Stakeholders: Time to tap into St Mary's tourism potential
St Mary has the potential to become one of the country's most popular heritage tourism hotspots, according to local businesspeople and the Social Development Commission's manager for the parish, Travis Graham.
However, speaking last week during a Growth Forum hosted by The Gleaner at Beaches Resort and Golf Club in St Mary, Graham claimed the number of undeveloped heritage locations in the parish dwarfed the established sites.
"When I look at St Mary, I think the parish has a serious competitive advantage in terms of heritage and culture, but it's really about, how do we make this become systematic so that it even becomes part of the educational system within the parish?
"The earliest settlers came between St Mary and St Ann, so there are many spaces in the parish that can be used for community tours, which the parish would really benefit from," he said.
St Mary's capital town, Port Maria, is a rich cultural hub comprising five hugely significant locations: the English garrison erected in 1759 to protect the town; Fort Haldane; the Civic Centre, where Alexander Bustamante was tried and acquitted of manslaughter in 1946; two churches; and Claude Stuart Park.
Additionally, the town is home to Jamaica's longest-running Fisherman's Regatta; and the Firefly estate where the legendary pirate Sir Henry Morgan and English playwright Sir Noel Coward both resided at some point.
Other attractions include the impressive museum in Rio Nuevo, Harmony Hall Great House and Art Gallery in Tower Isle, and four areas in Woodside, near Highgate, which have been earmarked to receive National Heritage status. These include 14 Arawak-designed steps carved into rock, and a communal space utilised by local residents for many hundreds of years.
Graham said: "I went to Woodside the other day and saw they have a zemi and some Arawak steps. There are a lot of historical features within the parish, but the biggest problem facing St Mary is governance.
"We really need to look [at heritage tourism] on a long-term basis and how community groups and others organise themselves. It is obvious the governance framework in St Mary for community structures is weak.
"There are very few people volunteering, and a lot of those who do are just trying to get something from it. The only reason why a lot of people volunteer is because of their political ambitions.
"We are trying to get the community groups to form strong executive bodies and to understand they must have a validated constitution. But more importantly, there must be a better flow of communication in the parish so people can come around the table and bring out their issues."
He added: "We have to look at how we are going to facilitate the development of the community tourism sector, and the relationships between the big hotels and community spaces because the hotels are not just going to send their guests up to a community without being sure of the safety issues. And if the facilities are not developed, guests will feel unfulfilled, and that will have a negative impact."