Being Blue Washed

          The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) under the European Commission is a non-profit organisation that developed the Blue Flag certification for beaches and marinas which started in European countries in the later part of the eighties(80’s). Blue flag symbolises the compliance of beaches, marinas and boat operators in four major areas:  Environmental Education and Information Provision; Water Quality; Environmental Management; and Safety and Services. FEE has propagated around the world with as much as 3203 blue flag beaches and 646 blue flag marinas around the world that flies the blue flag pennant.

               In 2002, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) initiated a pilot project for referred to as the Caribbean Blue Flag campaign which FEE approved for one year 2004/2005 in five destinations: Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Bahamas. Since that time CTO, together with CAST (Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism) have initiated alliances to provide funding and support for eco projects for the region. Blue Flag criteria is very strict with clear mandates which must be met with before approving an applicant for the program.

Blue Flag is an eco-label which is not commonly known to many travellers except for a few “eco conscious” travellers, mostly Europeans, who are supportive of destinations concerned about its industrial, waste water or sewerage discharges in the ocean. Part of the programme includes posting of signs to alert the visitor of the safety and quality of the water at the beach.

Stakeholders such as tour operators, investors, resorts, B&B’s, restaurants, marinas and residents within the community are key players in ensuring the “health check” of the natural resource and will benefit from blue flag programme if implemented correctly and if sustained for a period of time.

Many first world destinations understand the stewardship involved in ensuring compliance for a sustainable tourism product and of course they will maximise on the blue flag label, as a primary marketing tool.

The cons of blue flag occur if compliance is ignored, as in the case of one the Caribbean destinations and several beaches in Ireland. In such circumstances Blue Flag will withdraw from the destinations with penalties, an advisory notice would be listed on their website and of course, destination marketing would have to reconsider communicating this change through various media.

Furthermore, destinations engaging the traveller of Blue Flag compliance must appreciate the traveller expectation, otherwise, be prepared for social media tirades for the removal of blue flag from the destination. Of course, if this occurs, then this communication would connote negative perceptions about the destination sustainability practices.

Destinations can be attain Blue Flag accreditation at an annual cost ranging from €2600 to € 5200 for membership; consultation Fees; annual visits; training for resident employees to name a few. These costs, levied on the state, requires a long term strategy incorporating annual financial budget for the international membership and consultations ,  marketing , and stewardship of the project which ought to be measured to show the population that there is a return on investment in the invested marketing tool.

The Caribbean region’s most “saleable” tourism resource, our beaches and our rivers have been effectively marketed for years, interestingly research has shown that Blue Flag has had an insignificant role in motivating visitors to the beach. In fact researchers claim that Blue Flag is of no real importance for bathers who enjoy remote beaches and diving experiences.

According to Vision 2020 report, Trinidad and Tobago have embraced two major eco labels Green Globe and Blue Flag since 2008.  The report disclosed that Maracas Beach Facility, Las Cuevas, Vessigny Beach Facility, Manzanilla Beach Facility, Store Bay Beach Facility and Pigeon Point Beach Facility would be hoisting the Blue Flag. Since this project was initiated consultants and appointed employees have been sponsored by the tourism public institution to facilitate the process and at a cost.  Today, the project is still in abeyance despite a recent proclamation in 2014 of a Tourism Development Company memorandum of understanding with an organisation, Ascelepius Green Team, empowered to implement the Blue Flag initiative.

If Blue Flag was accredited since inception, Trinidad and Tobago should have had established eco investors, better and cleaner environment, employment within communities, a saleable and marketable tool for tour operators and marinas, and if marketed correctly there would have been an increase in bound eco travellers to the destination.

But let us face reality, Trinidad and Tobago coastal facilities are besieged with stray animals, unkempt facilities and surroundings, unattractive concession areas, poor drainage issues, unsafe foot paths, contaminated rivers, poor recycling and dumping habits by vendors and visitors to the facility, life guard facilities that need improvements and many other related issues. Can Blue Flag really be implemented in our present situation? Are we being blue washed?

Trinidad and Tobago tourism authority have been complacent, relying on luck to safe guard its natural resource with a short term quick fix to mitigate any situation that may occur. For seven years what has Trinidad and Tobago done about Blue Flag and has there been consultations with stakeholders?

Has the Tourism sector considered collaborating with other state authorities (Marine Affairs, Local Government, Environmental Management Authority, Ministry of Environment and Water) and the private enterprise to engage in developing sustainable best practice? One can therefore only assume that there are resources, financial and otherwise for the recent 2014 proclamation of deliverables by the TDC.

Perhaps, the powers that be, should consider alternative solutions which will require organisational restructure and to some extent revisiting the Tourism Policy Framework before consulting with FEE.

Let me identify just one area of contention which require immediate revision, and that is to consider having one reporting body for the lifeguards and projects (such as Blue Flag).  In other words cluster all comparative operations to develop a Beach and Marina Facility Unit mandated to oversee the marinas, camp and fishing sites, concession facility, car park facility, allocated beach sport facilities, beach facilities (washrooms, changing rooms, chairs and umbrellas), lifeguards, life guard support units. In this way standards can be developed locally for our natural resources which will put the destination in a position, if necessary, to embrace the true concept of Blue Flag.

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