Desperate times call for Prudent Measures: Getting the Bahamian economy moving with Heritage Tourism
By Jamal J. Archer
Today’s Bahamas seems like a ship without a sail; it has drifted so far from its roots that the vision of moving forward has somehow impaired the realization of where we the people came from. It was once common to see Bahamians ‘toil the soil’; subsistence farming was more than ensuring that our bread had butter, it preserved history and transferred it from one generation to another. The preservation of our history can no longer be mere words, trapped in a jail called archives, cared for by a warden called a librarian. ‘Lift up your head to the rising sun bahamaland’. With record level unemployment, and an increase in social and moral decay, desperate times call for prudent measures. It is now time for Bahamians young and old, to reconnect with our heritage in a manner that will restore national pride and generate revenue.
Generating revenue to revive the Bahamian economy may be difficult, but not impossible. Such a paradigm shift requires the wisdom of age and the curiosity of youth. I propose the introduction of a national program referred to as ‘Heritage Bahamas’. ‘Heritage Bahamas’ intends to create projects that accentuate historical Bahamian traditions in a global market as a branch of tourism. This innovative idea will prepare Bahamians to work in areas that have yet to be realized. Historically, tourism in The Bahamas comprised of a ride in the local taxicab or a strut in our old-fashioned horse and carriage. Other Bahamians refer to our colorful and mouthwatering ‘Fish Fry’ just minutes away from the illustrious Down Town Nassau as tourism. Nowadays the new Baha-Mar and timeless Atlantis resorts all essentially represent what we view as our touristic products.
Lesvie Clare-Archer has completed studies in International Hospitality and Tourism Management, Marketing and Spanish, and defines Cultural Heritage Tourism as “the strategic planning, development and promotion of a country’s tangible and intangible culture and heritage”. This definition will act as a yardstick to measure how far away Bahamians have drifted, while also pointing us in the direction we need to go.
Bahamians, young and old, have grown impatient with politicians and lobbyists who claim to be experts on recognizing the problems but unable to provide effective solutions. Before we uncover the potential solution of using our history to generate revenue in a contemporary market, there is a premise that must be set. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, five principles exist for a country to develop a successful and sustainable cultural heritage tourism industry: Collaborate, Find the fit, Make sites and programs come alive, Focus on quality and authenticity, and Preserve and protect.
The project ‘Heritage Bahamas’ may seem farfetched at first glance, but to the contrary, it is plausible as similar projects currently exist. Upon examination of other countries that promote their cultural heritage as a tourism product, this form of tourism is also very lucrative. The United Nations World Tourism Organization in 2011 ranked five countries to be the leaders in Heritage Tourism based on the number of international tourist visits. The number one country is France with 79.5million arrivals, followed by the United States (62.3million), China (57.6 million), Spain (56.7 million) and Italy (46.1million). Based on these numbers, if each tourist represents a dollar value, we can assume that these countries probably do moderately well in terms of revenues. If ‘Heritage Bahamas’ aims to be as great as any of the countries listed above, we must first understand these countries ‘modus operandi’, and second, we must ascertain which aspects of our heritage are unique enough that local and international tourists would enthusiastically pay to explore.
For example, in China, the government has ‘taken the bull by the horn’ in marketing its Heritage Tourism product. Its government heavily encourages tourists to visit Li and Miao cultural villages, to hike in its mountains and rainforest, and to visit cultural artifacts, cultural relics and cultural shows of song and dance done by the Hakka people of China. Many tourists travel to China to experience cultural sites such as the ‘Great Wall’ and visit caves like the ‘Mogao Caves’ which is referred to as a treasure house of oriental art.
Another example is France, who attracted 78.95million tourists in 2010, which made the country the most popular destination in the world. France has heavily marketed ‘Green Tourism’ through its beaches, shoreline resorts, ski resorts, and countryside regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquility. Its capital, Paris, is the most visited city in the world. Paris is also home to the Louvre, the most visited art museum in the world, and also the museum Musee d’Orsay mostly devoted to impressionism.
Spain, a country that enjoys a diverse landscape, effectively markets its exotic volcanic landscape and riveting wetlands as one of its main cultural attraction. It is a nation of much ecologic value, with several national parks, as well as the Cave of Altamira.
Italy is amongst the greatest countries to effectively create sustainable Heritage Tourism products. The country is primarily known for its rich art, cuisine, history, fashion, culture and priceless ancient monuments. Italy presently has the most World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world. Italy also features Cultural Heritage Walking Tours, which are small group tours that take tourists to galleries, museums, villas, archaeological sites, neighborhoods, restaurants and historic buildings.
All the countries cited use aspects of their local history and culture to craft sustainable industries which provide enormous job growth opportunities and increased cash flows in their respective economies.
Now, the questions for Bahamians are, what does ‘Heritage Bahamas’ have to offer a heritage tourist, and how can we support and sustain such an industry? For years, The Bahamas has vigorously been sold as a Sun, Sand, and Sea destination, but it is time to unleash the next strategic phase in tourism marketing.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States defines Heritage Tourism as the “travel to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past”. Heritage Bahamas intends to do just that.
When I asked Androsian Christopher Knowles, ‘what can Andros offer a Heritage Tourist?’, he responded by sharing how tourists love the natural environment, and enjoy sharing cultural experiences with the locals. Mr. Knowles believes that ‘living off the land’ is an experience that can engage a Heritage Tourist. He said, “our meat is kept in the sea” explaining that the sea is like their refrigerator. “In Andros, we cure our meat by stuffing it with salt then wrapping it in a cloth, and then we bury it in the dirt. We also beat the conch and fish then hang it out in the sun to dry and eat it much later”. Many tourists will travel to a country where each day they can catch their own meal, season, and prepare it themselves for consumption. Mr. Knowles also suggested that tourists may enjoy going to the local mill to grind their own corn into flour, grits or cornmeal. How about ‘catching crab’ or ‘crab watching’? With appropriate security measures put in place tourists can learn to catch their very own crab to eat it. Tourists can also partake in the crab spawning season, where they can watch thousands of crabs come from the mainland to lay eggs.
According to Chris, this is what ‘Heritage Bahamas’ is really about; Bahamians sharing their customs and cultures with people from around the world. These traditions are old to us but new to the tourist. Andros is a great site for ‘Heritage Bahamas’ to start. Villages that offer this lifestyle as a tourism product provides new, unique tourists experiences, encourage repeat and referral tourism, and may also decrease the soaring unemployment rate.
Andros is just a tip of the iceberg; there are so many more islands and so much more of our local Heritage to share with the world. ‘Heritage Bahamas’ introduces Bahamian landmarks and customs to the world. For example, Long Island is known for bone fishing, caves visits, and features a museum of local artifacts. The island also has the world’s deepest blue hole.
Another Heritage Tourism marketing strategy involves the organization of native plays about folklore tales of B’bouki and B’rabbi. Bahamians can present theatre style reenactment plays of ‘The Burma Road Riot’, ‘Mace out the window’ and perhaps ‘The Suffragettes ’. Also, plays about ‘Piracy’, and ‘Rum running’ etc. can be reenacted at our local forts. Plays provide good cultural heritage experiences for people, provide jobs to locals, and generate revenue in the country.
‘Heritage Bahamas’ can also revive the Junkanoo workshop, where its patrons learn to paste a costume, shake a cowbell, and participate in a Junkanoo rushout.
‘Heritage Bahamas,’ according to Lesvie Clare-Archer, with funding and strategic planning, can develop into a program that promotes the tangible and intangible aspects of our cultural heritage. ‘Heritage Bahamas’ is an overlap between tourism and native Bahamas, an opportunity to bring tourists who want to experience intrinsic history and our way of life into our Family of Islands and wherever else Bahamian history exists.
Desperate times call for prudent measures, let’s get the Bahamian economy moving with Heritage Bahamas. Jobs, jobs, jobs……………………………….
By Jamal J. Archer