Tourists and locals enjoying a hike in the Barbadian countryside. (FP)

If the heritage niche is to flourish, then the tourism industry must undergo change.

This point was underscored during one of the final sessions at this year’s African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Conference held this morning at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

A panel discussion was staged on the topic Who Benefits from Cultural Heritage Projects?, and included participation from Former UNESCO Director, Doudou Di??ne and Director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre, UWI Cave Hill, Dr. Keith Nurse.

Mr. Di??ne proposed that, even before determining benefits, it was crucial for there to be an examination of what heritage denoted and how it was presented.?? He underlined that "the two dominant features of enslavement are silence and invisibility; the silence on the history of slavery and the invisibility of [the people]. One of the first challenges for modern tourism…is first to break the silence…the way tourism is practised, it wipes out the historical content and the meaning of the societies concerned; because the dominant factor is to promote [aesthetic]…

"When tourists are invited [to the region]…the burial grounds, the cemeteries, the slave markets, all of those have been emptied of their content for tourists to enjoy.?? So the challenge is how to reverse this," he remarked.

According to the former UNESCO Director, modern tourism "in many ways is an avatar of the old ideology of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, the time of slavery, because its basic values are competition, domination, exploitation, profit.?? Are we going to accept this practice of tourism which cut us from our identities our true heritage?…[or are we] going to promote another type of tourism which I call intercultural tourism," he said, stressing that cultural tourism only offered a surface level connection with the people of the country, verses actually experiencing and understanding their way of life.

Mr. Di??ne suggested that for true, heritage tourism to exist and thrive, it was necessary to break the silence surrounding the culture, promote the identity of the people and highlight both tangible and intangible heritage.??

Addressing how the industry is viewed by those within the region, Dr. Keith Nurse pointed out that many people were unable to answer the question "who is a tourist and what is a tourist? And even when you go into tourism agencies and you ask those questions, you do not get a really clear answer…what we have found in our research recently is that in many territories in the Caribbean the largest group of visitors look just like us.

"If you go to Suriname, 70 per cent of the visitors are diasporic tourists.?? If you go to Guyana, it is also 70 per cent," he said, adding that there were also significant numbers to be found in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, especially during their respective carnivals.??

Dr. Nurse’s presentation also featured excerpts from Forward Home: The Power of the Caribbean Diaspora, which highlighted the social and economic powerhouse that was the diasporic tourism market??

Some of his opinions on the niche are featured in the documentary, including the myth that "diasporic tourists will always come – that we don’t have to market to them, that we don’t have to entice them, that we don’t have to plan for them". Stating that this was not true because they operated in market spaces that were very competitive, Dr. Nurse added: "But our advantage is that we have identity links to the region…this target market provides a cross over into other target markets…their colleagues [and] their friends, they are able to bring other people into the Caribbean space, in a more authentic way."

The Director maintained that "if we are discussing the future of tourism…and we are not discussing the impact of the diaspora, then we are missing a major element of the equation."?? He highlighted several statistics which support the strength of this niche, including the fact that, after tourism, the diasporic economy was the second largest source of earnings in the Caribbean, with remittances out earning tourism in some territories.

Noting that industry officials often focus on ???bums in seats and heads in beds’, Dr. Nurse suggested that they were missing the bigger picture of what diasporic tourism could offer, and is offering, in the Caribbean.

He observed that the documentary highlighted the "clear relationship between remittances, barrels [shipping of goods], telecommunications [dual sim cards], travel and freight. He said: "there are a number of firms in the Caribbean that are taking advantage, not only of the diaspora but of tourism. So when we ask the question of who is benefitting, we have to enlarge the debate…there is a wider array of organisations and individuals who are benefitting from the diaspora and tourism than we would have first imagined".


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