Jamaica has been branded the home of community tourism by the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) since this is where it was pioneered by Diana McIntyre-Pike and Desmond Henry over 40 years ago. Since then, the Countrystyle Community Tourism Network has developed a programme called Villages as businesses that focuses on community development and giving marketing and business development support to community businesses and sharing this with visitors through regular visits and through study tours to Jamaica.
Community tourism is not a niche market. It is the holistic approach towards the development of a country embracing and linking the natural lifestyle of communities together with the commercial accommodation. It focuses on social, economic and environmental development, creating economic opportunities for a wide cross section of community persons. Community-based tourism — with its several niche markets such as eco-tourism, cultural tourism, heritage tourism, health and wellness tourism, and agri-tourism — provides different experiences to the sun, sand and sea of hotel tourism.
Jamaica with its warm and friendly people, its beautiful scenery, its communities situated in the mountains, by the rivers, in the valleys, that are all connected by intricately winding roads, is indeed the perfect place for community-based tourism. Jamaica is a well sought after brand internationally because of its rich culture, its vibrant music, its cuisine, its dance. There is much encouragement for visitors to engage in and discover more while on vacation.
The Countrystyle Community Tourism Network/Villages as Businesses, has had a significant effect on the flow of tourists to the island. It has influenced the participation of community people in the business of tourism. Through its work and guidance, the face of tourism has changed from a concentration on sand and sea, to an understanding and intrgration with the lives of ordinary Jamaicans.
The marketing techniques of CCTN continue to attract and guide visitors to many communities in Jamaica. In 2012, for example, a group of Afro-Americans from the south-eastern USA as a delegation on Wealth Creation sponsored by the Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families (SURREF) participated in an enriching study tour. Their goal was to study solutions in Jamaica that could work in their respective communities in the USA. They wanted to experience through Community Tourism, the community-based tourism niche markets.
Their foray into community life took them to places such as Beeston Spring, Westmoreland where they interacted with community people who welcomed them and engaged them in discussions about the business of beekeeping, farming and determining the medicinal properties of fruit and vegetables. These tourists were impressed with the local community entertainment that celebrated the heritage and traditions in a way that was timeless, pure and organic. The experience educated them on the importance of the integration of natural lifestyle in community-based tourism.
Additionally, since 2013, Orange Bay Village in Hanover has hosted many guests who engage in “all-inclusive” community activities. This has happened through partnership with community tourism partners Caribic/Olympia Tours and TUI and KUIKI Tours from Europe. This particular tour is structured in a way that gives visitors a very inclusive overview that includes a visit to the village hairdressing salon where they experience an active small business entrepreneur who makes a presentation about business development; a visit to the basic shool to spend an hour with the children and teachers and afterwards to the prep school to discover more about our Jamaican educational system and even play cricket and other games.
The next stop is the Anglican heritage church where they interact with the church community and are given an overview of the heritage of the church and speak with and/or purchase from the local craft people who display their products.
Afterwards, they visit the community bar and enjoy drinks with the local community people including the traditional Jamaican rum punch — one sour, two sweet, three strong and four weak! They also get the chance to visit the homes of the community/host guides to experience Jamaican homes. Lunchtime is at a local restaurant with Jamaican food and afterwards there is dancing to reggae music with the staff.
Experiences over the years demonstrate the importance of community-based tourism. Residents if low income communities in particular benefit from the training facilitated by CCTN in the management of the business of tourism, in understanding the importance of providing good customer service and visitor satisfaction. Jobs are created for businesses such as shops, bars, restaurants, recreational facilities, natural attractions.
Community tourism offers the unique opportunity for communities to develop and grow economically and socially, while still working with mainstream tourism. The opportunities are endless.