By Nerissa Golden
BRADES, Montserrat (GIU) — A cross-section of tourism sector practitioners gathered at the Montserrat Cultural Centre on Friday, July 5, 2013, for a national consultative workshop on community-based niche tourism products.
The Montserrat Tourism Authority (MTA) coordinated the workshop on behalf of the OECS Secretariat which is conducting similar exercises in all member states. The workshop was funded as part of its 10th EDF Programme.
According to acting director of the MTA Elveta Chalmers, the workshop was “designed to identify existing and community-based niche products” in Montserrat’s tourism sector. She added that more can be done to make the island’s tourism product more appealing and that our market presence can be improved by building up the community-based festivals.
Dr Lorraine Nicholas of the OECS Tourism Desk encouraged Montserrat because of its size to view themselves as one community and to apply for funding to build community-based tourism ventures. Nicholas said 2.7 million Euros of the 8.6 million Euros available for economic integration and trade in the OECS, is earmarked for tourism projects.
Community groups can apply for a project grant if they meet established criteria, she added.
Also present at the workshop was Marguerite Diana McIntyre-Pike, president of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) Caribbean. The expert, who has been working with community-based tourism businesses for more than 40 years, said community tourism is not a niche market but is about a mind-set change.
“We need to train communities to prepare them for the investment,” she explained.
McIntyre-Pike, who also heads CountryStyle Community in Jamaica, advised the group that it was important not to build any entity without thinking about where it will be placed and how it will impact the environment and the community in which it will be based.
The executive added that villages must be run as businesses, working with a management team and a business plan. She explained that it was the individuals in the community who were the key to the success of this type of venture.
“Community based tourism is not about catering to the tourist they don’t want that. You have to build community pride and market your community. Profile the people within each village. Find the story-tellers, the dressmakers, bakers, and crafts people. These old time ways of living are valuable and it is what tourists want to experience when they come to your island,” McIntyre-Pike continued.
She described lovers of this type of travel experience as educated and willing to pay whatever was necessary to get what they wanted. “You already have what they are looking for. It’s time to package it and make them an offer to come and experience it.”
Some of the suggested areas for building community tourism ventures were: in agriculture with farm to table cuisine experiences; in the creative sector local performers and story-tellers can provide daily entertainment; sale of visual art and craft; and volunteer tourism where visitors assist with projects to build schools and other community programmes.
Other areas where niche experiences can be created were rasta tourism, eco-tourism with no noise, no music, graveyard tourism where people pay to learn the history of those departed, spiritual tourism targeting churches and other religious groups, senior citizen tourism, post office tourism, and Diaspora or roots tourism.
Participants worked in three groups to identify the three niches which community-based tourism could be built around. These recommendations as well as suggestions on the types of projects, hindrances and target markets for the initiatives were noted. The information will be compiled in a complete report on the OECS member states on community-based tourism niche markets.