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Tourism and Climate Change: Bend or Break?

Barbados tourism faces climate threats; businesses must go sustainable to survive.

Tourism has been a pillar of Barbados’ economy for many years, being its primary source of foreign exchange, and like other industries, is not spared from the effects of the climate crisis. Rising sea levels encroach on the coasts where hotels and resorts are built, a global increase in temperatures negatively affects the ecosystems people travel to see, and increased intense weather events threaten the economies of small island nations such as Barbados. Businesses in the industry, particularly coastal hotels, and resorts, are faced with pressures to become sustainable to preserve the resources many depend on, and ultimately, their livelihoods.

Accra Beach, one of Barbados’ beaches which many travel to enjoy and experience (photo courtesy of     

The tourism industry is no doubt resource intensive. Many resources go into the everyday operations of tourism and travel businesses, which have an impact on the natural environment. Hotels and resorts draw on freshwater resources for the maintenance of amenities such as pools and gardens, potable water is provided for guests to use, and other areas of operation such as restaurants and laundromats require water. They are also major solid and liquid waste sources, potentially burdening waste management systems on an already small island.

Tourism accounts for 8% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with sources emerging from transportation, food production, and lodging. These things in conjunction with the destruction of coastal carbon sinks such as mangrove forests and seagrass beds only exacerbate the issue of a rapidly warming climate. Climate records as of July 2023 are being broken globally, with areas such as the North Atlantic experiencing temperatures up to 5 degrees Celsius hotter than normal, leading scientists to raise the alarm as the world enters uncharted territory.

This puts at risk the natural environment of islands such as Barbados. In the tropics, coral reefs suffer bleaching events and affect the wide range of biodiversity that they host, and beaches continue to be eroded as sea levels rise. Intense weather events are also becoming more frequent, which potentially threaten life and property. Studies have shown these have the potential to influence the decisions travelers make when determining their destinations. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism contributes 31% of Barbados’ GDP and supports up to 33% of the jobs, and many livelihoods stand to be affected should the climate crisis worsen.

Barbados tourism faces climate threats; businesses must go sustainable to survive.
The EarthCheck certification on display in Bougainvillea Barbados’ reception area, crediting its commitment to sustainability throughout the years.

Recognizing the impact tourism has on the environment and global warming, businesses have had to pivot to ensure that their operations are sustainable. As the climate crisis becomes a ‘hot’ topic, travelers are becoming more environmentally conscious during their vacations, and are looking to patronize sustainable businesses and establishments which are authentic and transparent. Research by Expedia indicates that travelers are searching for ways to make their travels more sustainable. From the transportation to the lodging, it is shown that an effort is being made to make their excursions more sustainable, even if it means paying more. The study showed 40% of consumers stayed in lodgings that actively had practices in place to lessen their environmental impact. This shows that going green is not only good for the planet, but also helps those tourism businesses that market themselves as sustainable attract more traffic. 

Bougainvillea Barbados is one such hotel that has recognized the importance of ensuring its operations do not have adverse effects on the environment and surrounding community. Throughout more than fifteen years of certification by EarthCheck, the hotel has shown its commitment to the preservation of the environment through waste minimization strategies, implementing measures to conserve the energy and water used, finding methods to reduce the GHGs emitted, and organizing beautification projects in the area. An example would be the hotel’s waste management plan, where procedures have been put in place in each department to reduce the amount of waste coming from the property. Organic waste from the kitchen is either donated to local pig farmers or sent to be composted, old towels are repurposed as cleaning cloths, and paper from the offices is recycled or shredded and given to a nearby funeral home. This limits what is sent to the landfill to be burnt, which would subsequently emit GHGs.

The southern and western coasts of the island are where the majority of Barbados’ hotels and resorts are located. The topography of these areas is also low-lying and flat and stands to be the prime regions affected by climate change effects such as flooding, storm surge, and other extreme weather events. An assessment by the Stimson Center and Commonwealth Secretariat made three recommendations for the tourism sector to become more resilient in the face of climate change. Firstly, it was suggested that marine ecosystems which protect the coastline such as coral reefs, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds be protected and restored. Tourism on the island also needs to be reimagined and diversified, shifting from the classic ‘sun, sand, and sea’ to investing in sports, medical, and business tourism and other sectors such as agriculture and renewable energy. It was also suggested that Barbados develop marine heatwave (MHW) response measures to ensure marine ecosystems are resilient in the face of rising temperatures. This includes improving the general health of these ecosystems, breeding and growing heat-tolerant corals, and improving the early warning of MHWs.

Barbados tourism faces climate threats; businesses must go sustainable to survive.
Mullins Beach on the west coast of Barbados (photo courtesy of Brett Spangler)

We are experiencing a changing world, and we all must work together in mitigating the escalation of the climate crisis. There are plenty of ways that tourism businesses work together with communities towards climate-friendly solutions. Beach and land clean-ups are often organized by hotels and resorts, lionfish derbies rely heavily on dive shops and locals to rid our reefs of invasive species and protect our reefs, and forest restoration with ecotourism destinations such as Walkers Reserve in St. Andrew where Barbadians are encouraged to be involved with the tree planting. To protect our environment and our livelihoods, it will need to be all hands on deck, tourism businesses and communities alike.   

This story was published on IsleThree with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.


Picture of Kyle Foster

Kyle Foster

Kyle is a writer and ecologist residing on the island of Barbados. With a deep passion for sharing the stories of the natural world, he has dedicated his craft to raising awareness about environmental issues. Much of his writing experience stems from publishing captivating stories with renowned platforms such as the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean and the Cari-Bois Environmental News Network. Through the art of storytelling, his ultimate goal is to bring attention to the pressing environmental challenges that surround us. Additionally, he devotes time to his personal blog, where he documents his immersive experiences in nature through detailed field journal entries.

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