Published 4 years ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: joakant (via Pixabay)
With 65% of the Caribbean’s reefs generating tourism dollars, the study reveals
an opportunity for tourism-associated businesses — such as cruise lines,
airlines and hotels — to work together to protect the region’s environmental health.
Tourism relies on having beautiful, natural and preserved destinations for
customers to visit; so healthy ecosystems are essential for airlines’ business
to continue to run smoothly. Recognizing this, in late 2014
JetBlue partnered with the
Ocean Foundation to examine the link between its own bottom line with
healthy ecosystems in destinations such as the Caribbean — the resulting
report marked the first time a commercial airline attempted to quantify nature's
wellbeing and directly correlated it to product revenue.
Now, JetBlue has partnered with The Nature
Conservancy on a
follow-up study examining the connection between natural resources and tourism,
particularly coral reef-adjacent activities — such as sailing,
diving and snorkeling. The results revealed that the Caribbean is
more dependent on tourism than any other region across the globe and highlights
new data on the benefits that coral reefs provide to the travel industry and the
Coral reef health is diminishing around the world due to pollution and climate
change. This report, also supported by
Microsoft and the World
Travel & Tourism
utilized machine learning and artificial
to quantify the significant value that reefs contribute to the Caribbean economy
through reef-adjacent activities and the direct connection on tourism. The value
of reef-associated tourism is estimated at more than $7.9 billion annually
from over 11 million visitors. This accounts for 23 percent of all tourism
spending and is equivalent to more than 10 percent of the region’s gross
Brain coral in Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia | Image credit: Daniel Hjalmarsson/Unsplash
This marks the second study funded by JetBlue to
measure Caribbean ecosystems and correlate it to travel industry
revenue. Reef-Adjacent Tourism Value in the
Caribbean analyzes the component
of the travel sector that depends on coral reefs but does not make direct use of
them in the way that diving or snorkeling does. Reef-adjacent tourism value
comes from beach activities, coastal views, delicious seafood and
tranquil waters for swimming and boating — many of the reasons people
flock to the Caribbean.
“The Caribbean and Latin America account for one-third of JetBlue’s flying. The
health and long-term growth of this region is directly tied to our bottom line,”
said Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability and ESG at JetBlue. “This
study proves the relationship between healthy coral reefs and tourism, and the
overall financial stability of the Caribbean. It’s time for conservation
organizations like The Nature Conservancy and the tourism industry to work
together on solutions to conserve the region’s resources.”
Key findings of the study that directly impact JetBlue and Caribbean tourism
The Dominican Republic and Puerto
two islands on which JetBlue is the largest airline, benefit from tourist
spending of more than $1 billion per year. This tourism revenue is directly
linked to reefs.
The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico receive more than one
million visitors per year whose visits are directly linked to coral reefs.
The top 10 percent highest-value reef areas each generate more than $5.7
million and 7,000 visitors per square kilometer per year. These reefs are
scattered in almost every country and territory in the region and have a
large proportion of high-value reefs, each with an average spend value equal
to over $3 million per square kilometer per year.
The countries most dependent on reef-adjacent tourism include many small
island nations and JetBlue destinations — like Antigua &
Barbuda, Bermuda and St. Maarten — where there may be relatively
few alternative sources of income outside of reef-associated tourism.
Only 35 percent of Caribbean reefs are positioned where they do not draw
revenue for the region’s tourism sector, indicating that there are little to
no options to expand reef-associated activities to new areas. Most of the
reefs not used for tourism are in remote locations.
The potential impacts to tourism in the Caribbean include climate change and
other threats to coral reefs, such as overfishing,
and coastal development. As tourism is an essential pillar of
all Caribbean economies, depletion of natural resources could lead to economic
With 65 percent of the Caribbean’s reefs generating tourism dollars, the results
reveal an opportunity for tourism-associated businesses — such as cruise lines,
airlines and hotels — to work together and continue to invest in protecting the
region’s environmental health.
“Scientific evidence shows that living corals in the Caribbean have declined
over 60 percent in just the last three decades alone. The Nature Conservancy is
currently deploying innovative solutions to protect and restore coral reefs
throughout the region; we must however move faster to outpace the current rate
of degradation and increasing threats to coral reefs,” commented Dr. Luis
Solórzano, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean.
“Millions of people in the Caribbean depend on coral reefs as a source of
livelihood, and the region is known as paradise to so many travelers from around
the globe. It is our responsibility to protect the natural wonders, like coral
reefs, that sustain both the Caribbean economy and tourism alike.”
The methodology for this study was derived from one of the most prevalent ways
people communicate today — social
Microsoft’s machine learning analyzed more than 86,000 social images and nearly
6.7 million text posts, for identifiers that indicated reef-adjacent activities.
The social media metrics were layered with traditionally sourced data from
government agencies and the tourism industry, such as surveys from visitor
centers, sales figures reported by travel-associated businesses and economic
data from government accounting systems.
“A more sustainable future depends upon our ability to better model, monitor and
manage natural resources like coral reefs, and that will require human ingenuity
paired with AI,” said Dr. Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at
Microsoft. “For this report, Azure Cognitive Services helped accurately
identify coral reef images throughout the Caribbean that were already available
on the internet so they could then be used in a tourism-based economic valuation
model. We’re proud to continue our work with The Nature Conservancy to enhance
conservation planning and economic modeling with the power of Azure and AI for
As a follow-up to this study, JetBlue is donating 50 flights to The Nature
Conservancy, for its scientists to travel to the region to further research and
help conserve coral reefs.
Published Apr 9, 2019 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST