New grant program for sustainable tourism

Robin Hayes, CEO president and director, JetBlue Airways Corporation, speaks at the 14th Annual Aviation Summit in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2015.
Associated Press / Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

JetBlue Airways has launched a grant program focused on sustainable tourism in the Caribbean.

Stating that education and the environment are key pillars of the airline’s corporate social responsibility platform, JetBlue said the grants will focus on using science to improve the travel experience for customers and communities now and into the future.

“These scholarships will bring college students into the conversation about climate change and highlight how important the responsible use of natural resources is to the economies and growth of the Caribbean region,” said the airline in a statement.

For the first year of the grant, JetBlue said it has partnered with the Washington-based nonprofit Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) to provide an opportunity for two students to attend the first-ever “Innovators Think Tank: Climate Change and Coastal & Marine Tourism” on July 22-24, 2015 at the Punta Cana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic.

The panel will highlight how the Caribbean can prepare its tourism sector to better deal with climate change, JetBlue said.

It said the Think Tank is bringing together a select group of invited participants, including leading practitioners in responsible tourism and climate change experts. The geographic focus of this invitation-only Think Tank is the Caribbean and North America, JetBlue said.

“Too often conferences and think tanks are out of reach for students. These grants will open the door to the community of students who have cutting edge ideas about sustainable tourism,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, head of sustainability, JetBlue.

“If tourism in the Caribbean is going to flourish through a changing climate and increased ecosystem pressures, the tourism industry and its brands are going to need support and ideas from universities and students”, she added.

Mendelsohm said the 2015 Think Tank is designed as an intimate, working session organized around a single critical theme, “How coastal and marine tourism must be planned, built and operated in an era of climate change.”

With this targeted focus, she said practitioners and experts will focus on tangible, hands-on climate change solutions for coastal and marine tourism.

“The choice is easy. The tourism industry can either be part of the problem or part of the solution in dealing with the realities of climate change,” said Martha Honey, CREST executive director.

“It is imperative that we engage the next generation in the solutions,” she added. “It’s time to take the blinders off much of our industry and get passionate young people involved in preserving not only tourism-related livelihoods and the environment, but our very existence.”

JetBlue said the outcomes of the Think Tank will be collected in a publication and showcased in a video documentary – “Caribbean ‘Green’ Travel”- both scheduled for release in late 2015.

The Think Tank publication will serve as a guide within the tourism industry, said JetBlue, adding that the educational documentary will illustrate the Caribbean, known for its large cruise and coastal resort tourism, and opportunities for socially and environmentally responsible travel.

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