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Mastering cultural tourism in TT

By JANELLE DE SOUZA Thursday, January 20 2011

Carnival is upon us and soon, Trinidad and Tobago will be inundated with tourists from around the world.

In addition to mas on Monday and Tuesday, there are the fetes, calypso tents, competitions and shows one could attend. But how can a visitor find out about these events before hand? Can tickets to these events be purchased before arriving on TT shores? What other cultural activities are there to attend? How can we use technology to further promote our culture?

Proper marketing strategies would answer such questions simply and effectively, encouraging more persons to visit TT to get a taste of what the country has to offer.

With that in mind, The Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI), in collaboration with Queen Margaret University, will host a Cultural Tourism Master Class at the Queen’s Park Oval, Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain on February 8 - 9, 2011 focusing on the business of culture.

The class was designed to assist local and regional stakeholders in the tourism industry to promote and market their cultural businesses effectively. Some of the courses include Cultural Events Tourists: Why Are They So Desirable; The Hospitality Industry’s Roles and Approaches to Cultural Event Tourism; The Relationship of Cultural Event Tourism and the Commercial Home and more.

Patricia Butcher, executive director of TTHTI said the class is coming at a very appropriate time as TT has a major cultural event coming up - Carnival.

“More than that, cultural tourism is becoming more popular worldwide. Tourists now want to immerse themselves in the destination that they visit - how the locals live, what they do, how they interact with each other, their heritage, art and culture,” she said. “Because of our diversity in TT, because we are so unique, we believe the country has a lot to offer the world. We believe we can develop our tourism sector more if we focus on this particular area but it is necessary to promote it.”

Butcher noted in the Caribbean region, competition is great as visitors are offered “Sun, Sea and Sand.” The Institute believes cultural tourism is about appreciating a destination and its people. Therefore, packaging the product in a way that would attract more people is important. In addition, if cultural tourism is made the focus, TT will be at an advantage.

“We have a unique selling proposition because our culture is diverse and authentic - we have Spanish, French, British, African, Indian and Amerindian ancestors. When you go into our various communities, you get a taste of something different. We need to package and promote what we have to offer at international standards of excellence. Hence the reason for inviting Queen Margaret University which has a very good reputation for courses that deliver instruction in that area,” she said.

The facilitators of the Cultural Tourism Master Class will be Dr Rebecca Finkel and Dr Majella Sweeney who are both lecturers with the School of Business, Management and Enterprise at Queen Margaret University.

Dr Finkel is an urban cultural geographer and Events Management Programme Leader at the University. Her main field of study is the role of festivals and events in the cultural economy and their social, economic and political impacts on communities and places. She has published works on the social impacts of events, cultural events tourism and culture-related regeneration. She is also the author of “Human Rights and Global Events” with Routledge and Co-Editor of “Research Themes in Events” with CABI, both due to be published in 2011.

Dr Sweeney is a Hospitality Management lecturer as well as a member of the Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Network of the Higher Education Academy and the British Academy of Management.

Her current research interests include small hospitality enterprises, commercial homes, hospitality events and qualitative research methods, specifically visual methods within the hospitality and tourism industry. She has published work on the economic, social and emotional impacts of the host’s relationship with the commercial home and also on the management of space within small hospitality enterprises.

“The class strives to teach and inform about the business of cultural tourism. It will show how to organise yourself to effectively deliver cultural tourism as a business. In addition, it’s always a smart idea get a different perspective on what we have - the things we may take for granted and, therefore, don’t always see the value,” said TTHTI lecturer Jala Bernard.

Training and Development Manager Andrea Brasnell said the class will be interactive with a lot of group work where locals share their experiences.

The lecturers too will receive a brief tour of Port-of-Spain enabling them to see and experience a few of the things TT has to offer, allowing them to integrate their observances into the classes.

“This is one of the ways the Institute is using to promote what TT has to offer and bring our people up to an international standard. We see TTHTI as the premiere hospitality and tourism institute in TT and the region and so we feel we have a role to play, taking the lead in bring tourism up to an international standard,” said Butcher.

Domestic tourism, described as residents of a given country travelling within the country, can also be improved through marketing. Butcher gave the examples of the turtle watching in Matura and Point Fortin Borough Day celebrations. She noted that persons from all over the country go to these areas to enjoy what these communities have to offer.

“Look at Chaguaramas!” she exclaimed. “It is unique and beautiful. From the ecotourism perspective, Chaguaramas has a lot to offer. We have the bamboo cathedral, people like to hike, Macaripe Bay has been improved, there is a museum, there’s kayaking, we have the Gasparie caves down the islands... There is so much to do just here is Chaguaramas and if you multiply that by the number of communities we have out there with unique selling propositions... We have a lot to offer.”

Butcher also pointed out that cultural tourists stay longer and spend more money than leisure tourists. This is because they are actually coming to a country to know the people and experience a different lifestyle. They therefore spend more time in an area.

“Leisure tourists tend to participate in more packaged activities that are easy to visit. Cultural tourists however, will get into communities and the people of those communities benefit more from this as it creates job opportunities such as bed and breakfasts, food preparation and guided tours,” reiterated Brasnell.

“If you focus on our mission statement, our focus is on quality. We want to deliver quality services and products at international standards of excellence,” said Elizabeth Hudlin, Quality Assurance Manager. “TTHTI recently received its ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification in March 2010. We are the first educational institute in TT to be ISO certified. What the certification says is that we are operating a quality management system here at TTHTI. It’s about continuous improvement.”

Butcher said the school and its programmes are focused on developing, not only the students, but the wider community.

“We recognise we are in a unique industry so we want to ensure, as a hospitality institute, to bring people up to a level of excellence and standards that can meet the needs of local and international tourists,” she said.

The Cultural Tourism Master Class is aimed at travel agents, event managers, airline companies, hoteliers, tour-operators, carnival band leaders, performing artists, and all tourism and performance stakeholders are invited to attend. Registration forms are available on the TTHTI website: www.tthti.edu.tt or by calling 634-4250 ext 235.

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