A beach in Montego Bay Credit: Peter Edwards
It might seem that lounging on a Jamaican white sand beach would be the perfect way to pass an afternoon — or an entire vacation — but what impact do sun-seeking visitors have on the natural resources of the small island nation?
University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies (CMES) doctoral student Peter Edwards has thought a lot about that question lately. In May 2007, he received a $15,000 grant to study environmental tourism in his home country.
“Tourism is very important to countries like Jamaica,” he said. “It accounts for 36 percent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product.”
In 2006, approximately 1.6 million tourists visited the island, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut. But all those visitors can impact the environment, Edwards explained. For example, a lack of proper sewage treatment can create contaminated ocean water that harms ocean wildlife, and boats and divers can damage coral reefs.
Plus, Edwards noted, management of Jamaica’s natural resources is handled by government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and many of their management activities are inadequately funded. For instance, public education efforts and marine patrols to monitor fishing and diving require financial support that isn’t always provided.
Edwards is investigating a possible solution. He is studying whether visitors would be willing to pay an environmental surcharge that would benefit the reefs, beaches and waters affected by tourism. His work is supported by a grant from the Latin American and Caribbean Environmental Economics Program (LACEEP), an international organization that provides grants to Latin American and Caribbean researchers early in their careers. He also has support from the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica.
In a pilot study conducted in August, Edwards surveyed nearly 250 tourists departing Jamaica at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. He found that most were willing to pay a hypothetical environmental surcharge that would support the island’s environmental conservation efforts. However, his results showed that tourists’ generosity has limits. For example, his preliminary econometric model predicts that 46 percent of tourists who typically visit Jamaica would consider a fee of US$150 too expensive and this would cause them to go elsewhere for their fun and sun.
“You could earn a lot of money, but you would lose a lot of visitors,” he said, adding that in January he plans to use a refined version the 35-question survey from the the pilot study to seek 700 more participants to help refine his predictions for a realistic amount for a potential environmental surcharge.
“It is important that these resources be protected,” Edwards said. “Funds from an environmental surcharge could help us do that, but the potential impact of such a “tax” on tourist visitation rates would have to be considered.”
For more about UD’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, visit www.ocean.udel.edu.