Tour operators in the Caribbean are among those thinking about how to make tourism more sustainable for communities in the future.
After Hurricane Maria raked Puerto Rico, one operator, the island’s Local Guest, launched a nonprofit organization called Love in Motion, dedicated to relief and rebuilding.
“In order to impact Caribbean communities through sustainable tourism, we need to help them recover first,” said Carmen Portela, co-founder and CEO of Local Guest.
Portela realized that long-term solutions would need to include industry stakeholders and community organizations working with localities to create sustainable tourism.
One project is helping to reconstruct the caves at Cabachuelas, where tourists can climb through a vast network of 60 subterranean caves. Love in Motion created a $95 excursion to help clean the caves so that travelers can come back, help rebuild homes and build a community garden and a pottery studio.
Pottery is a big part of the culture in the region, and Love in Motion has helped create tours in which local artisans offer demonstrations and sell their wares, while other locals prepare food from area farms for the visitors. Still more locals are being trained to be tour guides and interpreters.
“Every single component of that experience comes from the community,” Portela said.
Love in Motion also helped to rebuild a vintage hostel, Casa Mamilili, in the town of Comerio, 45 minutes from San Juan. Portela said the region has caves, mountains, rivers and a picturesque dam.
The group is also helping to build a community garden next to the hostel that will feed visitors and offer them products (fruits and vegetables) to buy.
“We think tourism can be the engine of economic development there,” Portela said.
Another project involves reconstructing El Malecon, the oceanfront pedestrian walkway in La Perla, the lower-income San Juan neighborhood that became newly popular when it was featured in the video for the massive hit song “Despacito.”
Love in Motion is working with other groups to get more solar energy infrastructure installed as part of the rebuilding so that the island won’t be as susceptible to power outages from future storms. It is also supporting projects to rebuild with cement instead of wood.
“Next hurricane season, these communities will be stronger,” she said.
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