Small Islands Developing States (SIDS)

Tourism in Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Tourism is a socio-economic pillar of SIDS and shall drive sustainable development and resilience. UN Tourism is committed to support the implementation of the Antigua & Barbuda Agenda for SIDS (ABAS).

SIDS are a top destination for millions of tourists each year. Their special geographical situation and their natural and cultural heritage richness make them unique for visitors.

At the same time, SIDS are confronted with a number of challenges and vulnerabilities such as limited resources and access to the global supply chain, high levels of debt and import costs, environmental fragility, external shocks and climate events.

Facts and figures

  • SIDS rely heavily on tourism for export revenues which provide much needed jobs and opportunities for development. In 2023, about 38% of export revenues in SIDS (excluding Singapore) came from international tourism, reaching up to 85% in some destinations. Export revenues were at 43% before the pandemic.
  • The pandemic hit SIDS hard causing significant job losses, decreased public revenue and hindering development, particularly affecting small and medium enterprises and informal workers. International tourist arrivals in SIDS declined by 76% in 2020 and 72% in 2021. Approximately USD 90 billion were lost in tourism export revenues from 2020 to 2022.
  • SIDS were among the destinations showing the fastest recovery form COVID-19. In 2023, SIDS received 36 million international tourist arrivals (+42% from 2022) with a recovery of 91% compared to 2019 levels and outpacing the global average (88%).
  • Direct GDP from tourism in SIDS ranges between 0.7% and 15.2%, noting a stark contrast with exports levels due to elevated economic leakages.

For more information, please access UN Tourism latest data insights on SIDS.

Transforming tourism in SIDS

  • To address economic leakages, value addition in key productive sectors like manufacturing, agrifood, fisheries and creative industries needs to be accelerated. This will support the retention of revenue and lead to broader diversification. Diversifying tourism experiences will also increase the attractiveness of SIDS destinations.
  • The creation of local, formal jobs shall be prioritized, integrating social protection mechanisms.
  • Circular business models are essential for efficient energy and water use and waste management in tourism operations. Adopting circularity as a core business model provides a strategic way to decarbonize and protect ecosystems.
  • Tourism must support the implementation of climate adaptation strategies, develop resilient tourism infrastructure and demand expanded insurance coverage for climate-related risks.
  • To achieve this transformation, tourism must be seamlessly integrated in national development strategies through a whole-of-government approach. Empowering local destination management organizations is necessary.
  • Exploring innovative financial mechanisms, such as nature-based financing and blue carbon initiatives is crucial to fund sustainable and resilient tourism development.
  • Tourism in SIDS shall support socio-economic development and preserve SIDS' environmental and cultural heritage for long-term resilience, placing people and planet at the core.

Antigua and Barbuda Action Agenda for SIDS – a Renewed Declaration for Resilient Prosperity

The outcome document of the Fourth International Conference on SIDS held in Antigua and Barbuda from 27th to 30th May, includes a clear call for tourism to promote resilient and sustainable tourism by:

  1. Minimizing pollution and waste, enhancing environmental awareness, conserving and protecting the environment, respecting wildlife, biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural diversity;
  2. De-risking investments, strengthening cross sector collaboration between tourism and other sectors, and modernizing the sector and related up and downstream services;
  3.  Raising awareness of the importance of resilient and sustainable tourism, including through the Global Tourism Resilience Day;
  4. Developing creative and innovative employment solutions, including for informal workers, to provide resilience to the workforce, taking into account national circumstances;
  5. Enhancing entrepreneurship, education and training in cultural and heritage management and preservation, and in specific domains of the creative industries; and
  6. Promoting and investing in the resilience of cultural heritage, traditions and customs, assets and infrastructure.

Previous SIDS conferences

As the UN specialized agency for Tourism, UN Tourism played a significant role at the United Nations Conference on Small Islands Developing States, held in Apia, Samoa, from 1 to 4 September 2014.
In view of this Conference, UN Tourism co-organized two Conferences on Sustainable Development of Tourism in Islands in September 2013 and February 2014 – respectively in Reunion Island and Nassau - to provide guidance to National Tourism Authorities and the international community. On the occasion of these Conferences two Declarations have been adopted – the Reunion Island Declaration on Sustainable Tourism in Islands and the Nassau Declaration on Tourism as a Key Sector for Development in Island States.
In Samoa, the UN Tourism delegation moderated the High-level side event of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination "The UN system partnering for the people of SIDS", held on 1 September. Sustainable economic development, climate change, disaster risk management and social development were the main thematic clusters discussed by the Executive Heads of the United Nations Agencies, Funds and Programmes. 
The UN Tourism delegation actively participated in the two-day Private Sector Partnerships Forum, which greatly facilitated interaction, knowledge sharing and best practices, and in the multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, which focused on the sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships, which was the overarching theme of the conference.
On the occasion of the Renewable Energy Forum, co-organized by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and New Zealand, a Joint Statement on Renewable Energy and Tourism was signed with the aim is to build a more sustainable, competitive and resilient tourism sector worldwide particularly in islands, including by encouraging investments in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions. 
On 3 September, the Prime Minister of Samoa, Hon. Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, received the UN Tourism/WTTC Open Letter on Travel and Tourism and said: "Sustainable tourism is an area that our government has placed much importance, as it holds key potential for future economic growth and social development. Great benefits from tourism are envisaged and have already been realized accounting for 20% of national GDP per annum. Sustainable Tourism supports employment, provides foreign exchange and builds the economy and it is still expanding the capacities of Samoa." He added: "We envisage a growing tourism sector that will lead in green growth development that engages our visitors and people to a Samoa that is recognized as a leading Pacific nation for Sustainable Tourism."

In 2005 UN Tourism organized a Tourism Side Event in conjunction with the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Port-Louis, Mauritius, from 10 to 14 January 2005 and provided inputs to the Mauritius Strategy, which elaborates on a wide variety of actions under 20 broad headings, most of them with implications for the tourism sector, ranging from climate change and natural and environmental disasters to resource management (coastal, marine, land, energy, tourism and biodiversity), transport and communication, graduation from least developed country status, sustainable capacity development and sustainable production and consumption.

UN Tourism actively participated in the United Nations Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS (Barbados, 25 April to 6 May 1994) and successfully encouraged delegates to focus on tourism in the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA).

In 1998 the International Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other Islands was convened jointly by UN Tourism with UNEP in Lanzarote, Spain (Final Report - PDF). Based on its resolutions, regional meetings were organized in collaboration with UNEP such as Sustainable Tourism and Competitiveness in the Islands of the Mediterranean, Island of Capri, Italy, 17-20 May 2000 (Final Report - PDF) and the International Conference on Sustainable Tourism in the Islands of the Asia-Pacific Region, held in Sanya, Island Of Hainan, China, 6-8 December 2000.

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