Many times in Bávaro and Punta Cana, words such as ecotourism, sustainable tourism, ecological tourism or green tourism are mentioned; the destination is even sold with some of these paradigms. However, is this district really a destination that promotes sustainable tourism?
Before starting to look for answers, it is convenient to understand the meaning of “sustainable tourism”. In the definition of this topic provided by the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) we read that it is a work that “seeks to develop its activity generating a minimum impact on the environment”. Without detracting from the work being done by hotel chains in the area to promote sustainable tourism, it is worth asking: Do they know the meaning of ‘sustainable’, are they educated about it, do they recycle, do they contribute to ecotourism?
When asked these questions to Felipe Beltrán, CEO of Ecoservices Dominicana, a pioneer company in the area in environmental tourism development, the answer was “not right now”, however, he understands that the first steps have begun to be taken. “We are a little behind what is happening in the rest of the world and in other destinations,” he says.
“We are a little bit behind, the community as well. Everything goes on the side of education, we have to make it mandatory in the basic cycles of schools so that everyone understands what sustainability is, taking care of the environment, and also social responsibility. All these kinds of things have to come from education,” said Beltrán.
Are environmental and sustainability talks given in Verón-Punta Cana schools?
When consulting with an average number of school principals, the answers were in the same tenor: “A few years ago they did, but not nowadays,” said Carlos Perozo, principal of the Cabeza de Toro school. While the rest of the principals gave a simple “no” as an answer to the question of whether they have received environmental talks from the Environmental Management Unit (UGAM) of the Veron-Punta Cana District Directorate.
This was confirmed with Hochi Echavarria, in charge of the UGAM, who sincerely expressed that this department is currently functioning only for complaints and inspections, since it does not have a large staff to attend to cases, much less to give talks.
In this regard, according to Ramón Ramírez ‘Manolito’, district director of Verón-Punta Cana, the last times environmental talks and waste management were held in schools and communities in the district was in 2019 when the Dominicana Limpia program, created in the previous government, was operating. “We started with Dominicana Limpia the waste separations but unfortunately it fell through and we could not follow up…The citizen orientation program fell through; they were paid for by Dominicana Limpia through the Dominican Municipal League,” said ‘Manolito’.
Recycling is not taking place in Verón-Punta Cana
In the last accountability of the District Directorate, ‘Manolito’ pointed out that in Verón-Punta Cana some 550 tons of garbage are being generated daily, but the answer as to whether recycling is taking place in the district was “no”.
Despite the fact that Ecoservices Dominicana is a recycling center, there is no type of relationship between them and the municipality. “We believe that there are many possibilities to improve those relations and work more hand in hand; in fact we have made many times the proposal of educational alliances and create selective collections to help them with the selective collection, since we have the problem that there are no zafacones but we do not have a selective collection either, since we do not do anything,” Beltrán pointed out.
Likewise, ‘Manolito’ indicated that years ago several labeled waste sorting bins were installed, but “unfortunately it didn’t work because people used them as a dumping point”, a situation that continues to occur to this day.
Macao Beach has waste classification tanks but there is no education about it.
After visiting the different public beaches in the area, among them Cabo Engaño, Cabeza de Toro, Bibijagua, Jellyfish, Los Corales, El Cortecito and Macao, only the latter has garbage classification tanks (one tank for organic waste and another for plastics and other waste). But despite the fact that this is the only public access beach in Veron-Punta Cana that has at least nine stations of waste sorting bins, people do not use them properly and they look abandoned.
In this regard, the president of the Association of Vendors and Fishermen of Macao Beach (Asovpesmu), Aracelis Valdez, said: “If there is something we Dominicans do not have, it is education with the garbage”.
But the problem of the lack of environmental education in the tourist zone does not seem to have a solution, since there is no recycling in the locality because there are no waste sorting trucks.
“There is little education, but it wouldn’t do much good if they were educated because the equipment doesn’t have the capacity to separate them, it doesn’t make sense. It will all end up in the landfill together,” said Odalis Carela, owner of the Mariel restaurant in Playa Macao and a local politician.
And yes, it is true that Verón-Punta Cana does not have waste separation trucks, but only 18 dump trucks and compactors. Although the district director pointed out that there are two of them that have two mouths to separate the garbage but they are in disuse for recycling.
“First we have to educate people to separate waste, second we have to give them the tools to separate it and third we have to create a selective collection that we do not have at the moment,” said the CEO of Ecoservices.
Lack of awareness about the use of recycling bags
The lack of awareness in the use of recycling bags in the supermarkets of the tourist area is another point that keeps Veron-Punta Cana from being an environmentally sustainable destination.
In a tour of the five supermarkets in the locality, only in the Olé and Nacional supermarkets there were recycling bags available to avoid the consumption of plastic bags, noting that in Olé they are visible and within reach of the consumer, while in Nacional they are handled by the cashiers and are not in plain sight, which avoids arousing the interest of people to buy such bags.
Meanwhile, the Jumbo and Sirena supermarkets did not have recycling bags. When consulting with personnel of the establishments, they stated that they had not received them for a couple of weeks.
Almacenes Iberia, on the other hand, although it has a sign that motivates that the “proper use of the bags saves lives” and calls for the care of the environment, “has not had recycling bags for sale for a long time”, according to employees of that establishment.
The cost of these bags is DR$ 25.00 in the Olé supermarket and DR$ 45.00 in the rest of the establishments.
What does local tourism think about environmental education and sustainability in Verón-Punta Cana?
For this report, an attempt was made to contact the director of the local Ministry of Tourism, Carlos ‘John’ Espinal, but it was not possible to arrange an interview, so we spoke with Oscar de la Cruz, in charge of the Tourism office, who only limited himself to giving his personal opinion, since he pointed out that the information about that ministry is handled “upstairs”, that is, what is made public on the Mitur web page.
However, he indicated that the office of the local Ministry of Tourism “is a simple channel” where requests from the district are managed, which are sent to Santo Domingo and enter a process of analysis and approval, so little or nothing can be said that local tourism executes on the environmental particular. But De la Cruz considers that in the area “it is possible to speak of sustainable tourism, since the ministry has invested in the subject of sustainability”.
When mentioned about the non-existence of waste classification tanks in the area, De la Cruz specified that this “is a City Hall issue. We are the ministry that must make sure that everything works. We cannot interfere in the work of another autonomous institution such as the City Hall and we cannot impose things on it”.
Meanwhile, an attempt was also made to talk to the provincial director of the Environment, Joselo Severino, and although he said he would agree to an interview, he never responded. However, the information handled about this ministry in the locality during Severino’s position is precise and dates back to last March, when the environment was seen acting in relation to the inspections of people who were caught setting fire to plots of land, but beyond that there is no work to be highlighted from this ministry.
Sustainability only in the hotels, and the community for when?
In some of the hotels in Veron-Punta Cana it is possible to talk about sustainability, since many of them are ecofriendly: they recycle, reuse, use renewable energy and make considerable efforts to be environmentally friendly. However, the Minister of Tourism, David Collado, announced last April at the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange (DATE), that in May a resolution would be issued to promote sustainable tourism, which contemplates the reduction of the use of plastics in hotels, but everything is still focused on the hotel level and has nothing to do with the community in general.
In that sense, Beltrán considers: “we have to accelerate the pace so that sustainability is not only a tourist concept as it already exists through the hotel corporations that have their own environmental agendas, but also the State; the municipalities have to walk at the same pace”.
The mayor of Veron, for his part, understands that in terms of sustainable tourism “we are not at one hundred percent, but we are making progress”.
This shows that this destination as a community is far from sustainable tourism at the societal level, so although the efforts of the hotels are applauded, it is also essential to create orientation programs in the communities that promote awareness and environmental care.
As for schools, it is essential to reinforce environmental education, as well as in churches and neighborhood councils, because the more people are aware, the greater the impact on the Veron-Punta Cana municipal tourist district and therefore in the Dominican Republic and the world.
Work on a tourism alliance between hoteliers and tourism companies with a real commitment to care for the environment, as well as that the public authorities create plans for the integral management of solid waste.
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