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Meeting Points Way to New Tourism Angles


Nov. 28, 2006 — Tourism in harmony with nature: This could be the future of St. Croix if a group of planners, with the support of the community, has its way.
Years of effort have gone into searching for ways to jump start the St. Croix economy and renew tourism on the big island. Several speakers at a one-day symposium Tuesday zeroed in on key assets: St. Croix is rich in culture and nature, and heritage or natural tourism could point the way to the future.
The time is ripe for eco-tourism — or geo-tourism, the latest buzzword — said Claudette Young-Hinds. She serves as project coordinator for St. Croix Unified for Community, Culture, Environment and Economic Development (SUCCEED), a coalition that evolved from Community Action for a Maroon Park (CAMP).
Statistics show that of the 13.6 million adults who travel internationally, "74 percent of them are looking for a geo-tourism experience," Young-Hinds said during a town hall-style meeting at the University of the Virgin Islands Student Center. Organizers held the symposium to engage the community in the plans SUCCEED would like to develop for St. Croixs future.
Formed earlier this year in an attempt to preserve the West End area, where maroon slaves once lived, SUCCEED includes community organizations and various individuals. Members include Young-Hinds and community activists Paul Chakroff and Chenzira Kahina. Plans have centered on honoring the slaves who escaped bondage by running away to the steep, treacherous hills.
According to historical accounts, slaves often jumped from the hills into the ocean to their deaths rather than risk recapture.
Tuesdays gathering of more than 60 people was the second of a three-part series spearheaded by Young-Hinds, Chakroff and Kahina. Part One, a symposium, took place Monday at the Carambola Beach Resort, and brought developers, tourism-industry experts, government officials and average citizens together under the theme "The Viability of the Past in the Economic Future of St. Croix." The gathering Monday included suggestions and recommendations of what has worked in other destinations and what could work on St. Croix, for discussion Tuesday with community members.
The meeting Tuesday was set up to answer four key points, Young-Hinds told the audience:
1.The rationale for cultural, heritage and nature tourism, or geo-tourism.
2.Will geo-tourism fit St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands?
3.What does a responsible developer bring to the table?
4.What does a responsible community bring to the table?
In answering the rationale for geo-tourism, Young-Hinds said that speakers at Mondays symposium noted that sun-and-sand tourism has now "matured as a market, and its growth is projected to remain flat." In Costa Rica, for example, geo-tourism generates "$1000 per visitor, per visit."
In contrast, she said, cruise-ship arrivals spend an average of three cents per person in local economies.
Some of the suggestions for geo-tourism on St. Croix included adventure tourism, where people would trek through ruins and go hiking or diving. Sports tourism could include golf, diving and baseball. Entertainment tourism could include music and food festivals, while heritage tourism would capitalize on St. Croixs rule under seven different countries, including Denmark and the United States.
Other suggestions included features such as nature trails, a maroon museum or using locally grown products such as herbs and spices as part of the lure.
One business owner described the impact the local community has had on his business. Sam Raphael, a Dominica native and former St. Croix resident, owns Jungle Bay Resort and Spa in Dominica. Raphael said he uses fruits and vegetables grown locally and fresh fish from fishermen. According to Young-Hinds, Raphael donated money to community groups to help them start the projects that would help sustain his spa and resort.
These are things that responsible developers would do — without local government having to tell them to do so, Young-Hinds said.
Suggestions also included creating an environment for investment, simplifying the economic-development process and creating incentives. The result, Young-Hinds said, would be a "social-economic-environmental balance."
SUCCEED is not about copying any one project, Young-Hinds said, but rather using the success of others to help chart a way to St. Croixs future.
"What should it look like?" she said. "We dont know. Thats why we invite you to join us as we begin to craft the answers."
The third part of the SUCCEED series, a community-planning workshop, is set for 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 9 in Room 133 at UVI.
During a brief question-and-answer period, one participant wrote: "How do you connect a community that is apathetic to its culture?"
The answer was to educate residents, beginning with elementary-level students, by pointing out the viability of the eco-tourism industry, and letting them know how they can prosper as small-business owners. That way, organizers said, St. Croix will get a desperately needed economic boost.
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