Mark Ricketts | Creative tourism and Trench Town Rock
When Bob Marley wrote and sang, for all the world to hear, Trench Town Rock and Concrete Jungle, depicting life, and its evolution, in the inner city, was it his genius that provided him insight that one day, these songs could become a liberating force for his people? That one day these songs would become such a staple that visitors from different parts of the world would come to Jamaica's inner city, rest a while, 'give the slum a try', and pay for their vacation experience as part of the country's emphasis on community tourism?
Listen to Marley:
One good thing about music,
when it hits, you feel no pain.
Trench Town Rock,
Don't turn your back,
Trench Town Rock,
give the slum a try.
Trench Town Rock,
never let the children cry,
You grooving, Kingston 12, grooving, Kingston 12.
Sometimes it is good dreaming of exciting possibilities for one's island home. And, why not! It is the season of Christmas, a season of good cheer. Added to that, tourism is buoyant and continues to outperform expectations. A delighted Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett welcomed the country's four millionth visitor this year. Given the minister's optimistic disposition, he is already forecasting a five per cent increase for next year, which means another 200,000 visitors to our shores.
Adding to the overall heightened expectations of tourism's continued record performance is the growth potential of an alternative tourism lifestyle creative tourism.
While this market is relatively small, it is given an uplift by the nine-year-old San Francisco-based Airbnb, which has emerged as a trusted community marketplace for people listing, discovering, and booking accommodations, and it has helped households all over the world generate significant income.
Airbnb is based on peer reviews, and Jamaica is given some of the highest commendations, which means that Jamaican hosts are viewed as being up there with the best in the world and the country is seen as a preferred destination for community tourism. This is great news for Jamaica, where nurses, helpers, caregivers, and teachers have demonstrated over the years a special gift to reach out and touch those they engage, come in contact with, provide service to, or are responsible for.
So impressed is Airbnb with Jamaica's outstanding performance in being host to tourists in their homes that they are encouraging many more homeowners to get involved. With 55,000 visitors to Jamaica this year using Airbnb in this diversified segment of the tourism market, and with a whopping 160 per cent increase in visitors this year over last, the country might be on the cusp of something special.
With our individual initiative, entrepreneurial flair, and disposition to care, it means that this facility for Jamaicans to use their housing asset as a source of income could ensure a wider and better distribution of tourism revenues.
One regret for me is that our education, with its emphasis on a two-tiered system with too many left behind, is not placing sufficient emphasis, from an early age, on the critical needs of a service-producing sector - civic pride, curiosity, technology, role models in business, hospitality, budgeting, money management - so that the society's penchant for hustling, especially in the oversize shadow economy, can be underpinned by structure, organisation, innovative thinking, and business acumen.
Creative tourism is a new generation of tourism which places tremendous emphasis on the tourists integrating themselves with the local host and with the local community or neighbourhood as the backdrop. If done right, this can lead to quality capacity building, that is, building out an entire community to meet the needs of visitors.
Proponents of this form of tourism are excited about Jamaica's prospects, and this was highlighted in a joint University of Technology-RJR-Gleaner Group-Creative Tourism Public Forum held on the grounds of the university recently.
Chairman of the evening's proceedings, RJR's senior broadcaster, Derrick Wilkes, and panellist Bennie Watson, lecturer at UTech's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, in elaborating on creative tourism, saw it as a new way of visitors discovering a foreign culture by actually experiencing it.
"Visitors want to be involved in the daily life of their destination, thereby avoiding the designation of tourist. They want to do more than just learn and look; they want to immerse and become as Jamaican as possible. They want to live experiences where they can feel themselves as a local and then share their experiences on social media."
The UTech lecturer identified for her audience characteristics of this foreign visitor: technologically savvy, with excellent insight into the destination, the country, the culture. They come knowing where they want to go, what they want to do, and what they want to experience. They might go to the inner city, or the suburbs, or a rural community, probably making their decision about host and housing through Airbnb. They get their events and activity calendar online and are constantly on the move. They are looking for Brand Jamaica, authentic, in music, dance, food, culture.
MUSIC TO OUR EARS
This new generation of tourists is music to the ears of Jamaicans as they see an opportunity for more people to make a living through culture and creative industries.
Other panellists, Dr Henley Morgan, executive director, Agency for Inner-City Renewal; Orville Hall, managing director, Theatre Expressions; and Dr Dennis Howard, general manager, RJR-Gleaner Group Radio Services, saw creative tourism growing organically, and they were excited about what Jamaica had to offer in music, food, fashion, culture.
Showcasing and marketing our creative heritage through music and dance has helped the music industry employ some 45,000 people and earn an estimated US$143 million last year.
What gives panellist Dr Morgan hope is that culture is more authentic in the community, and having lived in Trench Town and been aware of the vibrancy of a cultural hub that claims the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Dean Fraser, Mortimer Planno, Bunny Wailer, Alton Ellis, Dr Morgan is convinced we can do much more to optimise our heritage and monetise our cultural infrastructure.
"This fascination with creative tourism is not nostalgia," he says, "as if we are trying to capture something that evaded us in the past. It is a future pulling us towards something great."
A strong message from the panellists was that our food, our talk, our dress, our music, our dance, being authentic were creative incubators for developing our communities.
There are drawbacks, yes, no rest stops, not enough street signs, bike trails and designated pavement for walking, but there is hope, and as Rita Marley says in song, "We have got so much things to say right now."