Responsible tourism in Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia has for the most part avoided the fly-and-flop beach vacation clichés, becoming known instead for its natural beauty, hiking and birdlife. While resorts do exist, the strict controls on the height of buildings plus the “Queen’s Chain” – a historical law declaring that all land within 57 metres of the high tide mark belongs to the people of Saint Lucia, who must be granted access – have ensured development is controlled and inclusive. That being said, the number of resorts crowding the northern shores mean that seekers of nature and solitude should head elsewhere on the island.

Bananas were Saint Lucia’s largest source of income for decades, but this has been overtaken by tourism, which accounts for 65 percent of GDP. The big question is whether it can retain its niche, high-end share of the market. Saint Lucia may be a beautiful Caribbean island, but around a fifth of its population lives below the poverty line and is extremely vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as well as world events outside of their control; the drop in visitors following 9/11 resulted in bankruptcy for many businesses.

On an island with more than three times as many tourists as residents, all visitors have a lasting impact on Saint Lucia’s environment, its economy and its culture – and with that comes a responsibility to ensure that the impact is a positive one.

People & culture

Saint Lucia Heritage Tourism

Saint Lucia’s Heritage Tourism Programme was founded in 1999, with the aim of celebrating local culture and putting tourist money into local pockets. This, in turn, supports the conservation of Saint Lucia’s unique heritage; from cocoa plantations and Creole cuisine to vibrant festivals and Amerindian archaeology. Local people are encouraged to become tourism entrepreneurs, and to feel a sense of pride for their Caribbean culture. Creating employment and opportunities in remoter parts of the island also reduces the migration of young and educated people to the north, spreading the wealth to where it is most needed.

What you can do
Perhaps a better question would be – what can’t you?! Saint Lucia’s heritage is varied – with little explored natural attractions and a fascinating and inviting culture.

October is Creole Heritage month. Communities across the island are selected to host events, organised by the Folk Research Centre. The highlight of the month is International Creole Day – Jounen Kweyol – celebrated in Creole-speaking nations worldwide. If you’re not visiting in October, you can still discover Creole culture at Fond Latislab Creole Park near Castries – which brings Creole tradition to life. See how the Amerindian staple – cassava bread – is prepared, learn how to cook with macamboo leaves, and discover laborious construction methods used to build houses before power tools existed. Fishing, Chak Chak music and dancing are some of the other Creole traditions to explore. Enjoy the cooling evening breezes in the village of Dennery, where the fresh catch of the day is prepared using traditional techniques in coal pots and barbecues. The weekly seafood fiesta is held each Saturday from 4pm, served to a musical backdrop of soca and zouk. Anse la Raye is a deprived area of Saint Lucia – but steps have been taken provide training and promote this gorgeous village to tourists. Its weekly Friday Night Fish Fry is now hugely popular, heaps of fun – and provides regular income for dozens of vendors from the village. Head to this mini festival for fresh fish and calypso – it kicks off at around 6:30pm. Visit plantations for guided tours by the farmers – you can learn how to husk a coconut, make chocolate and roast coffee.

All inclusive & cruise ships

Two of the least responsible tourism models exist in Saint Lucia – all inclusive resorts and cruise ships. Both bring large numbers of people to the country, but with little benefit to the local economy. All inclusive resorts generally create limited local economic advantages and have a large environmental footprint.
Large cruise ships are another mass tourism offender. There are numerous ways in which these floating cities impact negatively on the destinations they visit and on the oceans themselves. They disgorge thousands of tourists at Saint Lucia’s cruise ship terminal, which stresses infrastructure but delivers little economic benefit. They are polluting and often have a bad record when it comes to treatment of staff. Find out more about why we don’t support or market vacations on large cruise ships.
What you can do
If you like the idea of a resort, seek out those that operate responsibly. The best resorts build a loyal and skilled local workforce, reduce energy costs and waste, source fresh local produce and offer an exciting range of sensitively planned excursions. This model benefits the destination, the local people and the tourists.
You won’t struggle to find small, locally run accommodation in Saint Lucia either, so do seek that out as an alternative to resorts and all inclusives. These not only keep money within the local community, they deliver a really personal and intimate experience of the destination.

Wildlife & environment

Back from the brink

The saving of the Saint Lucia parrot – whose numbers were once as low as 100 – is a Saint Lucia success story. The island’s only parrot – which also happens to be one of its five endemic species – has gone from being hunted to being a national hero, the national bird and a tourist draw. But many endangered species inhabit Saint Lucia’s forests and surrounding ocean, and their survival will be due to both local awareness campaigns as well as responsible tourism.

One example is the sea turtle. Green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles nest annually on Saint Lucia’s shores, their tiny hatchlings emerging weeks later. Illegal sand mining, the poaching of eggs and of the turtles themselves and being accidentally caught in or injured by fishing nets all threaten these creatures, but the fantastic work of committed conservation groups created in collaboration with the Saint Lucia National Trust is ensuring a safer future. They raise awareness in local schools and communities, and campaign for harsher penalties on those found to be breaking the law. They also organise nightly patrols to watch over the nesting leatherbacks in the Grande Anse Marine Reserve.

Further inland, there are a number of reserves which protect Saint Lucia’s rainforests and mountains. Edmund and Quilesse Forest Reserves protect thousands of acres of tropical rainforest and are managed by the forestry department, who can issue trekking permits and assign expert local guides. The Millet Bird Sanctuary shelters all five of Saint Lucia’s endemic bird species; all of these protected areas offer walks of varying lengths and difficulty, and the chance to learn about endemic plants and their medicinal uses.

Offshore, the Maria Islands Nature Reserve protects two tiny islands with their endemic reptiles and nesting birds – plus the surrounding reefs. Local fishermen take visitors and guides to the island for fascinating day tours.

*Source: Saint Lucia Times, 2014

What you can do
Visiting any of the reserves or sanctuaries listed above provides income to fund rangers, research and management of these protected areas. Doing so with a local guide also supports local naturalists – and demonstrates the value of nature-based tourism.

Take a step further by donating money to one of the sea turtle conservation initiatives – or take a sea turtle tour with accredited guides, and your money will go back into the initiatives that are helping to protect these creatures. Alternatively, volunteer on the night patrols – counting eggs, marking nests, measuring the turtles and deterring poachers.
James Crockett, from our supplier Jus’ Sail, highly recommends supporting local initiatives: “The Grande Anse Sea Turtle Conservation project is well worth supporting, they are now receiving donor assistance and need visitors. The Mankote Mangrove project near Vieux Fort should be up and running by winter 2015 – and will also be worth supporting.”

Responsible tourism tips

Keep it local – whether staying in a guesthouse, eating local food, buying Saint Lucian art and crafts or trekking with a local guide. You can also take cooking classes and tour plantations – as well as visiting local festivals and events. Ask around for recommendations once on the island to keep it super local.
James Crockett, from our supplier Jus’ Sail, highly recommends trekking with a local guide: “Certainly do a hike in the rainforest, with a certified and registered guide, who tend to be excellent, passionate and dedicated.”
As with all small islands, there are issues with waste disposal. Never drop litter, be aware of the waste you are creating (bringing reusable bags rather than depending on plastic carrier bags, and returning glass bottles to shops and bars, for example) and take hard to dispose of items – such as batteries – home with you when possible. If diving or snorkelling, never touch fish, coral or turtles, and be careful not to step on the coral. It can take decades to regrow. Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean that breed voraciously and threaten all other reef species. Their numbers are increasing and they are reducing native fish numbers by up to 80 percent. However, they are tasty – and a number of local restaurants have begun serving them up. This gives fishermen an incentive to catch them – and the more people that order lionfish, the more restaurants are likely to follow suit. This also reduces the crazy amount of fish that is imported from the US – as well as taking pressure off of local species such as lobster and conch. If you’re feeling more intrepid, some of our operators offer diving and conservation trips aimed at spearing these creatures; you’ll get trained in how to use your spear, how to avoid the venomous spines – and have the satisfaction of taking these mean predators out of Caribbean waters. There are an estimated 25 species of cetaceans in Saint Lucia’s waters. If taking a dolphin or whale watching tour, choose your operator carefully and ask them questions about their commitment to protecting wildlife. They should have a good understanding of dolphin and whale behaviour, keep a good distance from the animals and never chase them or split a pod. They should also never feed them, or crowd round when there are other boats present. See our Dolphin watching and Whale watching travel guides for more tips on how to ensure you’ve booked a responsible tour. Never buy souvenirs made from feathers, shells, turtle shell or other items that have potentially come from endangered species.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Matt Wade] [cruise ships: Prayitno ] [Sea turtle: Rob & Ana]