(Photo Courtesy of STHM USP)
Earlier this month, the world came together to celebrate International Youth Day on the theme “Youth Engagement for Global Action”. My job requires me to work directly with Governments, private sector and many development partners, actors and organisations who play a part in the development of tourism in the Pacific. It may be a coincidence, but I was fortunate to be invited as a guest speaker at the TS311 – Sustainable Tourism Development class at the University of the South Pacific, Laucala Campus in Suva, Fiji on 10th August 2020.
Going into the lecture that morning, I was a bit unsure of the message I wanted to enforce and more importantly, how it will be received given the situation now with tourism at a standstill. The lecture went well and I hope I did not bore the students and Mr. Gow. Please forgive me if I did. Having reflected on it again watching my Facebook feed on International Youth Day on 12th August, I was reminded of the importance of positivity in adversity and for us to be doing our part, big or small, wherever we are, to contribute to a greater global impact.
In simplifying the concept of sustainable tourism, we discussed how crucial it was to recognise that for tourism to be sustainable, collective action is need to ensure that as an economic sector, tourism benefits reach far and wide, to those in the rural and marginalised communities and not letting the money stay in centers such as Suva or Denarau, or leave the shores of the Pacific in growing percentages every year. Rather that we ensure tourism can allow women selling handicrafts, families selling coconuts or fish on the roadside or farmers bringing their produce to the hotels, have access to those income streams. Importantly, tourism if not planned and managed well, unsustainable practices such as not building adequate waste management systems, the use of harmful cleaning chemicals and the increased consumption of single use plastics end up destroying the fragile coral reefs that marine life and our Pacific communities depend on for sustenance.
As a proud Pacific islander, I love sharing my culture with the world. However, I am also a strong advocate of safeguarding my culture and identity. As a victim of globalization and a carrier of the scars of colonization, I will not be forced to share parts of my culture that is ‘sacred’. For what I am able to share, I ensure it is authentic, because if I have love and respect for my own, those I share it with will also value and respect it. The underlying message is that for tourism to be sustainable, it has to provide income opportunities for our people and developed with love and respect for nature. It is as simple as that. People, culture, nature and development go hand in hand. The more we disrespect nature and lose our respect for it, the more devastating impacts we will have to shoulder in the future in the form of pandemics, climate change impacts, more frequent and intense extreme weather events. It is the same with tourism.
As a practitioner, I have been reminded of my role in preparing the youth of today with the information that they need to fully understand the successes and most importantly the challenges in development, for they will be the decision makers of the future and change makers of today. As was discussed at the lecture, tourism is a resilient sector. The pandemic has provided us with a golden opportunity to stop and reflect on how we have let tourism development evolve, and work together to build it back in better ways. Better Ways to benefit our People. Better ways to Protect the Environment. Better ways to make the Pacific become a global leader in Sustainable Tourism. I walked away that morning, saying a little prayer that the students in TS311 will find it in their workplaces in 2021 and beyond, that they can contribute to global impact, if they value people and nature.