1Martinique, an island of the French West Indies, has really opened to tourism in the 1980s with a classic offer cantered on the coastal resources around a few international hotel complexes. The regional competition was limited: the Greater Antilles islands were still discrete, Cuba was not on the tourist map ... The destination has emerged rapidly in the Caribbean tourism landscape: it was still the era of the Cold War, North American tourists mix with elites coming from mainland France, the presidents of the United States and France held discreetly their bilateral meeting. Three decades later, the situation has evolved considerably. Regional competition is tough between the destinations of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Dominican Republic) that open to seaside mass tourism, making economies of scale that are not able to compete the smaller island destinations. To these add up the "cheap" destinations that market inexpensive products because of their low standard of living and their reduced labor and revenue costs (such as Dominica and Saint Lucia). French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, without original position, confronted with an advanced aging of their tourist facilities are therefore facing strong competition.
2The decline of the destination of Martinique was studied by Dehoorne (2007) who spotlighted “the setbacks of tourism in Martinique”, followed by Dehoorne, Furt and Tafani (2011); Parent (2015) highlighted the issues around the tourist revitalization of brownfields in Martinique and Dehoorne et Theng (2015) showed the wear out of the model and the loss of attractiveness of the destination. It is in this context that public policies and sparse initiatives of tourist-related stakeholders address the possibilities of ecotourism, in a perspective of sustainable tourism (Breton, 2001; Dehoorne and Augier, 2011; Theng, 2012).
3The purpose of this reflection is not to resume the analysis of the tourism context of Martinique, but to enrol in the extension of the various studies on the decline of the destination. Initially, therefore the scope of possible around ecotourism will be examined, between theory and pragmatism, and secondly, to follow the experiment conducted in ecotourism by the Martinique commune of Sainte-Anne.
4Ecotourism is often presented as the ultimate solution - the long awaited cure! - which should help build economic development, management of the environment and the welfare of host communities differently (Goodwin, 1996; OMT, 2002; PNUE, 2002; Lequin, 2001, 2002). The concept of ecotourism is part of a sustainable development approach which results from an awareness of the fragility of natural resources, the need to protect the environment and manage potential usage conflicts between the usual activities of local populations and new tourist and recreational practices. As Cazes (2004: 20-21) spotlights, « alternative tourism is a rejection of existing ideas considered not adequate and obsolete » is characterized by the search for a new authentic and original experience, and includes segments such as cultural tourism, adventure tourism, ethno-tourism and ecotourism.
5The origin of the term ecotourism varies according to specialists. Wall, in Encyclopedia of Tourism (Jafari, 2000: 165-166), emphasizes the different apprehensions of this concept according to the goals granted for it: in terms of marketing, we tend to put more emphasis on the construction of tourism supply seeking productions that have a lesser impact on the tourism output, with lesser impact on the environment (Blamey, 1997, 2001). Other specialists bring to the forefront concerns about the protection of the environment from which they design planning forms of the natural support by providing tailored ecotourism practices (eg. the discovery of the richness of a forest through an air route walking on the treetops) (Couture, 2002). In theory, all these steps should join, but we should not neglect the expectations of tourists in search of games, entertainment, sensations. These urban clients lay a new attention on nature, and the environment at large. They are attracted by ecotourism, but they are far from ready to give up their comfort and their usual selection criteria. The discrepancy between the marketing approaches, environmental management (with its educational dimension) and desires of tourists may explain, in part, the marginal role played today by ecotourism in global tourism practices despite the growing view in the media and a specific fashion in official speeches.
6Hector Ceballos-Lascurain (1983) places nature in the heart of the tourism project: « travel to undisturbed natural areas in order to explore, admire and enjoy the scenery, plants and wildlife that inhabit them as well as past and present cultural events specific to those areas». The author emphasizes the proximity sought with nature, original culture and a certain form of encounter. In 1991 he completes the definition by including education in the ecotourism approach with "the inclusion of an educational component and implementation status of protected natural areas" (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1991).
7The commune of Sainte-Anne covers 3842 hectares and has twenty-two kilometres of beaches bordered by fifteen kilometres of forests. Early on, this commune has seen the construction of large hotel complexes that have somehow gripped the former village: south of the Anse Caritan and northwest, on the Pointe Marin with Club Med (cf. photo 1). These hotels could be synonymous with jobs and revitalization for this aging commune of 5000 inhabitants, unable to retain younger people due to the lack of jobs.
8St. Anne stands out in the landscape of Martinique by its commitment to ecology and environmental protection. The municipal team that arrived at the helm of the city in 1989 is mainly composed of environmental activists who led major battles for the safeguarding of natural and historical heritage of Martinique in the ASSAUPAMAR (an environmental group very committed politically). This situation is somewhat paradoxical, because the commune of Sainte-Anne is the most touristic of the island. There was a reaction from the local population who refused to get overwhelmed by tourism development that would asphyxiate its living space.
Figure 1. The commune of Sainte-Anne and the Marin bay
Source : Atlas de la Baie du Marin – Espace Sud, travaux internes
9Since 1995, the municipality has initiated a reflection for the development of a sustainable and inclusive development plan (PMA) in Sainte-Anne to undertake sustainable development projects likely to support the economy and employment while respecting the identity of the place and protecting natural areas. Indeed, the uncontrolled urbanization has led to a diffusion of individual homes, often with a tourist function (secondary residence or various locations) to the detriment of the fragile ecosystem. The territory of St. Anne, open to the Atlantic coast (west coast) and the canal of Dominica and the Marin Bay (southern and eastern coasts), identifies four ZNIEFF (Zone naturelle d’intérêt écologique faunistique et floristique - natural area of ecological interest for fauna and flora) three APB (Arrêté de Protection de Biotope - Biotope Protection Order), four natural reserves, a bird sanctuary and the only RAMSAR site of Martinique. The issues around the environment and biodiversity protection are fundamental in this county which is home to the most popular beaches of Martinique, foremost among them the Salines beach (with nearly 2.5 million visitors per year, it is the third most visited natural monument of France) (see photos 1 and 2).
10Of the twenty-five most visited beaches of Martinique, twelve are located on the only commune of Sainte-Anne. The tourism and real estate is a considerable pressure on this territory which is fundamental for the natural heritage of the entire Martinique. Since 2001, the town of Sainte-Anne has implemented its PDDS (emphasizing the solidarity dimension too often neglected in the policies of "sustainable development"). In 2003, St. Anne launches First Agenda 21 for Martinique in the continuity of PDSS. Actions involving social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions and requirements are defined and supported financially within the framework of this strategic thinking Agenda 21. This consultation led at the heart of the local community, led the following year, 2004, to the definition of an environment Charter of the town of Sainte-Anne. Tourism is of course at the heart of the concern, as an economic sector likely to support the development of the commune and as a factor of degradation of natural resources.
11As part of the Environmental Charter and Agenda 21, the local community opts for diversifying its economy. This involves favoring several economic niches likely to support the local economy and develop synergies between business sectors. Thus, the program aims to support local agriculture, through small farms that favor a sustainable approach, both in breeding and citrus production, positioning itself on the organic market. In this context, wetlands (see photo 8) are rehabilitated that disappear under the influence of urbanization. Now, besides the richness of their environment, they prove to be valuable outlets when it comes to absorbing the brutal rains that flood the town. The artisanal fishing sector has also helped in connection with the requests of some small local restaurants; the municipality is working to provide premises for commercial purposes in very favorable terms to support the activity of the village and local employment. Seasonal rentals are networked and promoted by the town. Agritourism, as a form of farm activities’ diversification is also included in an integrated tourism approach stimulating the networking of local producers.
Photo 1. Aerial view of Club-Med on the Pointe-Marin (commune of Sainte-Anne)
Source: Dehoorne – 2007
12The hotel occupies the peninsula of Point Marin at the end of the Bay of Marin. This former mangrove area replanted with coconut trees is particularly exposed to coastal erosion that requires a regular reloading of its beach with sand that opens to the Diamond Rock; this is a must-postcard landscape for the tourist crossing to Martinique.
13The town of Sainte-Anne identifies some fifty kilometers of marked trails spread and ten hiking trails between forests and beach laid out on its territory. The path that makes the reputation of the town is the one that begins at the most famous beach of the island (1200 meters of sandy beach lined with coconut palms and sea grapes; see photo 3). The trail continues through a series of small coves that lead to the Savane des Pétrifications (see photo 2) which has some old salt marshes. Contrasting with other forest formations of Martinique dominated by moisture, freshness and lush, the ecosystems of the southern end of the island include xeric formations of sandy clay soils. The presence of iconic candle cactuses gives the impression of traveling in western setting. The tour continues to the popular Anse Trabaud for board sports (surf, windsurf, bodyboard ...) and joins the Cap Chevalier and Cape Ferré after a hike of more than fourteen kilometers (cf. photo 6).
Photo 2. The Atlantic extremity of Sainte-Anne
Source : Dehoorne, 2007
Photo 3. L’Anse Prunier in its prolongation of the Salines beach
Source : Authors
14This sequence of beaches offers a landscape of standardized beaches according to the dreamed-for tropical beaches cliché, a photo taken on a Monday morning of May. In fact, this site is completely saturated with local tourists during summer holidays that cause trampling of plants in pre-cyclone period. The goal of ecotourism approach is to contain and regulate this flow on the coastal border while developing discovery circuits of fauna and flora in coastal forests.
Photo 4. Seaside mangrove (Palétuviers noirs)
Source : Authors
15Along the coast, marshes, the water temperature, the intake of fresh water and brackish water favor the outcrop of a particular flora and fauna. The forests of mangroves are coastal forestation, called mangroves. This protected natural habitat is home to many species of birds, fish, mollusks, which fulfilled their life cycle partly or completely in the mangrove.
Photo 5. The planning of ecotourism structures on the mangrove-covered swampy areas, behind the beach of the Salines
Photo 6. The practice of ecotourism in Sainte-Anne
Source : Dehoorne, 2007
Photos 7 (a-b-c). The savage camp site in the seaside forest of the Salines
16Despite the official notice of the ONF, which stipulates that wild camping is prohibited in the area during the months of July and August, the sector has over 500 campers in an area deprived of equipment. For politicians, it's about finding a balance between "the need to preserve the environment" and "the right of the inhabitant of Martinique to take a vacation at the seaside."
Photo 8. The wet meadows of Sainte-Anne
17These meadows are home to many species only existing on the island. The official reasons for the preservation of these wet habitats vary according to the priorities of the moment, between ecotourism or protection of the natural heritage of the island. These projects incorporate the educational dimension to the environment through a guided hike.
18The efforts of the town of Sainte-Anne were rewarded with the granting of the "Ribbon of sustainable development" in 2003; this distinction rewards the actions undertaken by the local community as part of its PDDS including natural resources and backup management operations of the Salines beach area. The capitalization of forestry and marine resources, with the delimitation of a protected site under an ecotourism program meets several objectives:
19Firstly, the concern, unanimously supported by the local community, is to contain the bathing practices of a mass tourism that is manifested by very heavy traffic periods for the natural environment. We must act against the proliferation of all-terrain vehicles that run on the forest undergrowth paths so as to reach the immediate vicinity of the beaches.
20Ecologically, this should create protected areas to support the resilience of certain particularly vulnerable species facing high-peak densities of tourists with sometimes fatal trampling. The preservation of biodiversity is accompanied by educational programs about the environment as a playful module that call the attention of the visitor who discovers this environment. An association like AMEPAS (Association Mémoire et Patrimoine de Sainte-Anne -Memory and Heritage Association of Saint Anne) is actively involved in the management and the animation of this footpath. It is not merely a nature tourism or sports practices, but a part of the ecotourism experience. The AMEPAS is dedicated among others to the protection of leatherback turtles and development of best eco-citizen behavior in this type of environment. The association supervises nightlife that allow visitors to witness the nesting of turtles.
21Finally, the municipality must demonstrate that its sustainable and inclusive development program is sustainable in economy – the political opposition focuses on this dimension: ecology at the expense of the economy. Programs initiated through public funds must find their own sources of funding, for example through means of an eco-tax for parking access. Indeed, why should the municipality manage the most famous beaches of Martinique from its own funds to allow all international and domestic tourists to enjoy these places, to engage in multiple and various consumption and to leave waste of all kinds without bringing any significant income to it? The municipality has decided to react against this rather absurd situation. Now, tourism as a sustainable one in its size and positioning through ecotourism, should be a new modest but significant source of revenues and jobs for the local community. The town has developed ten precarious and skilled employment in the environmental sector. Environmental taxes should support job creation in the environmental animation (from prevention to counseling with the ability to sanction if needed). The conduct of this reflection is in its final phase, it is conducted by a joint research structure (involving academics and citizens) which emanates from the political will of Sainte-Anne: the Caribbean Centre for sustainable development and solidarity (CCDDS- Centre caribéen de développement durable et solidaire).
22The commune of Sainte-Anne is an appropriate experimental territory from which it is easy to mobilize actors and more broadly all citizens. The mayor and the entire municipal team elected on a voluntary program, are at the heart of this approach. The strategic orientations of PDDS of St. Anne put tourism in a context of overall development of the commune. The privileged entry through ecotourism can deviate from the seaside mass tourism dominant model and put the interests of the local community in the heart of the reflection on the development of the territory. Ecotourism thus responds to loud environmental issues (given the considerable human pressure facing the coast) and socio-economic governance in a local approach.
23In terms of planning, the objective is to set up an environmental charter, also locally called "eco-development" that aims to consolidate all efforts in preserving the coastal environment but also to remodel the urban fabric of the commune and outlying districts. Tourism, through the ecotourism approach, based on the natural as well as the cultural dimension, evolves as part of an overall strategy. The display in terms of ecotourism, more motivating for the local community, was essential to bring closer the local population of tourism, to make this industry available and thus help to develop its own tourism services. But beyond the simple concept of ecotourism, the Sainte-Anne approach corresponds more to a comprehensive development approach where tourism is a development pillar of the commune. It is thus no more an externality paved with attractive natural resources, but a complex economic activity (international tourist complex than simple guest rooms in the old town) and integrated to the economic context of this commune.
24To further integrate tourism practices into the effects measured in everyday surroundings, the local community is working to gradually build a global entertainment strategy and a cultural project for the city. This last step is essential to create the conditions of a genuine encounter between day visitors and inhabitants of the commune. Meanwhile, in terms of social and economic development, it is meant to promote the professional integration of the resident population, especially young people, and develop specific training programs related to tourism activities.
25Economically, the aim is to strike a balance between traditional hotel infrastructure and other more diffuse communal accommodation units, closer to the local population, such as guest rooms, furnished rentals, open-air hotel. With the same concern to preserve the interests of the local population, the commune is working to facilitate the set up of nearby trades and doesn’t want any supermarket. Finally, priority is given to local restoration and the onset of small local vendors on the beaches and squares of the city (fritters, local cakes, local fruit juices, etc.).
Photo 9: The conversion of the urban layout in favor of tourism, partial view of the Sainte-Anne waterfront
26In this photo which depicts a part of the town of Sainte-Anne, the uses of buildings in direct contact with the sea have been reoriented towards tourism with a bakery now turned in a restaurant (the second house from the left), the houses on both sides have been renovated for the purpose of seasonal rentals.
27Ecotourism is involved in a reinterpretation of resources and allows undertaking a new territorial planning: it promotes the dissemination of tourism practices towards the inland, on the mountains; in the forest... Ecotourism will not replace seaside tourism but is meant to reorganize tourism in small island territories.
28Host communities experiment new tourism products, with different approaches, with other relationships related to the host. The involvement of local populations and the redistribution of tourism income to the benefit of local communities are the two essential aspects of the project. This approach places the "encounter" in the core of the tourist experience. The idea is not to set a too rigid framework that would discourage the initiatives of local actors who offer alternative products. It is rather meant to stimulate the imagination and initiatives of host populations who offer their own integrated-tourism services in their living environment. In this scope, beyond the “ecotourism” denomination, these approaches better match the integrated-tourism practices to the host territory and societies, as part of a sustainable development approach.
29The host territory is no longer seen only as an available support to host any kind of tourist consumption. Ecotourism is thus at the core of an endogenous development and becomes one of the unifying themes that mobilizes various local actors (farmers, fishermen, merchants, hosting providers, artists ...) in a sustainable development approach.