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JAMAICA - Community tourism — the sustainable way forward?

Jamaica Observer)AN article in last Sunday's Observer, 'World Heritage Expert Knocks Tourism Marketing Strategy', has elicited a response from hotelier and community tourism pioneer and advocate, Diana McIntyre-Pike .In the article, world heritage scholar and consultant Dr Janice Lindsay argued that Government should market the local tourism product as one entity with diverse elements, and push that as the total heritage tourism experience, rather than fragmenting the product into varying types of tourism.

Dr Lindsay also noted that tourism today should be marketed in such a way that it does not destroy the identity and lifestyle of Jamaican people and pointed to Jamaica being the envy of many developed and developing countries as "the spirit of community in our little country is vast".

McIntyre-Pike has supported the scholar's call for a more sustainable and responsible approach to the development and marketing of Jamaica's tourism and says community tourism is the answer.

According to the hotelier, who is also president of the community tourism advocacy and consultancy group Countrystyle Community Tourism Network (CCTN) — credited for creating and promoting community tourism — all tourism is community tourism.

"Simply put, it is all-embracing and natural. Community Tourism is responsible tourism, tourism that respects the environment, culture, heritage and the people and highlights the importance of sustaining the environmental and cultural assets that resonate within an environment; a responsible tourism which is needed in order to sustain a destination and the diversity that it has to offer in the present and for the future," said McIntrye-Pike, who also serves as local head of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) Caribbean.

"Community tourism, if embraced fully, will secure tourism for the country for many years, but tourism won't be the only thing that will be secured; it will secure people's livelihood, as community tourism does not seek to over-dominate existing industries which are viable and sustainable; it does not use tourism to replace anything but only to enhance what is already there," she noted.

The hotelier added that the community that establishes an international identity can stimulate other local industries and magnify their export potential, such as entertainment, craft, agriculture and manufactured products.

Over the past 37 years, a dynamic group of citizens and tourism players mainly on the south and east coasts of Jamaica have been advocating community tourism and promoting it worldwide through the IIPT which has now branded Jamaica as the 'Home of Community Tourism'.

McIntyre-Pike admitted that the Jamaican experience has been a struggle as the community tourism concept, when pioneered many years ago in Mandeville and the south coast, challenged the existing, unsustainable approach to tourism.

CCTN, however, admits that local community tourism has not reached its full potential and there is much work to be done to sensitise communities across Jamaica about their responsibility to take on an environmentally-friendly, sustainable, collective approach to their development.

McIntyre-Pike also said this involves sensitising the authorities that the true development of a country rests in securing the involvement and commitment of every Jamaican community.

"Not until we build a relationship with these communities and address their needs will we truly realise development. We also believe that Jamaicans are the best marketing ambassadors for the country and should be included with the marketing of our unique and diverse product," she said.

The Government's Tourism Master Plan and the Vision 2030 plan include community tourism as the viable way forward. However, the hotelier is urging the Government to meet with the community tourism players in Jamaica and to support the many exciting projects on the drawing board which are desperately in need of funding to implement them. One such is the village tourism project.

"We have developed a village tourism project which we have branded 'Villages as Businesses' in association with the Countrystyle Community Tourism Network, National Best Community Foundation, the newly formed International Community Tourism Institute(ICTI), in collaboration with the Montego Bay-based Western Hospitality Institute (WHI), Hamilton Knight and Associates, Positive Tourism Network (Pancarib), National Association of Jamaicans and Supportive Organisations (NAJASO) and many other local and international organisations.

"We would like to commend the Sandals Foundation for the outstanding work they are doing in support of community tourism by funding training and infrastructure upgrading in several villages," added McIntyre-Pike.

McIntyre-Pike has promoted community self-development on a voluntary and professional basis offering training in several areas including etiquette, the environment and general knowledge. She is now a full-time community tourism consultant/trainer.

Photo -hotelier and community tourism pioneer and advocate, Diana McIntyre-Pike

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