Tourism in the Dutch Caribbean

A special BioNews edition highlights the importance of designing and implementing sustainable tourism practices within the Dutch Caribbean. The idea is to promote sustainable practices on each of the islands to help conserve and restore the natural environments while enhancing the visitors experience and livelihoods of residents. Here are excerpts from “Designing Sustainable Tourism.”


The world is continuously getting smaller as globe trotting gets easier with each passing year. In fact, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries [33]. One study by the World Travel and Tourism Counsel found, that in 2015, 1 in 11 jobs was related to tourism [35]. This is especially true in the Caribbean, where tourism has grown at a rate of 7%, nearly double the global average of 4% [3, 13]. Although tourism has continued to increase, natural disasters, such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 proved to be devasting to local tourism [19]. Fortunately, 2018 and 2019 saw a rebound of these numbers, yet this was completely undone by the Corona virus halting all travel in 2020. These various incidents prove the fragility of the entire tourism sector, and show how important it is to design a tourism plan which can help weather these dips.

At first glance it may appear that the demands of increasing tourism are at direct odds with conservation efforts, but this does not have to be the case. Designing a sustainable tourism plan will not only work to protect the environmental richness that inspired tourists to visit the islands in the first place, but actually enhance their overall experience. This special edition BioNews will work to introduce the idea of Sustainable Tourism and provide examples and objectives to help drive these efforts into the future. It is paramount that the development and growth of the tourism industry within the Dutch Caribbean take into account the fragility of its natural resources and work to ensure that these environments are protected for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

Mass Tourism vs. Ecotourism

As international travel has become increasingly common and has become a significant economic driver within the Caribbean, these islands have seen unparalleled changes to their environment within a single generation [33]. All tourists cannot be lumped together, as there are a variety of different types of tourism, from extended stay tourists who may choose to spend the winter months beachside to cruise boat tourists who spend a few hours soaking in what each island has to offer. In general, tourism in the Caribbean is predominately focused on marine activities such as swimming, snorkeling, diving, sport fishing, and yachting [33]. Mass tourism (low-cost packages) makes up a large portion of the tourist market [15]. This is especially true as the airline industry continues to press for cheaper flight options, making mass tourism packages increasingly common and affordable. However, there is another side of tourism. Consumers are learning that their choices are contributing to the overall health of these environments, and increasingly “quality” is defined by environmental and ethical components [15]. Ecotourism has seen a rise in recent years, evident by Bonaire’s push to become the world’s first blue destination, for example. Ecotourism could highlight some of the islands’ best natural features while still allowing tourists the opportunity to come and explore. [. . .]

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