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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica

The entrance to the sulfur spring, DominicaPhoto by:quintanomedia

Tourism is, largely a self-involved business. Basically, it involves partnership between government and business design to cater to the tastes of the ignorant (as in “unfamiliar”) traveler, while highlighting the best of a country. The most successful tourist economies are extremely skilled at branding their cultures in order to attract visitors and their dollars to their lands. In this regard, the Caribbean islands have shown particular abilities.

In the eyes and mind of the world, “the Caribbean” has become, quite simply, a collection of beautiful beaches, the same except for their varying degrees of exclusivity. The ideal place to “get away” to for some “rest and relaxation.”

The problem with this mythic vision is that it is just that, a myth. Missing from this lavish picture is anything truly Caribbean beyond, of course, the landscape. Unlike most other destinations where pleasure is vital in tourism, the Caribbean on-a-whole hides its heart from travelers who seek her shores. The richness and diversity of its people, its history and its cuisine are artfully and intentionally hidden from view, with the exception of a curious few.

Even on an island as small as Dominica, it is rare for tourists to venture from their itineraries and limited guidebooks to seek out the island’s true beauty – her rich culture. Even when surrounded by Dominicans and Dominican culture, many tourists only see what they want to; what we have encouraged them to see, the brilliant sunshine, the smiling faces, vibrant colours and natural sites. What is missing from the experience of tourists to Dominica is a full cultural experience.

Do we not have a rich history to share? Do we not have unique things to offer to the world? Are we not a world of our own, and can we not be described within our own context, rather than being compared to other islands?

We must begin to export our culture, first by acknowledging to ourselves its importance on the world stage, followed by an intensive effort to make the world, starting with tourists, take notice. We may be small, but we are powerful.

We must also show our visitors that despite their well-deserved popularity, there is much more to Dominica than the exotic waterfalls and world renown diving sites and introduce them to our unique Carnival and traditional dances like Hill & Toe, Waltz, Quadrille; and Bèlè.

I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that, in the future, rather than hiding in the shadows, our cultural wealth shares renown with our exotic shorelines and natural sites.

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Comment by Suki
2009-02-09 11:18:41

Well said.

Comment by pete
2009-02-09 14:15:53

I agree much is to be done. I dont think however that the authorities concerned are not aware. With due credit they do it, by not specifically stating its a cultural promotion. Its done for example at Carnival and independence times.

However if we want to make the cultural promotion a special appeal, particularly outside of the traditional cultural explosions, we must “put our money where our mouth is”. Branding is one thing, but dressing up the package in an attractive manner is important as well. You can’t simply say “come the island is rich in culture” but when tourists get there the experience does not match the marketing. It takes alot more creativity and attention to detail to put together an experience like that. Even for the traditional cultural celebrations there are immense difficulties getting adequate financial sponsorship.

Whereas more can be done, this will beg for more obvious resources. Financial resources for marketing, but also for infrastrural undertakings. Like everything else there can be more of a voice out there but we must be ready to support the product on the ground. For example, part of the cultural showcase has been augmented with the devlopment of a model carib village. This was successfully funded, and has some appeal (I know, I went and saw it myself) but are there funds to adequately maintain this and provide ongoing training?

Here’s my sugestion on the way forward:

1. continue to piggy back on the existing mantra: a unique ecotouristic destination in paradise
2. Agressively pursue funding for more access and develop infrastructural support: air and see access, roads, hotels etc
3. develop institutional support with resource managment: eg. historical sites, museums, interpretational centers, training and education for service providers (includes support for teachers involved in Civics at school for example)
4. Increase knowledge and awareness and participation of the general public outside of the traditional cultural celebration periods
5. work with major players to share marketing expenses; increase government share of financial support for marketing (effexctive marketing can be very expensive)

Personaly I do not think it is so much an issue of losing in out in tourism due to lack of potential development of the Cultural attractiveness. Outside of the Caribbean and the diaspora this (cultural attractiveness) is still a relatively small audience compared with those who seek the typical caribbean paradise attractions and even the eco-touristic attributes.

I think it will come down to how best you utilize the very limited financial resources. As, unlike the islands of St Lucia and Barbados and Jamaica, which already have a solid base and institutional support (excellent air access, good infrastructure, sharing of marketing costs with brand name hotels etc) it is way easier to use the cultural appeal successfully. This is not to say one should not intensify efforts as far as marketing goes but I believe the empahsis is in building the service and support levels before you say how great the product is. Otherwise there will be much disappointment. I think there are lessons to be learnt too from the successes and failures surrounding re-union 2008, as part of the mantra was “come, come for the cultural experience”.

Comment by Finola Prescott
2009-02-15 11:36:05

Good article, good comment Pete!

Being from St. Lucia, I must say that even with the better infrastructure we are still way, way off integrating our culture into our tourism and of course there’s lots of debate on whether the dangers inherent in attempting this can be successfully avoided.

Still, it’s my firm belief that we need to work along this general path – our culture(s) are so fragile in their existence in the face of the influence of foreign cultures and in St. Lucia I notice far too often, a disturbing absence of surety of who we are – what does it really mean to be St. Lucian, what defines us – what’s truly ours and not just a historical tradition that we are told we should cherish…

I believe that a lot of our historical traditional cultural activities can be re-integrated into contemporary alive traditions – we see some of it happening here through efforts of various groups, masquerade, traditional songs given a contemporary jazz feel are two that seem to have struck a genuine chord with the youth. The attempts to revive our Flower Festivals Magwit and la Woz through schools seem to be a bit more imposed, but have done their good nonetheless.

But for me, it must come first from within – I hate to hear promos that say, for instance, ‘Keep St. Lucia beautiful for the tourist and for you’ – it must be the other way around, it must be for us first, otherwise the potential negatives of ‘putting on a show’ for the tourist are just too likely to be fed. Tourism will always be a very major part of our lives but our own need to enrich our lives with our own cultural development is what will give us that cultural tourism product in the end.

Comment by Dan
2009-02-15 12:00:09

Yes,unless the reality matches the marketing hype the tourists will speard negative images and thus reduce the tourism economy here.

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