Saturday, September 28, 2013

Role of the Countrystyle Community Tourism Network and Villages as Businesses in Jamaica

Diana McIntyre-Pike, Founder and President of the Countrystyle Community Tourism Network

Diana McIntyre-Pike realized, as she was building her model of community tourism in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, that there was a need for an organization to serve as a liaison between the visitor and the community, hence Countrystyle Community Tourism Network (CCTN) was born as a nongovernmental organization bringing together the various groups that participate in the tours. This group is designed as a membership organization. Likewise, Diana created a for-profit corporation called Villages as Businesses (VAB) to manage the contracts with the groups, a part of the project still in development. 


What Diana wants readers to know is that the combined efforts of CCTN and VAB will create what she calls "an efficient destination management organization to design the community experience tours." She adds that this organization will distinguish itself by "bearing in mind the clients' interests and budget and also making changes as required by the clients. CCTN with VAB will be providing business development support, marketing support and training support at discounted rates [to the communities] since they are members of CCTN.The network integrates the activities of the tour operators and attractions with the logistics piece. Other roles that the combined organizations will fulfill will be "responding to any emergencies and special requests...and dealing with any problems that may occur in a community." 



Any business that wants to grow has to become increasingly specialized in certain areas. For example, a business may hire individuals to handle sales and the ongoing relationship with clients. The workers in the "back room" are focused on creating the product and shipping it, and don't have the time to handle client relationships and drive sales at the same time. Likewise, CCTN and VAB fulfill this go-between function, and have an enormous amount of credibility with the villages, accommodations and tour operators that form part of the network.

CCTN/VAB also play a vital role as advocate for the community, which cannot be overemphasized. Diana notes that CCTN/VAB act as a "'go between' with organizations like Sandals Resorts, Island Routes, and other local and international tour companies and travel agents." Yet this role, while being vital for keeping the whole operation functioning, is the area that tends to be overlooked because it is so seamless and invisible to the client as well as to internal stakeholders such as foundations or government agencies. One essential component of advocacy which I have experienced firsthand, is CCTN and VAB "sticking their foot in the door." Communities often encounter considerable obstacles when dealing with government agencies or funders, due to the uneven power relationship which favors those who control the allocation of resources. Diana and her collaborators have fought hard to gain a fair hearing for sustainable tourism projects, but always insist that those who would oppose unsustainable programs not just criticize but also offer viable alternatives. This is where the truly hard work of advocacy comes in. 

When it comes to politics and especially dividing up the spoils of politics - wealth, influence and hegemony, those who would seek to retain these for themselves and their associates have to create some type of noise to destroy the credibility of a legitimate alternative. If this activity is allowed to be unchecked, politics, economy and the social fabric acquire a dysfunctional nature. The best approach to counter this tendency is to stick to logic, hard evidence and the legitimate rule of law to gain public support for valid ideas, which are more difficult to ignore once their worth has been proven and the public base becomes convinced of the resultant benefits to society. For me, it is exciting to witness the growth of this grass roots initiative to develop a sustainable economic model and channel the enormous power of a well-designed tourism product to go beyond providing leisure and truly create good will between people.
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