Caribbean small-island tourism styles and sustainable strategies

This article focuses on developing a sustainable tourism in small Caribbean islands, defined here as those that have populations of fewer than 500,000. Such islands share a very fragile ecology and a high dependence on tourism. They differ in their degree of tourist penetration and visitor density and the related degree of environmental degradation.

To explain the link between tourism intensity and ecological vulnerability, the so-called "destination life-cycle model" is presented. This suggests that islands pass through three primary stages of tourist development: low-density exploration, rapid growth and consolidation, and high-density maturation involving the substitution of man-made for natural attractions.

A broad empirical test of the model is performed through a quantitative examination of the tourism characteristics and visitor densities of a cross section of 23 small Caribbean islands. The three basic stages or tourism styles are identified: low-impact emerging areas, high-density mass-market mature destinations, and rapidly growing intermediate islands in between. Some broad strategies consistent with the systems framework for a sustainable tourism with moderate densities are briefly explored.

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