Rastafari Indigenous Village

Making the most of Mo Bay…

Annette Coral in JamaicaWhat’s it like working on sustainable tourism projects in a popular holiday destination? In today’s blog piece, we gain insight from Coral Purvil-Williams (Jamaica Project Research Assistant, right in picture), and Annette Tingle (Jamaica Programmes Coordinator, left in picture), on the latest TF activity in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Coral is based in Montego Bay, and Annette in Kingston on the other side of the island. Whilst always in contact, Annette and Coral get together on a regular basis for meetings with stakeholders and project participants to ensure the smooth running of the Travel Foundation’s activities in Jamaica.

Last week, Annette and Coral spent three days together in Montego Bay, having been asked to provide feedback on a customer day trip by an excursion provider. Making the most of their joint time in town, they were also due to meet with the Rastafari Indigenous Village, and research Montego Bay hotspots (and those that are lesser known!) for new customer communication and staff training materials.

Who better to hear from on how their time was spent than from the Mo Bay resident herself, Coral…

“On Tuesday afternoon, after getting some administrative work out of the way in the morning and collecting Annette, our job was to meet with the excursion provider, before participating, ‘secret shopper’ style, in one of their Montego Bay shopping excursions. The idea was to provide feedback and recommendations relating to the amount and level of information provided by the tour guides, the quality of each stop and opportunities for participants to meet local people and purchase Jamaican drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Following on from the tour, we collated all our feedback and sent it on to the excursion provider.

Richmond Hill - View over MoBayOn Wednesday, we visited ‘Ahhh… Ras Natango Gallery & Garden’ as we are thinking about including it in some new promotional materials about what to do and see in Montego Bay. The drive there was a great experience; we meandered along narrow roads, up some 2000ft, into the mountains while watching the pace of life in rural Montego Bay. Our time there was spent interacting with other guests and meeting with the owners.

After a quick lunch we were on our way to our next appointment at the Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV) but unfortunately we received a call to say they were unable to accommodate us. This often happens when dealing with operational businesses; they need to react and respond to day-to-day activities which calls for us to remain adaptable and flexible. So, instead of meeting the RIV community we squeezed in a meeting at the Tortuga Rum Cake factory (which will be added, along with the gallery and gardens, to TF materials and potentially the excursion provider’s new tour) and completed the day with paperwork and planning! Annette will be back next month to meet with RIV…

On Thursday, we were up pretty early prepping for our scheduled meeting with the Sustainability Director for Karisma Hotels and Resorts at their Azul Sensatori hotel property in Negril. Following previous collaboration between TF and Karisma in Mexico, on the Jungle Jams project, the hotel group is interested in opportunities to get involved in sustainability work in Jamaica. This meeting was lengthy but productive – five hours later, it was quite a scramble to get Annette back to the bus station for her transfer back to Kingston – we now have some interesting options to consider!

As a result of our mystery shopping exercise and our site visits, the excursion provider has said that our feedback will be used to…

“enhance the quality of the (existing) Mo Bay shopping trip for our customers and to make it more sustainable for the community…” It was also mentioned that they are now “thinking of developing a (new) exclusive shopping trip for Montego Bay and I will use your recommendations when putting it together”.

These activities form part of TF’s project aimed at improving visitor circulation and spend in Montego Bay. TF are in the process of developing communications tools for visitors and training sessions for tourism staff which celebrate and promote the unique qualities of Montego Bay.

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Tourism through a lens…

Last month we asked Chris Willan, professional photographer, to capture our activities in Jamaica and Mexico. It’s the first time Chris has shot for us in these locations, so we asked him to share his experience. He’s back from his trip and here’s what he had to say…

The brief arrives from TF. What’s your first thought? Be honest!

You always have a huge shopping list! It was a massive brief, but I like a challenge, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve shot in both locations before, but Mexico was more of an unknown for me, I’d not really been off the beaten track before so I was really excited about going to some of the villages and visiting a pearl farm. When you first said Cancun I just thought of hotel strips, I could not have been more surprised. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable trips I have done in a long time. It has everything, you just need to know where to find it.

You visited the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Jamaica, what do you think holidaymakers will enjoy most? Arlene

Having arrived via a beautiful tropical garden, Arlene greets you, and introduces you to the concept behind the village, and then you have to go barefoot through the river to reach the village. It’s only ankle deep and is a lovely experience. You’re given a stave and encouraged to celebrate water and the life it gives, which is very important in Rastafari culture. It’s a great sensory experience – most people don’t do that on a daily basis! Throughout the day you learn lots about the Rastafari lifestyle, and the Emperor Haile Selassie I from Ethiopia, and why it became a way of living and a religion. I actually knew a fair bit about this because I was born in East Africa and my father has a picture of me next to the Emperor Haile Selassie I when he was on a state visit to Uganda!

You spent some time in Montego Bay, did you find any hidden charms?

I find as a traveller the most charming things are the real things, real life happening. I prefer quieter places to reflect and my favourite place here was Dump-Up Beach, one of the few public beaches left; it’s where the locals gather. I just liked sitting down there watching people play football, and seeing families gather. It had a real community feel, and I really like seeing people enjoying the place naturally, when you know it’s not a spectacle for tourism. It has a feel that it’s ‘real’ Jamaica.

In Mexico, you visited two communities in the Yucatan peninsula, one making jam and the other honey products. What are their surroundings like?

HoneyFirstly, I visited the jam making community in Chumpon. The indication that we’d arrived was an enormous tree in the centre of the village – their Trafalgar square! My first thought was that there isn’t very much there, a little shop, and some houses varying in their construction, some modern and some very traditional. There’s quite a lot of contrast – modern cars parked outside very traditional houses, and the jam factory is modern and well equipped. One thing that really stood out with this group was that they were so grateful to the project because it would mean that their children wouldn’t need to leave the village to go and work in hotels in Cancun. They could continue with their traditional way of life, and they really appreciated that they could continue to live this way. The village that’s home to the group making honey products had a very similar feel, again a big tree marking the centre. A lot of the village seemed very engaged with the project, and they were very welcoming and accepting. It was a really enjoyable experience, but I was a bit against the clock! Sometimes you need to put a bit of gasoline on the fire to get the shots you need. There is so much to learn from the Mayan culture, they’re great to listen to and it leaves a lot of questions about how we live today.

You met a lot of people during your time overseas. Who sticks in your mind, and why?

YuriYuritzin Flores, TF’s programme manager in Mexico. She has an aura around her that just says she is the perfect person for the job, I have never seen anyone so welcomed by so many people in so few days. She’s hard working, was concerned with everything going smoothly, constantly sending messages to update everyone if we were running late etc. She was the stand out personality – you can often feel like the lone warrior in sustainable tourism, but through her you realise there is actually an army of people out there concerned with the same thing.

PaulineIn Jamaica, it would have to be Pauline at the craft market in Mo Bay. She took me under her wing and made sure I was ok, she got me some food, we had a laugh together and everytime I went past the market she’d give me a big wave and made sure everyone else made me welcome too. She made me feel like I was travelling with my mum – if anything was wrong I knew I could go to Pauline and she’d make it all ok!

Every good photographer needs to keep their energy up with some good food. What dishes shone in Jamaica, and in Mexico?

In Jamaica my best meal was rice and peas and goat curry in the market in Mo Bay. There isn’t much meat in a goat curry, and you will get told off if you don’t suck the bones! It’s spicy and definitely very Jamaica. The fresh juices were also great. I sat eating it on a broken chair with lots of people around me doing the same, it made me feel like I was at a family dinner.

In Mexico everything is great, but I’d have to choose the handmade tortillas I had in Chumpon. Everyone ate communally in a central building with a thatched roof, and the tortillas came with a paste made from roast pumkpin seeds, tomatoes, shallots, fresh cheese (which is like cottage cheese in the UK), and sauces, all washed down with Pitahi juice. It was absolutely delicious. For me though, food isn’t just about taste, it’s about experience, and getting to eat with the locals, and watching them prepare it from scratch was great.

Down to the nitty gritty…Jamaica – favourite picture? Just one! And why?

DumpUpDump-Up Beach, it was the end of the day and I knew within 20 minutes they’d be no light left for the rest of the day, the light was good and I got the perfect shot of locals playing football on the beach.

IslaMujersSame goes for Mexico…

Again, it was the end of the day and I was waiting for the sun to go down over Isla Mujeres and I was watching some pelicans flying around. I often think the ‘end of the day’ pictures sum up how your day went. The sunset gave a feeling of calm, and the energy was coming from the Pelicans – it really summed up how the trip had gone.

That’s why you become a photographer. The camera has given me a passport to an amazing life, taking pictures is the first and last thing I think about every day, and at 51 I’m still looking forward to my best years. With photography you can get better as time goes on, the experience gives you the understanding you need to get a great picture.

Feeling alright in Jamaica…

Salli Annette Coral Suzie in JamaicaIn January, our Jamaica team welcomed CEO Salli Felton and Destinations Officer Suzannah Newham to the island. Although Salli has been to the “Land of Wood and Water” several times before, this is her first visit since becoming CEO.

The visit comes at a time when we are starting to work more closely with Jamaica’s national tourism organisation to build partnerships which we hope will be the catalyst for creating more sustainable benefits from tourism. The schedule of meetings and site visits began in Kingston on the southern end of the island, and took us to Montego Bay via the north coastal roads through the scenic interior of the country.

Site visits included several craft markets, the cruise ship pier, the Hip Strip and a tour of Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV), who are involved in a Travel Foundation project to improve business practice and generate more income from mainstream holidaymakers.

Salli was pleased with her Rastafari ‘immersion’ experience, while Suzannah delivered an important session on costing and pricing excursion products and was able to confirm our commitment to this project for the duration of 2015.

As one of Jamaica’s tourism slogans goes, ”Come to Jamaica, and feel alright”. So of course, there was delicious Devon House ice cream, braised oxtail, coconut water and spicy jerk pork and chicken, as well as Suzannah’s favourite – roasted breadfruit!

We look forward to sharing more on the fruits of our projects in Jamaica in the near future.

Visiting Bluefields Bay and Rastafari Indigenous Village in Jamaica

Suzannah Newham at Rastafari Indigenous Village

Suzannah Newham at Rastafari Indigenous Village

Suzannah Newham (Destinations Programme Officer) recently visited Jamaica to work with Annette Tingle (Jamaica Programmes Coordinator) to conduct scoping research and to visit existing project partners.

The trip took Suzannah and Annette away from the main resorts of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios to the beautiful south coast. Here, the Travel Foundation are supporting The Caribsave Partnership in scoping the potential for new excursions which could support local fishing communities in diversifying their income while ensuring effective environmental stewardship of the Bluefields Bay and Gallon fish sanctuaries.

Scoping included extended time with the fishermen and wardens, as well as meetings with key tour operators, a tour of the historical sites of Bluefields Bay, a visit to a cave network with Cockpit Country Adventure Tours, a trip to Treasure Beach and stops at both Appleton Rum Estate and YS Falls – all “must sees” for trips to Jamaica.

The results of this research visit are currently being considered by Caribsave – keep an eye on the Travel Foundation website for updates and news about the new excursions.

Back in Montego Bay, Suzannah and Annette also visited the Rastafari Indigenous Village (RIV) community to work on a recently launched project which aims to develop mainstream market links for RIV’s unique micro-excursion. Following visits from TUI UK & Ireland staff, recommendations for small improvements have been made, and all RIV community members have been offered the opportunity to experience an excursion already sold to Thomson and First Choice customers. Jill Carter (Head of Retail at TUI UK & Ireland) will be visiting the community later in July to deliver a training workshop, alongside Annette, on customer expectations.

The aim is to trial RIV excursions with TUI UK & Ireland customers by September this year.

We would like to thank Rhino Car Hire and their partners in Jamaica, Island Car Rentals, for their support with car hire for this trip – not only was the car invaluable in terms of covering the 750km+ of road for the scoping exercise, it also proved a great way to see the country and find hidden gems off the beaten track.

Handover ceremony at Rastafari Indigenous Village, Jamaica

The Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay, Jamaica has been officially “handed over” at a ceremony to mark the end of a year-long upgrade project.

Master Straw Weaver Richard Miller

Master Straw Weaver Richard Miller. Photo: Rastafari Indigenous Village Facebook page

Established in 2007, the village is located in Irwin on the outskirts of Montego Bay.

The mission of its founders was to build a tangible, sustainable agro-artisan community to showcase the history, traditional practices and lifestyle of the Rastafari movement, which started in Jamaica in the 1930s.

The idea has always been to use tourism as a mechanism for long-term funding and as a way to preserve, celebrate and communicate Rastafari traditions for the benefit of national and international visitors.

In 2012, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund – Rural Economic Development Initiative (JSIF REDI) provided J$18M funding to upgrade the infrastructure of the village in order to meet international tourist attraction standards. The project came to a close in December 2013.

At the same time, the Travel Foundation provided villagers with in-kind training and development sessions on vision and mission, and group cohesion.

Annette Tingle at the handover ceremony

Annette Tingle at the handover ceremony

Annette Tingle, the Travel Foundation’s Jamaica Programmes Coordinator, was invited to attend the JSIF REDI handover ceremony on 4 April in Montego Bay.

She congratulated the village and expressed the Travel Foundation’s continued commitment, saying she “was very pleased that the Travel Foundation was recognised by the Rastafari Indigenous Village and JSIF as a valued partner that was willing to gift the village with time and expertise to support its development”.

The Travel Foundation will now work with the villagers to develop mainstream market links for their unique micro-excursion. Look out for more information here and on our project pages over the coming months.