Private Sector Partnerships in Tourism and Fisheries: Critical for Pandemic Recovery in Small Islands

NEW YORK, 23 - 24 June 2021 – As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face an uphill battle as they struggle with the socio-economic fallout from the crisis. 

Ocean-based sectors that provide essential jobs and livelihoods for islanders – especially tourism and fisheries - have been hard hit.  

Tourism suffered an estimated 70% drop in travel receipts in 2020. It is estimated that it could take up to four years to recover to 2019 levels. 

For many SIDS including Cabo Verde, Kiribati, Maldives, Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu, seafood alone accounts for 70% of all exports of goods.  

During the pandemic, SIDS governments in the Pacific temporarily suspended the presence of observers to monitor the activities of foreign fishing vessels in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). This was an effort to minimize contact between their citizens and foreigners to prevent introducing the virus to their populations.  

However, the lack of monitoring that ensued has increased the risk that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which costs the region millions of dollars in lost revenue every year, can continue without oversight. 

In addition, the pandemic forced many Pacific islanders from urban centers to their villages with the potential for added pressure on coastal fisheries as people supplement lost incomes with subsistence fishing. 

Given the severe impacts on the tourism and fisheries sectors in SIDS, the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and the World Ocean Council held a webinar series focused on how private sector partnerships can be created and deployed to tackle them. 

The webinars shared lessons learned from across the three SIDS regions: Pacific; Caribbean; and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS).  

While SIDS face an uphill battle in overcoming the impacts of the pandemic, the webinars demonstrated that the SIDS private sector, with limited resources, has made crucial progress in building resilience in their respective regions.  

In tourism-related discussions, regional experience was shared on recovery plans by SIDS in the Caribbean and AIS regions aimed at re-booting the tourism industry.   

Several SIDS, including Dominica, Barbados, Aruba and the Bahamas, have launched remote working visa programs to attract so-called digital nomads - professionals liberated from their offices by the pandemic and keen to find a new pace of life in beautiful locations.  

Participants also heard how some small businesses were able to stay open during the pandemic, for example small owner-operated eco-friendly resorts, whose small size and green credentials allowed them to capitalize on fewer tourists. Larger chain resorts, on the other hand, struggled to stay open due to reduced demand. 

During the discussions focused on fisheries, participants reflected on challenges facing the industry, from disruptions in exports due to grounded planes and closed borders to hugely reduced tourist numbers and subsequent decline in demand for fish in local restaurants and resorts. 

The disruption to fisheries even caused food insecurity throughout the Pacific where 80% of households eat fish at least once a week. As a response, several Pacific SIDS have increased investments in local aquaculture, particularly farmed tilapia, to help offset reduced food imports due to closed borders.  

Furthermore, the job losses that pushed islanders from urban areas back to villages has led to an unexpected revival of traditional food preservation practices, as city dwellers couldn’t buy their supplies of imported ready-to-eat foodstuffs. 

The webinar series is part of activities by UN-OHRLLS under its SIDS Global Business Network, an initiative launched in 2014 to promote dynamic business sectors in SIDS that are driven by innovation, inclusive economic growth and job creation in line with the SAMOA Pathway and the Sustainable Development Goals