribbean, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Many islands suffered, though Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit particularly hard; lives were lost, livelihoods upended, and properties destroyed. The storm also led to an estimated loss of $1 billion in tourism revenues, impacting a sector that underpins economies across the region.  

For those living in the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria underscored yet again the urgent need to respond to the climate crisis. Two years later and on the heels of further devastation earlier this month by Hurricane Dorian, effective planning for climate change adaptation is increasingly critical.

Governments can further strengthen these efforts by including businesses — alongside civil society, bilateral donors, local authorities, communities, and international organizations — in the development and implementation of their National Adaptation Plans

In many Caribbean islands, improving resilience to climate change is a key priority across multiple sectors, and especially tourism. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the Caribbean is one of the most tourism-reliant regions in the world, with the industry accounting for more than 15% of the region’s GDP and supporting nearly 14% of the workforce. Given its crucial role in many Caribbean economies and livelihoods, stakeholders from across the tourism sector — hotel operators, ecotour guides, dive shops, beachside restaurants, and more — will play an important part in strengthening the resilience of their businesses, communities, and countries in the face of climate change.

Many private sector actors are already doing their part, making the business case for investing in adaptation, strengthening the resilience of their businesses and supply chains, and developing the goods and services needed to adapt to climate change. The Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association, for example, has participated in the implementation of a sustainable drainage system in the Grand Anse area, in order to reduce the impacts of the frequent flooding on regional hotels and shopping malls.

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At the regional level, the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center can help as a strong example of regional cooperation on resilience-building that involves the private sector. Actors like these recognize that climate change adaptation is no longer an option, but a necessity for continued operations.

Governments can further strengthen these efforts by including businesses — alongside civil society, bilateral donors, local authorities, communities, and international organizations — in the development and implementation of their National Adaptation Plans. NAPs are a domestic policy process that allows countries to define and address their medium- and long-term climate change adaptation priorities. Grenada, for example, has made efforts to engage the private sector in its NAP process by including the private sector in its NAP stakeholder consultations.

The NAP Global Network recently hosted a Peer Learning Summit on engaging the private sector in the NAP process, bringing together over 50 representatives from 12 countries — including delegates from the Caribbean. Delegates discussed and shared best practices on how governments and private sector actors can partner to bolster adaptation policies and programs, including the NAP process. Encouragingly, much progress is underway, and in many countries, the tourism sector is taking a lead.

Jamaica’s Tourism Product Development Company, for example, recently spearheaded the establishment of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center, an initiative that aims to help businesses in the Caribbean tourism sector respond to climate change by assessing, forecasting, mitigating, and managing climate risks.

In speaking with Dr. Andrew Spencer, executive director of TPDC, he explained that following Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Dominica, his team decided that there had to be a tourism response to such events, given they are among the most vulnerable industries.

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In Saint Lucia, the public and private sectors are taking steps to enhance information sharing on the impacts of climate change and subsequently increase their capacities to respond.

In 2017, the national government undertook a study to assess levels of private sector engagement in adaptation. Within this analysis, a key stakeholder for engagement was found to be the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association, which works with hotels, tour providers, and taxi operators across the island while also coordinating relevant actions with adjacent sectors, including agriculture and financial services.

The Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association has since become an active participant in NAP-related stakeholder meetings and a key channel for disseminating climate and policy information, and the association is and will continue to be a key player in increasing the sector’s resilience to climate change, and ensuring its adaptation work is aligned with other sectors.

The need for action to address the climate crisis has never been more pressing. The recent “IPCC special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C” laid out the urgent actions and transformations needed from the international community to limit global warming. With the world already 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels and weather patterns increasingly volatile, the impacts are already being felt, and they are only getting worse.

The populations and economies of small island developing states are particularly vulnerable to the changing climate. For tourism operators in these states, the threat can be acute; the safety of their staff and clients, the value of their assets, and the security of their supply chains will depend on their actions to strengthen their resilience to storms, drought, sea-level rise, and floods, among other impacts. By engaging in the NAP process, businesses can come together with governments to ensure they are all working toward a goal of reduced vulnerability and increased resilience.

Visit the Turning the Tide series for more coverage on climate change, resilience building, and innovative solutions in small island developing states. You can join the conversation using the hashtag #TurningtheTide.

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About the authors

  • Alec headshot

    Alec Crawford

    Alec Crawford is a senior researcher with both IISD's Resilience and Economic Law and Policy programs. Since joining IISD in 2004, his work has focused on mining governance, climate change adaptation, and the links among environmental change, natural resources, conflict and peacebuilding.
  • Clare headshot

    Clare Church

    Clare Church is a policy analyst for IISD’s Resilience Program. Her work focuses on environment, conflict and peacebuilding, analyzing the connections between environmental change, natural resources, and security.
  • Ziona headshot

    Ziona Eyob

    Ziona Eyob is the communications officer for IISD's Resilience Program, including the National Adaptation Plan Global Network. Bringing 10 years of experience to her role, Ziona has an extensive background in strategic communications for international stakeholders. Before joining the Resilience team, Ziona lead communications for IISD's Energy Program, including the Global Subsidies Initiative.