Silver award: Aruba
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish one Caribbean island from another, especially when it comes to photos of palm fringed beaches, rum cocktails and turquoise waters. However, some stand out in terms of their work to create a responsible tourism ethos throughout their island, and Aruba, one of the Dutch Antilles off the coast of Venezuela, is starting to glisten in that respect.
Aruba has a 2020 Vision, literally, to be totally independent of fossil fuels by 2020. And, given that over 70% of the economy is dependent on tourism, swimming pools, hot showers, air con and so on, that is pretty visionary. So much so that six other neighbouring islands have followed suit. And when we say islands, we mean islanders, because changing a way of life on a small island can only happen when islanders come on board. Which they are doing, not only for the greater good, it has to be said, but because they see that since 2012, when the Prime Minister launched this drive, people in business and in their homes have had their fuel costs fall by 15% as they invest in solar and, in many cases also sell excess back to the grid.
Aruba also has the world's first municipal streetcar system using hydrogen fuel cell technology, operating around the Oranjestad downtown area. Batteries are re-charged through wind or solar energy. Perfect for an island that is only 180kms² and where 20% of it is already protected as the Arikok National Park. Although we think it has still got a way to go in terms of integrating a responsible tourism ethos throughout both its website and island, Aruba is definitely one small island thinking big, and seeing the future clearly and cleanly with its impressive 2020 vision.
Silver award: Cyprus
Cyprus, with 2.4 million visitors every year, is tourism central. So it is reassuring when an island so devoted to hosting that many people every year, commits to taking serious steps towards being sustainable. The main step being that all hotels at 3* level and above, A class hotel apartments and tourist villages not only have to attain quality ratings from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, but sustainability ratings too. And these are not just about changing lightbulbs either. Cyprus, as an ancient island with UNESCO world heritage sites with history dating back eons, knows that if you are going to do something, you are in it for the long term.
Cyprus has a worldwide reputation for excellent agritourism products, but determined to show that responsible tourism can apply to norm as well as niche, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) has insisted that hotels get their sustainable acts together. So, in other words, they won't get their star ratings just for having x number of swimming pools, or x number of thread counts in their bed linen. They will be assessed and obliged to report on all their energy and water usage, their employment conditions, how much local produce and services they buy, and the efforts they make to tell their guests how they too can be more responsible on their holidays. And that doesn't mean asking them to forgo having their towels washed. That means promoting hiking, cycling, archaeological trails, local markets and so. Supported by a working partnership between the CTO, the UK's Travel Foundation and the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI), the mainstream tourism sector is sharing all the stuff that many of the agritourism businesses have been doing for years. Because, for an island to create change to this degree, the only way is to go back to grassroots, take their wisdom and knowledge and share it among all businesses and visitors.