Hotels, suppliers and governments must co-operate in time of crisis, says Nikki White, head of destination sustainability at Abta

The poet John Donne once said “no man is an island”, and his words apply equally well to the travel industry and the role it plays as part of the wider economy, including the impact it has on the local community.

Taking a short-term, narrowly defined approach, as was too often the case in the past, is now seen increasingly as unsustainable in the long term, both by enlightened travel companies and by the destinations they send customers to.

This year, the succession of devastating hurricanes that hit many parts of the Caribbean showed how important it is to have the resources and planning in place to minimise the impact of natural disasters – mainly for the benefit of local people, but also for visitors to their country.

Large numbers of tourists can place a strain on the infrastructure and resources of many destinations, particularly when disasters strike. However, with proper planning the finances they bring can make an invaluable contribution to the rebuilding programme and restoration of normal service.

Share profits

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation is working to encourage the islands that escaped the hurricane earlier this year, and are benefiting from an increase in tourist numbers, to share their profits to help the recovery of affected islands.

There is a powerful understanding of “there but for the grace of God go I”, as well as a heartening solidarity among the island communities.

Developing supportive networks between hotels, local suppliers, and destinations in this particular case, can help develop the resilience that is needed, particularly in times of crisis. Well-built and maintained local infrastructure, such as roads and airports, are essential for a successful tourist industry, but also provide a crucial economic support structure for local people.

Plan ahead

At World Travel Market last month I was on a panel and was asked to choose three priorities for responsible tourism for the next five years. We were given a choice of 12, ranging from water, carbon, energy and waste, to inclusive tourism, child protection and decent jobs.

However, I could not agree with choosing three. I believe the issues, and therefore the priorities, are interlinked and what may be a priority for one destination won’t be for another.

Instead, the answer I put forward was destination management. Get this right, plan well and each destination can address its needs and potential risks. Mutual support, forward planning and an understanding that we are all in the same boat and that it is in all of our interests work together.

It is vital to bring together government departments from across tourism, environment, planning and infrastructure, along with the private sector, such as tour operators, hotels, restaurants, water providers and waste providers, NGOs and the local community to come up with a shared vision and strategy.

Collaborative destination management needs to be at the heart of sustainable tourism.