The tourism industry is the most impacted sector in the world by the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated mobility restrictions. Despite the significant impacts, this crisis has also created an unprecedented opportunity for the industry to reinvent operations, offer new services, and generate sustainable tourism experiences that attract new visitors.
The Caribbean region is heavily dependent on goods and services derived from the sea, with more than 100 million people living within 100 km of the coast and more than 25 million tourists per year visiting the region. Tourism contributes to more than 15 percent of the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with most activities occurring in coastal areas. For instance, reef-associated tourism alone generates more than US$7.9 billion annually from more than 11 million visitors, totaling 23 percent of all tourism expenditures in the region. Unfortunately, Caribbean coral reefs have declined in recent decades, driven by both global and local factors. As coral reefs degrade, the economic and ecological benefits they provide are compromised, which compounds the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector and local communities.
To assess these dual challenges and investigate opportunities to both improve reef health and support COVID-19 pandemic recovery across the tourism industry, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conducted quantitative and qualitative public opinion research among key stakeholders of the tourism industry across the Caribbean.
The goal of this coral and tourism research was to capture a wide array of perspectives, expertise, and experiences, as well as to identify positive trends, key barriers, and opportunities for the tourism sector when engaging in coral reef conservation efforts. These guidelines provide an overview of the tourism sector’s engagement with coral reef conservation efforts in the Caribbean region, including results of the public opinion research, considerations before implementing a coral reef restoration project, and guiding principles and best practices for the tourism sector to implement coral reef protection and restoration efforts more effectively.