By Jasminee Sahoye
A respected historian, anthropologist and politician from the island of Dominica has thrown out a challenge to Caribbean tourism officials to ensure that their information about sites, performances and experiences is accurate, honest and interesting.
Dr. Lennox Honychurch, during a presentation, titled Delivering Authenticity: The Truth About Product Development, at the State of the Industry Conference of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation in Martinique, says “with the flick of a smart phone and a quick entry into the Google search engine a tour guide can be proved to be wrong”
He adds that an average visitor to the Caribbean is “far better informed” than when the tourism industry began to blossom in the 1960s, questioning “what are we giving them when they get here? How really authentic is the experience? Authenticity is a difficult concept to pin down. It can be the genuine article or it can be a delusion of the real thing that the visitor is prepared to buy into.”
Dr. Honychurch, who holds a doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Oxford and published widely on Dominican history, geography and culture, states that visitors to Disney World know they are participating in “make believe” but Caribbean tourism is often times market as the “genuine article.”
“Our colorful history and the sites associated with these events are among the key features of our product. The way in which they are restored and maintained must follow as much as possible the traditional methods, so that we can honestly say that such a fort has survived intact for three hundred years, or that a sugar plantation complex is more or less as it was when “sugar was king”. The materials used in their construction are a significant part of the story. Displays of information and artifacts are necessary to authenticate this. Interesting and well designed interpretation centers are increasingly becoming an important part of natural and heritage sites,” says Dr. Honychurch, who also served as a senator in the House of Assembly of Dominica from 1975-1979 as a member of the Dominica Freedom Party.
He states, “a large part of tourism is show business: set, lights, action. And as in show business, the show must go on as scheduled, as much as possible, regardless of the unexpected interventions, which may occur from time to time.”
The sets are also important, he adds. “The scenic backdrop to the tourist’s visit; the historic sites, the rain forest adventures, the underwater coral gardens, the floor shows displaying so called “cultural dances”. These are the Caribbean tourist experiences that our clients have been encouraged to visit.”
The anthropologist notes that the various natural landscapes are value added but laments the fact that coral reefs, which are tourists attraction to the Caribbean are being threatened. “Dive operators now have to frankly explain the realities of the bleaching of coral and damage to coastlines due to climate change. I have personally witnessed the disappointment of snorkelers and scuba divers after they have visited sites promoted for their beautiful sponges and corals. Of course, what makes it more difficult for dive operators are the fantastic underwater images that appear in television documentaries. And their clients expect similar quality at every site.”
Dr. Honychurch touched on other attractions that drive the industry such as flora and fauna in parks, botanic gardens and protected areas, Amerindian settlements, pirates and privateers, plantation life, slavery and indentured labourers, cuisine and sources of ingredients and the cultural mix of music, dance, dress and language and how they can add more value to the “Caribbean experience” if they are preserved and marketed properly.