Culture And Heritage: Transforming Caribbean Visitor Experiences

 

2 September 2011

AH Heritage 460x250 Culture And Heritage: Transforming Caribbean Visitor Experiences

Photo by Andrew Hulsmeier

World Tourism Day is being observed on September 27th under the theme “Tourism – Linking Cultures”.

According to World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General – Taleb Rifai:

World Tourism Day (WTD) 2011 is taking place under the theme Tourism – linking cultures and is a celebration of tourism’s role in breaking down barriers across cultures and fostering tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon in his description of the theme also added tourism’s role in “creating economic opportunities to benefit disadvantaged populations”.

Just as World Tourism Day highlights the value of travel and tourism as a global industry, so too will Caribbean Tourism Month. Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Member countries will celebrate Caribbean Tourism Month in November, 2011 with the theme of “One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean”.  Caribbean Tourism Month will bring attention to various aspects of the Caribbean’s primary source of foreign exchange. The main objectives of Caribbean Tourism Month include:

  • Raising awareness among the people of the Caribbean of the importance of tourism in the Caribbean
  • Raising the profile of the Caribbean tourism industry in the market place
  • positive media coverage for CTO Member countries and the Caribbean

Both themes also speak to creating and celebrating our uniqueness and diversity; finding opportunities to strengthen cross-cultural linkages and communication across the Caribbean Sea and beyond and generating socio-economic benefits in the process. This brings to mind the key ingredients that can substantially distinguish Caribbean tourist destinations from those in any other part of the world – our unique and diverse culture and heritage.  By developing cultural and heritage tourism, Caribbean tourist destinations such as Barbados have a golden opportunity to diversify and differentiate their tourism product offerings in an increasingly competitive environment. Of course, local residents will also be able to gain a better appreciation of their own culture and heritage through such efforts. The recent Garrison area and Historic Bridgetown World-Heritage site tours are a good example of how this can be achieved.

Who are these cultural tourists?

Research has shown that cultural tourists “tend to be older, better educated and earn more money than the travelling public as a whole” and “generally spend more money on holiday, stay longer in a particular area and participate in more activities than other tourists.” (Andrea Housman – Cultural Tourism: Marketing Challenges and Opportunities for German Cultural Heritage”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, March 2007, p 175)

As far as the U.S. market is concerned, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce/Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (OTTI) and the U.S. Travel Association ranks shopping, dining and cultural & heritage travel as the top three travel activities in that order. Culture and heritage tourism is the largest growing segment and is a US$41+ billion industry according to Mr. John Nau, Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Market Research conducted by The Cultural Traveler has found that the cultural travelers that generate the greatest Return on Investment (ROI) have the following profile:

  • Baby Boomer/Seniors
  • College Degree/Professional
  • Annual HH Income of $75,000 or more
  • Stays longer and spends more
  • Looks for unique travel experiences
  • Wants Value (in time and dollars)
  • Spends $3,000+ on 4.2 Trips per Year
  • The force behind Multi-Generational Travel
  • Source information from the Web (as well as word of mouth)
  • Part of 80%+ of Americans who book travel online

What are the benefits of culture and heritage tourism?

A study done by Dr. Keith Nurse of the University of the West Indies suggests that although developing heritage tourism is not without its challenges, pursuing heritage tourism can benefit Caribbean destinations by increasing the local value-added generated by heritage attractions based on related visitor expenditures. It can be a means of diversification of the tourism experience beyond the traditional sun-sea-sand product and spread tourism geographically beyond the beach. Heritage tourism promotes conservation of natural, built and traditional heritage and can enhance destination imaging, intellectual property branding and media value.

Dr. Nurse’s study reports that according to the Heritage Council of Western Australia (2006:15), heritage tourists are one of the highest yield tourism groups as they:

  • spend 38% more per day than traditional tourists
  • stay 34% longer than traditional tourists
  • spend 20% more and stay 20% longer than arts oriented tourists

It also highlights that:

  • 75% of adult visitors to the Caribbean went to a cultural activity and event
  • Cruise ship passengers are the largest market for heritage tourism (although this is not documented)
  • Diasporic and regional tourists represent a substantial and increasing share of cultural and festival tourism

These facts, coupled with a growing trend towards experiential travel/tourism, are not to be ignored as cultural and heritage tourism are key facets of experiential tourism. The Canadian Tourism Commission  (CTC) has defined experiential tourism as “Travel that engages travellers in a series of memorable events, that are revealed over time, are inherently personal, involve the senses, and make a connection on an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual level.”  In essence, experiential travel/tourism involves visitors having greater engagement with communities which in turn can be part of creating more meaningful, memorable, educational and authentic experiences of a destination’s culture. The CTC – the pioneer of this concept – sees experiential tourism as taking tourism product development to another level  as the tourism product is “what you buy” whereas a tourism experience is ”what you remember”. But this is not one-sided – visitors can also create and enjoy such experiences by contributing to local communities in different ways.

How do we enhance our tourism product by converting them to experiences?

A clear understanding of various segments and expectations of cultural and heritage tourists and others who seek more from their travel should form the basis of a destination’s strategy to tap into these potentially lucrative niche markets. An evaluation of the tourism product is then necessary to determine how well it fits these expectations and what needs to be done to fill the gaps. Experiential tourism development can enhance a destination’s products by elevating them to “transformative experiences” that meet or exceed visitor expectations. The Canadian experiential tourism business model suggests that this requires public-private sector collaboration.

Local communities and entrepreneurs can partner with the public sector to develop, package and market a whole new suite of export-ready tourism experiences to domestic, Caribbean, diasporic and international visitors (stay-over, cruise and yacht). These can include culinary, sporting, musical, heritage, art and craft, shopping and other attractions and activities. The Canadians are certainly doing it successfully. Barbados’ notable accomplishments in the areas of music, heritage and cuisine for instance, can be capitalized on by developing new and innovative tourism products and utilizing the people behind them to promote the destination while “the iron is hot”. A Rihanna-branded restaurant specializing in Barbadian/Caribbean cuisine may not be a far–fetched idea. It could provide global opportunities and exposure for local chefs, local products, local music, locally themed décor and Barbados as a tourist destination.

By extension, the Caribbean has fortunately been blessed with a very rich and unique tapestry of natural and cultural heritage of which it can be proud. With the recent inscription of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, Barbados, according to the UNESCO World Heritage website, the Caribbean (as defined by CTO Membership) now has 24 inscribed World Heritage Sites – (17 cultural and 7 natural). With at least 37 more on the Tentative List, there is even further potential for the Caribbean‘s amazing heritage to be showcased to the world. But there are also a host of other outstanding examples of tourism products that highlight Caribbean culture and heritage, including these lesser known ones:

  • Barbados’ Arlington House, Speightstown – a former 18th century merchant’s house, now a highly interactive three-floor museum, each with a different theme,
    that tells stories of sugar, seafaring, and trade”
  • Jamaica’s Outameni Experience in Falmouth utilizes music, art, dance, film and drama  to create “a moving cultural experience that celebrates Jamaica’s rich culture depicted in small architecturally designed villages showing Taino, Spanish, African, English, Indian, Chinese and Jamaica Today”
  • Garifuna Flava Caribbean Restaurant, Chicago Illinois – a family-owned Belizean bistro which has “placed Belizean cuisines on the world stage as its unique, high-quality and of course Belizean menus have earned it a feature episode on Food Network”
  • Grenada’s Spice Basket which showcases its local cuisine, “performing arts and cultural heritage from  live theatre shows to Steel pan and other family entertainment to the world’s only museum dedicated to West Indies Cricket”
  • Dominica’s Kalinago Barana Autê – the Carib Cultural Village by the Sea which “provides a unique experience to learn and appreciate the heritage of the Kalingo (Carib) people.”
  • Dominican Republic’s Ruta del Café which is based on the concept of a wine route in Tuscany, Italy. Visitors to Loma de Salcedo “stay in homesteads of coffee producers, have guided walks interpreting the nature and culture of the area, eat traditional foods at local restaurants, see demonstrations of coffee roasting, purchase coffee and crafts, watch folk dance performances,  visit a coffee plantation and museum, visit caves and enjoy bathing in the rivers”.

All of these involve interactive, hands-on experiences which incorporate many different aspects of local culture and heritage – a common key to their success.

Meeting and exceeding expectations

Caribbean destinations can learn a lot from the Canadian model of developing experiential tourism, incorporating their unique natural, cultural and heritage assets to craft memorable “wow experiences” that can set them apart from other competing regions. It should be noted that several Caribbean destinations are increasingly shifting their focus to high-yield visitors in the luxury travel market which aligns itself well with experiential tourism. At CTO’s upcoming State of the Industry Conference in St. Martin from 15-17 September, 2011, the luxury travel market will be one of the topics that will be explored.

About the Author

Gail Henry

Gail Henry

Sustainable Tourism Organization Product Specialist at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO). Gail leads the CTO’s agenda to develop and deliver an annual programme of activities which seeks to enhance the growth, quality, competitiveness and sustainability of Caribbean tourism products.