The Caribbean island of Dominica is developing a sustainable tourism strategy that will be "less reliant" on its natural resources post-Hurricane Maria.
Colin Piper, chief executive of the Discover Dominica Authority, told TTG Dominica wanted to be the world’s "first climate change-resilient nation".
“We have to look at factors such as where properties are built, access to electricity and water and whether hotels can act as community shelters too.
“This needs to be a long-term plan, but the vision has been articulated. This should impact our tourism product and give some indication of what visitors can expect in the future. We are looking at being less reliant on our natural resources and add creative and cultural tourism offerings."
Last September Dominica suffered extensive damage from the Category 5 Hurricane Maria.
In response, Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit pledged last year to make Dominica a "model climate-resilient nation".
Piper said the tourism authority would next week release an update on the recovery of the island’s tourism sector six months on and its future plans.
“We accept the fact that product is compromised [following September’s hurricane] but we have done remarkable work in terms of getting the country to where we want right now,” he said.
All airlines serving Dominica are back although some are operating with reduced schedules, while ferry services continue as normal. Roads are 95% operational, while mobile phone service is running at 95% capacity and water supply is 80-85% operational too.
Piper said that the 41% of island’s hotel stock was now available. Secret Bay will re-open in November; Chez Ophelia will welcome guests from April 1 and Jungle Bay will re-launch with 120 rooms in the first quarter of 2019.
“Electricity is still an issue but crews are working to power the main grid. The goal was to have power up and running by April, but that may be pushed back a few months,” said Piper.
Piper confirmed that 19 out of the 23 Division of Forestry sites were open.
Champagne Reef remains accessible from the sea, and hikers are trekking to Boiling Lake though it is not yet officially open. Scotts Head remains closed.
“Mother Nature dealt the Nature Island a blow. But, if people want to see a rainforest in the fledgling stages of growth then they can. If we temper people’s expectations then we can still sell our nature experiences,” explained Piper.
He said that diving sites were mostly unaffected, however, some coral reefs closer to the shore were damaged by debris washed into the sea.
“People have already scuba dived, and they are just as impressed as before. I think this will form the next part of our voluntourism projects, to get the diving community to come down for a week or month to help with the clean-up.”
Before Hurricane Maria voluntourism was a “developing niche” said Piper, adding that the hurricane had merely “accelerated” its establishment.
UK operator MotMot Travel is selling voluntourism packages based at the Tamarind Tree hotel on the island’s west coast, which has adopted a segment of the Waitukubuli National Trail and is offering guests the chance to help clear the path of fallen vegetation.
“We [Discover Dominica Authority] want to develop a programme for skilled and unskilled travellers and we want to start with voluntourism packages with hoteliers that will benefit the community, workers, hotels and visitors,” Piper added.
The island will welcome new hotels throughout 2018 and 2019 too, said Piper.
The 120-room The Anichi Resort and Spa will open by late 2019 while the Cabrits Resort Kempinski is to open in the second half of that year too.
“If it all goes well, by the end of 2020 we’ll have a new landscape from a product perspective,” said Piper.
Scheduled festivals for 2018 will go ahead, including the World Creole Music Festival in October and the Jazz ‘n Creole celebrations in May.
Piper said: “We held Carnival too as it was an opportunity for the residents to exhale and spend some time with friends and family. However, we don’t want to seem like we are partying. Ultimately the celebrations are of economic value."
Piper offered advice for UK tour operators with clients still looking to travel to Dominica.
He said: “Speak to the DMCs. If everything is fine with them then you can still have a great experience in Dominica. If you use a tour guide then you will be fine.”
The nation welcomed 5,000 UK visitors in 2016 from a total of 70,000.