DARA E HEALY
“The collision of two trends – globalisation and the experience economy – has ignited a new travel zeitgeist (mood or spirit of the times) with cultural curiosity at its heart. This is the ‘new culture economy.’ The phenomenon is having a profound impact on people’s interactions and definitions of cultural exploration and presents an incredible commercial opportunity.”
– Kris Naudits, Culture Trip
THIS WEEK, two of the largest industries in the world – travel and the environment – convened gatherings to connect practitioners, members of the business community and supporters. TT was represented at both the World Travel Market in London and the Climate Summit in Egypt.
As we engage with the rest of the world as a country with a wealth of cultural heritage to offer, what conversations should we be having about the impact of global tourism trends and the effects of climate change on our culture?
These concepts are not as far apart as you may think. Analyses of climate instability generally focus on areas such as agriculture, human settlements and availability of water resources. However, consider that for several years we have been, quite literally, battling with the ocean to preserve our coastlines.
For instance, it is said that the land near the Temple of the Sea and surrounding areas needs to be raised to save this aspect of our cultural heritage. And in Gran Chemin, Moruga, the statue of St Peter on Saut d’Eau Beach has been leaning closer to the beach as a result of erosion. The statue is always a must-see for its sheer size and connection to the community.
For me, this example of environmental shifting is particularly disturbing, as I've been part of a number of tours exploring indigenous and African heritage in that part of the country.
The increase in the frequency and intensity of destructive weather patterns is of course worsened by our poor drainage systems, indiscriminate cutting of hillsides for housing and other counterproductive types of human activity.
Researchers at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) contend that our nation will face “increased occurrences of tropical storms, coastal flooding, a rise in sea levels and increased risk of droughts. This deterioration of the country’s coast and major tourist attractions can be detrimental to the nation’s tourism industry and its overall contribution to the economy.”
Thus, even if we become more harmonious with nature, the challenges for our heritage will still remain. How then may we protect our monuments, heritage sites and physical representations of our shared cultural legacies? How do we ensure that visitors have a clear understanding of our position on cultural preservation and protection? And how do we ensure that our festivals, from goat racing to Ramleela, Hosay and Carnival, operate in a way that respects the earth and is also sustainable and profitable?
Increasingly, travellers are interested in making a real connection with another country. Our nation abounds with ancestral rituals, community traditions and cultural practices, offering unlimited possibilities for what the UN World Tourism Organization describes as building partnerships with communities for sustainable and profitable tourism. This means that to answer the questions about how to preserve our cultural heritage, we need to develop standards and guidelines that are specific to our cultural reality, in consultation with the creative and cultural sectors.
For instance, it is not acceptable to just touch or attempt to beat an African drum. Or people visiting our beaches must have their own garbage bags to ensure that they leave no evidence of having been there. Creators of Carnival costumes should transition to designing with materials that will not ultimately harm our fragile ecosystems, negatively affecting our coral or fish reserves.
As a community-based tour guide from Hawaii commented, “Local residents have a responsibility to host visitors in a way that is appropriate. Conversely, visitors have a responsibility to be aware that their destination is someone’s home, someone’s neighbourhood, someone’s community.”
The loss of our heritage to environmental degradation is another very real concern. Digitisation and other technological solutions would be relevant to ensuring future generations are able to experience the Temple in the Sea, the St Peter statue or one of the Orisha yards that is over 100 years old.
We will delve deeper into this subject of digitisation of our cultural assets another time, but the shifting sands of our islands demand that we do not wait too long to have this conversation at a national level.
Dara E Healy is a performance artist and founder of the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN