Scuba-diving in the Florida Keys earlier this year, I came face to face with the biggest rainbow parrotfish I’d ever seen in my life.
With more than a million divers visiting the Keys each year, it is one of the most dived regions of the world. Yet Florida’s foresight in creating a marine sanctuary, installing several artificial reefs, and closely controlling fishing, is partly why my friend the parrotfish had grown so big and happy.
The Keys is living proof that destinations can welcome tourists on a large scale without those tourists destroying the very beauty that they come to see.
Other destinations have not always struck the balance between generating tourism revenue and protecting their culture and wildlife so well.
But as we heard at the Travel Foundation’s AGM, many countries are increasingly realising they must take responsibility for sustainability themselves.
I was interested to hear we’ll be seeing a different approach from the foundation itself in future, with a greater emphasis on working with local stakeholders.
It’s already paying off in Jamaica, where the foundation has garnered the support of local bodies and the national government on a Montego Bay-wide project.
And with Tui now committed to selling one of the small-scale products the Travel Foundation has assisted on – tours of the Rastafari Indigenous Village near Mo Bay – this is just the sort of turning point that’s required in order to make sustainable tourism products that generate real revenue.
For countries whose economies rely upon tourists and business travellers, airlift is the single biggest piece of the puzzle.
That’s why I’m particularly excited about our partnership with Routes, the global route development conferences where airlines and airports agree the new routes and capacity changes that shape where tourism will grow in the future.