Red Stripe, Yellow Curry and Green Hotels

Sustainable Tourism in Jamaica

Stroll barefoot along Jamaica’s white sand beaches, get acquainted with dolphins in crystal-clear water, and ascend mystical mountain peaks through rainforest pathways. But before you arrive, make sure the place where you stay has made a commitment to preserving this biodiversity hot-spot for the future. Fortunately, recent efforts by hoteliers with a rare sense of foresight make that choice possible.

Most Jamaican resorts offer thatched-roof bars and warm sand beaches, but the best also limit energy and water consumption, as well as give back to their local communities.© Rebecca Bowe

Tourism brings in 25 percent of Jamaica’s gross national product, but it has also taken an environmental toll. Solid waste production, deforestation, wetland destruction, limited water accessibility for the locals and heightened greenhouse gas emissions are all linked to resort development.

According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program and Conservation International, "Tourism development regularly takes place in a rapid and unplanned manner, resulting in total landscape transformation in a very short period of time." In Jamaica, this trend is beginning to reverse as the tourism industry begins to map out a sustainable future.

A Line in the Sand

"The fact is that Jamaica attracts people looking for what they have lost back at home: a clean green and blue environment," said Karen Ford-Warner, deputy secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, addressing a crowd at the Second Annual Green Tourism Conference in the city of Montego Bay. "But how much longer will we be able to sell our clean green and blue environment? Where is that fine line to be drawn in the sand between generating revenues and incurring social and environmental costs?"

The conference was hosted by the Environmental Audits for Sustainable Tourism project (EAST), a collaborative initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has sponsored environmental audits at more than 70 Jamaican hotels. These audits helped to prepare 29 Jamaican hotels for Green Globe Certification, which is an international stamp of approval granted to hotels that have successfully reduced their energy and water consumption, limited greenhouse gas emissions and taken steps toward resource conservation.

Hotels around the world now give guests the option not to have their sheets and towels washed daily, saving detergent and water. But some Jamaican hotels go further by installing energy-saving, low-flow showerheads, using greywater for landscape irrigation, composting food scraps, installing light and air-conditioning systems that shut off automatically when a room is empty and using solar energy. "These green campaigns firmly reinforce our values and our unique Caribbean heritage," says Berthia Parle, president of the Caribbean Hotel Association.

The Extra Mile

While all-inclusive resorts such as Sandals and Half Moon Montego Bay have been awarded Green Globe Certification and made important gains in resource reduction, a few hotels are working to sustain the surrounding cultural environment as well. Jake’s Island Outpost on Treasure Bay in St. Elizabeth is one eco-friendly hotel where the welcoming vibe of surrounding Jamaican culture can be felt. "From the very beginning we’ve had a policy not to waste, to reuse and to make use of the sun," says Jason Henzell, manager of the artsy Jake"s.

Jake"s, the first establishment along the South Coast to be Green Globe Certified, has a partner nonprofit organization, formed to benefit local villages.

Jamaica’s Countrystyle Community Tourism Network offers "community experience packages" that take visitors into rural villages, small farms and private homes to connect with the people of the island, learn about local history and taste authentic cuisine. Eighty percent of the proceeds from Countrystyle Tours, such as Roots Jamaica or a Taste of Jamaica, goes back to the host villages. "Through community tourism, people realize what kind of assets they actually have," says Diana McIntyre-Pike, chairperson of the network.

Jamaica has a lot to offer to ecologically minded travelers. On the Chukka Blue Adventures Canopy Tour, adventuresome tourists can watch the rainforest canopy whiz past while harnessed to a zip-line.

YS Falls is a breathtaking series of cascades fringed by rainforest foliage where you can plunge right in to refreshing pools. The natural Green Grotto caves are a spectacular underground attraction with rock formations that serve as drums whose beats reverberate throughout the cavern.

"Development is more than just economic growth," says Aloun Assamba, Jamaica’s tourism minister. "We see the environment as our natural inheritance, and we need to promote, support and celebrate sustainable development."

REBECCA BOWE is an intern at E.