Knowing where we are going is essential to draw the path we want to travel and achieve our final purpose. To make progress in this respect, La Gomera has set out to become a forum open to the participation of citizens with a clear objective: to build the future of the island among all.
For this reason, it welcomes these months a new debate formula, to listen and meet the demands of the residents and involved representatives of the six municipalities of the island. In these spaces, different topics that adapt to the reality of each area will be addressed, in which a review will be made of the path traveled and the next steps to be taken. Valle Gran Rey has been the first of the municipalities in which the Insular Development Forum 2018 has started, in which more than 200 people exchanged their vision in a fruitful debate on investments and sustainable tourism.
The chairman of the Island Council of La Gomera, Casimiro Curbelo Curbelo, thanked the broad participation in this first meeting, in which many proposals from the participants could be collected. Each of them will be studied in order to continue strengthening a sector such as tourism, which has become the engine of the island economy. In this regard, Curbelo reported on the measures that are being taken on an insular and also regional level. Among them, the legislative changes that allow to advance in the establishment of holiday homes, a type of offer that brings with it a distribution of the benefits that tourism leaves on the island, among all the inhabitants. True objective of any economic impulse worth its salt. The same applies to the law of the Green Islands, which seeks its own model based on a differentiated proposal.
Sustainable tourism was the subject of the debate and for this, it was attended by the professor of Marketing at the University of La Laguna (ULL), Ricardo Díaz Armas, in charge of opening this great round table. The speaker spoke about aspects such as the traditional roots that this activity has been acquiring in an island that is defined by its small size and limited population. Among them, he highlighted the ties of several generations of the same family to the island, since they have acquired the habit of visiting La Gomera periodically, especially in the case of tourists of German origin.
He also referred to the cruises. A segment of visitors which according to the teacher, “may not be considered to be of great profitability, but it has its importance in opening the door for one day travellers so that they decide to visit La Gomera later with major thoroughness. But in addition, one should not neglect the expense that they leave mainly in the establishments of San Sebastián or Valle Gran Rey, places where these large vessels call”, he said.
Tourism has acquired in La Gomera a fundamental importance and has become the basis of the economy. Over time, Gomerans have managed to create their own brand that characterizes the island, as it is to offer tranquility, a contact with nature, an ideal place to practice hiking and a flight of tourism in the most widespread sense of the term. The professor considers that the Gomerans have made this offer their own and defend it. “The issue now is to grow while maintaining the environment, culture, traditions and resources in perfect condition. But without losing the opportunity to make this activity profitable so that everyone wins, including the visitor”, he clarifies.
In this scenario, the commitment of the population to maintain this model and do everything possible to make tourists feel comfortable during their vacations acquires a relevant role. “The important thing is that we can all push in the same direction to maintain and strengthen La Gomera in a market as variable as tourism. In fact it is foreseeable that shortly there will be a fall in visitors throughout the region”, he says. For the professor, this meeting “has great importance in that the society of La Gomera must be aware of the need to support tourism as a sector that will have a greater boom during the coming years and that, in one way or another, ends up affecting others. The message must be transferred to the population that tourism is not only the future but also the present and that it is very difficult to replace it with any other”.
In the specific case of this Columbian Island, the truth is that at the moment there is not a high load or overcrowding, which affects the satisfaction of the visitor. The trend is that there is growth in the accommodation of rural houses or vacation rentals which add up to about 600 beds, which are contracted through certain platforms. “It’s an offer that has always been there and is now booming, but without indicating that there is an excessive encumbrance”, he explains.
Currently the professor is working on a project on the development of holiday rentals, its importance and impacts. He considers that there are pending issues that meet all the characteristics to be analyzed, such as the perception that residents have of tourists and the real benefits that this activity is producing.
Díaz Armas believes that the satisfaction of tourists arriving in La Gomera is high, “basically because the island has managed to maintain that touch of authenticity and attractiveness”. And that is precisely what sustainability means: offering an activity that everyone can participate in and without affecting natural and cultural values. In addition, the professor stresses that institutions such as the Island Council have always opted for this model with coherence and clarity. Proof of this is the adherence to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, the care of the Garajonay National Park or the declaration of the island as a Biosphere Reserve.
Hence he values the convening of the forum, as it allows to relay to the population, businessmen and politicians what is being done and why. Also, in order to convey the message it is essential to contribute ideas. “And furthermore, being aware that it is necessary to know where we are going. For this it is indispensable to communicate and listen to the greatest number of social spheres. Although not everything has to please everyone”, he adds.
The ULL itself has actively participated in the European Life program, which is now in its final stages, in which the Island Council, the Canarian Government and the Gomeran municipalities have also been involved, with the purpose of guaranteeing the conservation of the Garajonay. “These kinds of projects are what make us aware of the reality and the importance that society has when it comes to maintaining the activity of the National Park itself. The program has been an example of how we can all understand each other and work along the same lines”, he says.