See the Caribbean is a collaborative initiative showcasing and promoting sustainable tourism in the region. It aims to inspire and educate why it’s more important than ever to visit the Caribbean as conscious travelers, once you can freely explore in the future.

Through a series of powerful, visual stories and inspirational content gathered in partnership with Caribbean-based sustainable tourism businesses and entrepreneurs from all around the region, we make the deep connection between responsible tourist and destination in one of the most beautiful and vulnerable areas of the world.

Why the Caribbean?

It’s green. It’s culture-packed. It is rich in heritage and community traditions. In spite of a brutal colonial period during which Europeans forcibly brought West Africans to the region, diluting their cultures and extinguishing resident indigenous tribes, the Caribbean’s African and Amerindian legacies continue to thrive, albeit needing protection.

The arrival of immigrants and workers from all parts of the world throughout the centuries – including Ireland, India, Lebanon, Syria, Japan, and China, as well as from neighboring islands – created a diversity in the more than 20 countries in the Caribbean, as reflected in their cuisines their festivals, and their unique rituals.

Left to right: Shakespeare Mas, Carriacou; Puerto Plata, DR.

Numerous Caribbean destinations are also home to indigenous groups and cultures that are classified as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

And yet.

Heritage remains the Caribbean’s most untapped resource. The majority of tourists who visit the region primarily aim for sun, sand and frolics with rum cocktails while staying at multinational-owned resorts. The economic contribution of this kind of tourism is so significant that the Caribbean remains the most tourism-reliant area in the world. In Jamaica, in The Bahamas and in Barbados, for instance, tourism makes up between 34 to 50 percent of the country’s GDP.

In 2019, tourism contributions for the Caribbean amounted to US$59 Billion. Here’s why the numbers are deceiving, despite destinations touting “record annual tourist arrivals”: most of these incoming tourism dollars do not remain in the local economy. They are funneled to outside banks, as the majority of travelers give their vacation dollars to foreign-owned businesses with no local ties and the taxes and duties of which are paid in their home countries.  In tourism speak, there is leakage, and it is significant.

“[O]nly $5 out of every $100 spent on a vacation package (typically, all-inclusive) by an overseas traveller from a developed country stays in the developing country’s economy.” In the Caribbean, about 70 percent leaks, lost to importation of goods and services.”

-UN Environment Programme
Playa Bavaro, Dominican Republic

It’s not a new story. None of it is. But with the sudden and prolonged halt of global tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been painfully obvious and difficult to watch how the insidious cycle of low-wage workers dependent on jobs at multinational resort chains, plus the sudden stop of incoming foreign currency are downright dangerous scenarios for the Caribbean. Equally dangerous is the continued development of resorts at the expense of endangered ecosystems.

With few island states offering any other significant income-producing sectors, such as agricultural exports, tourism will continue to be the primary source for development and for jobs.

“With travel and tourism accounting for a large share of overall economy in many Caribbean countries, the sector will play a key role in driving the recovery of the Caribbean economy post COVID-19.”

Global Economic Impact & Trends 2020, World Tourism Travel Council

Reimagining how you see the Caribbean: A collaborative effort

If tourism will continue to play a key role in the region’s recovery, then it is imperative for you, the traveler, to use this time to rethink and redefine how you engage with the Caribbean on future travels. You can make the decision not to be complicit in a mass tourism system that’s long begun destroying the places we love and leaves locals with few opportunities for long-term growth.

We want you to embrace, without exception the principle, of using vacation or trip funds such that the wealth goes directly and more widely to locals. This is done by supporting businesses that are committed to sustainability and to the growth of their employees, supporting local entrepreneurs and contributing to the preservation of nature and heritage. Some call it “impact travel” or “sustainable tourism.”

For example, you book a stay at a locally-owned lodge, hotel or a boutique property that hires and trains staff at all levels from its surrounding community, uses solar energy, rejects plastic utensils or recycles water. You buy from women-owned businesses and book tours from locally-operated small to medium tour companies. You sign up for community-led tours where funds go directly towards village project developments and help sustain community members.

That’s why this collaborative initiative “See the Caribbean” was born. It’s not a new concept to travel for immersion and to put your travel dollars where it counts. But for the Caribbean, the sense of urgency is great.

Through a series of visual stories shared over the coming months and going into 2021 – told in collaboration with partners from around the Caribbean, including tour guides, owners of sustainable lodging, and various players in the industry – you’ll see the beginning of a roadmap showing you that exploring the Caribbean with positive impact is anything but boring or difficult. It is enriching for all, and it does include time to laze on beaches.

You’ll understand how changing your smallest travel decisions is easy – even if it requires you step away from the giant hotel search engines – and that by doing so, you become part of a change the region needs.

You’ll witness why travel continues to be a an incredible tool for mutual transformation and beneficial exchange, while tipping the scales of imbalance in the world, providing opportunities for others to fund their dream business idea, to lift themselves and their families out of a marginalized future. On the flip side, tourism can also be a powerful tool for advocacy and positive social change when you refuse to support travel companies that cause damage to the fragile Caribbean environment or that profit from the beauty of the islands without giving back.

Tobago Cays, The Grenadines

You’ll get to know people and fellow travelers who are in the industry for the positive social change that it can bring. You’ll see that tourism is interconnected to other important sectors in the Caribbean. You’ll even learn about some of the region’s numerous challenges, including coastal erosion, coral bleaching, reduced access to fresh water, plastic pollution and weak food security – and how you can help those who need the support during this challenging time.

Experiencing new cultures and landscapes while making a difference in peoples’ lives and helping preserve the place you’re visiting isn’t “woo-woo” talk, and it’s not volunteering. It’s giving back to the place and people that are giving to you in equal measure.

“[E]ven though an explicit demand for sustainability has still to be proven, there is growing evidence that organized tourists are not inclined to return to unsustainable destinations.”

Sun, Sand, and Sustainability in Developing Countries from a Tourists’ Perspective. – MDPI, June 2020

Clockwise left to right: Honeymoon Beach, St John; Bathsheba, Barbados; Bani, Dominican Republic.

The conscious Caribbean visitor

Some of you already practice conscious travel as a whole, but you’re not sure how or where to start to support businesses in the Caribbean that are invested in the betterment of their destination and people . For others, this period of reflection has led you to realize that the only way forward for you is to learn how to be an informed visitor when you head to the Caribbean; one who makes smarter choices and leaves a place better than the way in which you found it.

You want to connect with nature, authenticity, truth.

Tomorrow’s Caribbean, post pandemic, will need you. It needs you to refuse to travel as if we were still in Columbus times. It needs you to recognize that it’s high time to decolonize minds and use tourism fully as a force for social transformation.

Indian Creek Maya Village, Toledo – Belize

See the Caribbean is the beginning of a movement of immersive travelers and industry leaders who are disrupting the post-colonial era power structure that has persisted in Caribbean tourism, and who are pushing for an equitable, collaborative, inclusive industry for all.

There’s a saying in Jamaica, with an equivalent in many other Caribbean destinations: “one one cocoa full basket.” Nothing happens overnight, but we each have the power to come together and choose different from the dated colonial legacy scenario of using the Caribbean solely as a place of sun, sea, and frolics, leaving a trail of negative impact behind. Let’s instead see it as a region with diverse islands and countries, each inhabited with people who have a rich heritage, an unshakeable resilience, and socio-political landscapes that we should learn about while we enjoy ourselves.

In exchange, one decision at a time, we have the power to create impactful change with our travel dollars. It’s that simple.

Those of you who want to reimagine the way you interact with this beautiful part of the world, whether it’s a year or two years from now, will find inspiration right here, starting with the See the Caribbean initiative.

Beach time and rum shops?

Absolutely. But coupling them with activities that uplift communities, reduce the environmental stresses and preserve heritage while you have a lifetime experience: now that’s a win-win proposition. We’re just here to begin planting the seeds of inspiration.

It’s the Caribbean you need to envision, see and appreciate. And if you’ve read this far, then you are the visitor and collaborator the Caribbean needs in the future, when we can explore freely again – for the preservation of its gorgeous landscapes, its people, and our planet.