Climate change has prompted us to rethink public policies related to tourism. During the virtual event “Vámonos pa’l norte: community, planning and tourism,” Jon Borschow and Annie Mayol talked with experts about the efforts and strategies needed at the national level to promote economic activity through tourism, from a perspective of social and environmental sustainability.
Along with Gerardo Hernández, assistant secretary of the National Parks Program of the Department of Natural Resources (DRNA); Fernando Lloveras, president of Para la Naturaleza; and Carlos Mercado, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), we shared initiatives and recommendations for sustainable tourism in Puerto Rico. In addition, with a special presentation by Alberto López Chaves, general manager of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), we learned more about successful strategies for sustainable development in Costa Rica that can be models for Puerto Rico.
Currently, public policies aimed at protecting natural assets and developing sustainable tourism in parks, forests and reserves under the DRNA focus on revitalizing vacation centers, promoting ecotourism alliances and educating youth about the importance of preserving and conserving resources. In addition, Hernández added that the department seeks community proposals for recreational activities and tours.
From the private sector, Lloveras, representing Para La Naturaleza, shared that the organization’s goal is to protect 33% of the land in Puerto Rico by 2023. “Our development model has been disjointed and we have not had that planning necessary to have an island that is in ecological functionality,” said the organization’s president. According to him, the creation of human experiences, and decentralized tourism and policies that support that direction are some of the efforts needed at the national level.
Mercado said the PRTC is making efforts to promote sustainable tourism through best practices training programs focused on ecotourism and agrotourism. With the launch of its agrotourism program, the company hopes to complement agricultural activity with tourism to attract the attention of visitors.
Regarding public policies, López Chaves commented that it is essential to implement and maintain them. ”The approach of aiming with a national public policy […] towards tourism will eventually make tourism a strong, resilient sector and a sector that generates wealth and wellbeing for all the communities that are around tourism developments,“ López Chaves continued.
Hernández emphasized the development of public policy focused on knowing our natural resources and their importance for the economic development of Puerto Rico. The panelists agreed on developing a national tourism project, as opposed to a regional one. They also emphasized the need to educate Puerto Ricans about the conservation and preservation of natural resources.
During the ICT’s presentation, López Chaves explained that Costa Rica opted for an supply model, where the tourist adapts to the country. By clearly defining the tourism development model, they were able to execute successfully. “Over time, we have been very capable of innovating, so much so, that the country’s average stay evolved from 3 nights in the 80’s to almost 13 nights today, at this moment,” commented the ICT general manager. According to López Chaves, sustainable tourism development has to take into account the social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects. At the same time, communities must be the leaders of their tourism development projects in order for the initiatives to succeed.
To close the conversation, Mr. Hernández highlighted the collaboration of Foundation for Puerto Rico, the Tourism Company and National Parks to achieve the reopening of the Camuy River Cave Park. Mr. Lloveras added the importance of revitalizing these attractions and maintaining them after their reopening so that they will be of long-term benefit.
Borschow hopes that this collaboration will open the doors to future revitalization projects around the island. At that point, other tourist attractions of focus for the panelists were discussed, such as Playa Rosada in Lajas, Punta Soldado in Culebra and Lago Toa Vaca in Villalba have been identified as upcoming projects for rehabilitation, according to Mercado, and that would encourage collaboration between the various entities to carry them out.