The Capacity of Jamaican Communities to successfully pursue Experiential Tourism has always existed – long before either the terms “Cultural Immersion” or “Community Tourism” were even coined.
Every time that a relative visits from “foreign” & is hosted by Jamaican Locals, Community and/or Experiential Tourism is at play.
Many Jamaican homes have had their personal Master Bedrooms vacated over the years to host Aunties & Cousins, serving Rice & Peas Sunday-Dinners at the Big Dining Room Table every single day until the Guests leave – then it’s back to “Bully Beef” & “Tin Mackerel”.
This is the True Spirit of Cultural Immersion & Jamaicans already have the Skills & Experience to Deliver the Authenticity that the Experiential Tourism Market demands.
Technically, in travel industry jargon, the above relative visiting from overseas and staying in a Private Home is termed the “Community Tourist” approach. From this perspective, the Core Motivation initiating travel is Consumption of a Community Based Experience, Product & Service specific to a community – in this case family – for short stays More than 24 Hours in Duration.
The hosting of overseas-based Jamaican relatives mirrors the model of Short Stay or Home Stays, where the community hosts the visitor rather than a licensed Hospitality establishment.
Conversely, when Jamaicans “carry” visiting relatives to see the Pantomime & have Ice Cream at Devon House, or for a Day Outing to Giddy House & Lime Key, or even to the local Parish Church for Sunday Sermon – this is also Community Tourism in action!
More specifically, in travel industry language this is Community Tourism from an Excursionist Approach, where the community feature itself – whether an experience, product & service – is the attraction consumed within a one day visit, less than 24 hours.
Some schools of thought call for a dependent relationship between Mainstream Tourism & Community Excursions, but here at Rasta Routes, we argue that the Development of a Robust, Genuine Community Tourism Product is not well facilitated with “designated days” for community interaction.
An Incubator System through which Hotels work with “assigned” Community Attractions does not an Inclusive System make!
As Government, Thought Leaders & Industry Stakeholders, our single greatest concern is Breaking the Poverty/Crime Cycle while Improving Personal/Property Security for both Citizens & Tourists alike!
Nominally, we should have no qualms about the duration of their trip, where they stay or how they commute as long as they are Safe, Unharassed & Thoroughly Enjoy their Experience – and Leave some Foreign Exchange behind as Fair Exchange / Reciprocation for the Hospitality.
While we recognize & understand the need for oversight, control & regulation, much in the same way Jamaica “allowed” the vacation rental sub-market to develop under auspices not our own (in order to meet existing market expectations), so too we must allow for & allocate room for Community Tourism to develop organically, to also meet the specific needs & expectations of Cultural Tourism customers.
Government will, however, need to provide the peripheral, tangentially-necessary Community Infrastructure needed to accommodate visitors & residents alike, including utilities, health care services, good road infrastructure & fire protection – as well as Directional & Interpretive Signage.
Much of the hype around Community Tourism, Cultural Immersion & Experiential Travel is just that – Hype.
New advertising buzzwords to catch & make the best use of the 8 seconds worth of attention marketers get from today’s consumer (thanks for reading this article thus far…).
In actuality, Experiential Tourism (or a very close analog) has existed for decades under the terms Backpacking or Backpacker Travel.
In the Backpacking World, “Travelers” are often slightly offended if referred to as tourists, as the Backpackers goal, most often, is to Avoid Everything Tourist & instead experience as much of the genuine destination & its people, for as long a time as possible.
Backpackers are often portrayed as hitch-hiking drifters with no money but in reality, the reason they are hitch-hiking is to avoid spending the $2,000 USD in their pocket/debit card unnecessarily, as they still have another 60 days left of their extended 3-month trip left to pay for.
Backpacking & Backpackers are synonymous with Hostels, a mainly European, Asian & South American travel accommodation option, where multiple travelers share one large room, often with bunk beds – and other complete total strangers!
Again, these Backpackers may appear cheap – or to put it nicely – “value-conscious”, but the reason they choose Beds for $12USD/Night is that their stay is measured in months not days, and they want to go to ALL the Attractions.
All said, that Cheap Backpacker will probably spend a few thousand dollars in the local economy before leaving the island, exactly what they planned & saved their money to do.
This Backpacking model would also be categorized as Community Tourism from an Excursionist approach. Here individual community features of the Backpacker’s destination country are the attractions consumed within one day visits, before the Backpacker returns to their Hostel each evening.
The Backpacking individual could just as easily been staying at an All-Inclusive Resort, Hotel, Guesthouse, Vacation Rental, Local Relatives or even with new-found Jamaican Friends made while Hitch-hiking.
This reality makes both accommodation choice & transportation logistics irrelevant & unrelated to any discussion on Growing the Market Share of Jamaican Community Tourism Attractions!
As a Backpacker or Cultural Tourist, if I were presented with an opportunity to Visit Jamaica for a series of interpreted activities packaged & sold as a set of three-to-four-day itineraries, I would probably visit South America instead, where I could genuinely explore multiple countries & cultures at my own pace & leisure for the price of one round-trip airfare.
What would I do in Jamaica for the other 86 Days of my Trip after my Interpreted 4-Day Activities Itinerary is over anyway, especially if I can’t explore the country safely on my own?
Part & Parcel of Backpacking is “Living Like a Local”, not just for the Cultural Experience but to also have access to the lower prices that Locals Pay.
Not many people can afford $100+USD/Night for 3 Months, so many Backpackers often rent a “normal” room on the local economy to stretch their travel dollar, but this only works if you are staying longer than a one-month rental lease…
For example, renting a 1 Bedroom with Ensuite Bathroom & your own shelf in a common-area Kitchen Fridge is easily under $400USD/Month in many “Emerging Markets”, making $1,500 USD enough for a 3 Month Backpacking Trip.
This relatively modest, 90-Day accommodation budget, plus whatever it costs to cook your own meals & hitch-hike, would last about a week at a traditional Sea/Sun resort – not including optional Interpreted Activities….
This 90-Day Backpacking Trip is what we are competing against in the Experiential Travel sector in more Backpacker-friendly destinations like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala & Peru, just to name a few regional notables!
At the high-level, we should be more concerned about Guest Safety & Satisfaction, in addition to overall Guest Expenditure, rather than who stayed where, when, on what color sheets on what sized bed – on which activity plan for how many dollars per night…
From Rasta Routes perspective, Jamaica already has the Domestic Capacity to Host Experiential Travelers within our Communities – all we need now are the Domestic Cajones!
Don’t take our word for it – just ask AirBnB...
By Winston Irie