Our CCTN Study Tour in Jamaica - Community vs Commercial Tourism
by Noah Anthony Hopkins
(Macon County and the Black Belt in Alabama.)
During our learning journey to Jamaica in December 2011, a startling revelation was as clear to me as the pristine waters in Jamaica ... there is a wide gap between the natives who own Jamaica by birthright and their country’s tourism wealth.
Instead of getting depressed, I got excited about the other side of this story. The good news is that there are people in Jamaica working to alleviate the disparity.
I saw firsthand how ordinary people there are making tourism work for them.
In my native state of Louisiana, land is flat. So staying in Mandeville, which is about 2,000 feet above sea level, was a shock to my psyche.
Every day we left there early in the morning to visit rural communities and every day was quite eye opening.
We went up in the mountains to places like Beeston Spring where we met a beekeeper and bought some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted.
We visited historic churches, gawked at spectacular nature, sampled mango, guava, tangerines and grapefruits pulled directly from fruit-bearing trees, got a lesson on the fruit’s medicinal properties, ate at community food stands.
We went to a small farm run by a married couple who feed their family off their land and are a good example of multi-tasking.
Both the husband and wife are musicians and they produce monthly music concerts in their neighbourhood. These concerts are free but their effect is priceless. They bring the community together in the spirit of fellowship.
Tourists, who see this side of a community’s personality, connect with the roots and soul of a culture. The Jamaican neighborhood concerts celebrate life and traditions in a way that is timeless, pure and organic.
I founded an organization in Tuskegee called the Community Tourism Network (CTN). And I felt an immediate kinship with a Jamaican movement named Countrystyle Community Tourism Network (CCTN), which is actively working to expand tourism into indigenous communities.
This is advantageous for both visitors and hosts. Tourists get an authentic experience and Jamaicans in the 36-targeted villages get the benefits of tourism commerce.
In my opinion Diana McIntyre-Pike, the lady who runs Countrystyle Community Tourism Network, is a hero. She believes tourism has the power to establish and sustain an international image and brand for communities. She takes that philosophy to heart in how she promotes and practices tourism.
She offers travel packages that place tourists in homes, on farms and other housing that is true to everyday life.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this learning journey and I thank the Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families (SURREF) for including me.
I benefited greatly by being a part of the SURREF delegation that visited Jamaica in December 11-16, 2011.
I made new friends, expanded my capacity and observed complex and creative approaches to tourism. I am especially intrigued by community based tourism as compared to commercial tourism.
You need developers with a lot of money to build fancy spas and sophisticated luxuries for commercial tourism to thrive.
But Community based tourism is about people with history in the community, perpetuating their traditions, their authentic culture and their stories.
It made me see that we can create our own interpretation of community based tourism, while we seek investors who are willing to build chic amenities that will add to our existing tourism attractions.
Officials in Mandeville enthusiastically support their innovative "Pioneers of Community Tourism", and this enthusiasm is warranted because these pioneers are capturing a slice of the tourism economic pie for ordinary Jamaican citizens. These dollars are generating direct and indirect economic impacts.
For example, the "Homestays" concept places visitors with families in villages, farms and other real-life home environments. There is a day-rate for lodging, meals and other services. This homestay arrangement gives those families a payday, which is a direct economic boost to their wallets.
The money gets spent buying clothing or cars and a wide range of other goods and services, which is the indirect side tourism’s economic impact.
While in Jamaica, there were so many acronyms being used by so many organizations connected to Countrystyle Community Tourism Network (CCTN) that I sometimes felt like I was swimming in alphabet soup.
However, the one term that stuck with me was "Value Chain".
After returning home and assessing all that I had experienced, I realized the importance of this concept.
The CCTN value chain heavily embraces and nurtures children in the targeted communities, teaching them about their heritage and culture and involving them in all aspects of community based tourism.
This ensures generational continuity for as long as this aspect of the value chain is maintained.
I was impressed that in every community or village we toured, children were involved in music, art, dance or hospitality and were seriously committed to the scholastic aspect of tourism history and commerce.
Many children said they aspire to own tourism related businesses when they become adults.
Everywhere we visited in Jamaica ... Maidstone in Manchester (where Marcus Garvey lived), the Black River community in St. Elizabeth Parish, beautiful Treasure Beach, Beeston Springs high in the mountains of Jamaica ... the experience included children and they were a vital part of CCTN value chain.
I realized that as a partner with SURREF that I am in the value chain for Macon County and the Black Belt in Alabama.
Through the SURREF organization, our community also is linked to an international value chain that affords us opportunities such as the learning journey that has me seeing tourism from a fresh perspective.
Visit my Noah Hopkins facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/nahopkins - and click on the Community Tourism Network link for pictures and video footage of my Jamaica Learning Journey.