Rethink needed by Asa Wright Nature Centre

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -

NEWS of Asa Wright Nature Centre's closure is deeply disconcerting. When I was producing my nature television series, I often visited the centre as not only was wildlife at the reserve featured, but I'd often go to gather pick up shots for other episodes.

The shuttering of the premier eco-tourism destination in Trinidad and Tobago with a hard-won international reputation is nothing short of scandalous.

It's worth mentioning many of the international guests of Asa Wright would be sent on to the Caroni Swamp and other eco-tourism spots on the islands. The ripple effect of this development remains to be seen.

The nature reserve and eco-tourism business aren't unique in the challenges faced in a world remade by a pandemic. Several businesses across the country are secondary casualties of covid19. There are, however, many options that could have been explored by the nature reserve to weather the pandemic.

With the easing of restrictions and a gradual return to something resembling normal, Trinis have been keen to get out of their houses to shake that feeling of being cooped up.

The centre might have considered creating packages to absorb Trini wanderers, released from confinement and looking for something interesting to do on weekends. Asa Wright would have to tweak their offerings a bit to attract locals.

Bird nerds from other countries may be happy just to be regaled with bird song. Locals, on the other hand, would need an inducement beyond a walk along a rustic trail accompanied by a verbal exposé on the life of trees.

Weekend packages could have been developed for avid and amateur hikers in search of challenging terrain: "iron man/woman of the forest – take the 10-mile challenge through rugged, verdant terrain. Soothe those sore muscles and ankles in a cold, clear mountain spring right here on the property. Watch the sun set on your adventure from our verandah." That copy is obviously meant to work with images, but you get the idea.

The centre could also have experimented with a remote work model. The facility could have appealed to citizens accustomed to working from home, who would jump at the opportunity to switch up their work environments.

Folks needing to write reports or proposals for their jobs, writers, bloggers, content creators - they could be convinced of the appeal of a workspace that's a break from what can, at times, feel like stifling home surroundings.

It is, to my mind, the ideal location for a work/relaxation retreat. It can serve up the semi-solitude, quiet and separation that's so helpful in getting the creative juices unblocked.

In fact, I tried this at Asa Wright several years ago. Nearly all of my work is done from home, with the exception of sporadic outings. The visitors' centre has respectable wifi and there are several electrical outlets on the verandah, but my plan was a complete fiasco.

Sitting in a Morris chair is like sitting in a bucket. Trying to write on a laptop while sunk in one of those chairs with your knees at eye level is comically frustrating. There is nothing about the visitors' centre that's welcoming to the remote worker. Chairs and tables are too low for anything other than sitting down and having tea or coffee or nodding off.

Still, if the verandah were ever to be reopened, this is a viable option that could attract additional revenue. All that's needed is a sustained marketing thrust to bring in remote warriors and, of course, suitable furniture. Covid19 is forcing a rethink for many in the tourism industry. Nanan's Bird Sanctuary Tours developed a novel approach to adapt to the collapse of tourist arrivals.

They've added a "dinner in the Caroni Swamp" element to their sanctuary tours for locals. In the evening, the flat-bottomed boats at rest in the still waters of the swamp are converted into dining tables, complete with table cloth and everything. Nanan's is also doing video marketing on social media showing people a new take on an old product - tours of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary.

The Asa Wright Nature Centre is canvassing the public for donations to continue scientific work at the reserve. This seems misguided. While such research is crucial, it isn't likely to resonate with people for whom science holds no appeal.

Covid19 forced everyone to become flexible and imaginative to adapt and survive. The Asa Wright Nature Centre, special though it may be, isn't special in that regard.


"Rethink needed by Asa Wright Nature Centre"

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