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Jamaica’s Home of Community Tourism

Roger Wheelock, CESO Lead Volunteer Advisor (Jamaica) January 26, 2017

In June I had arrived in Treasure Beach, on Jamaica’s south coast, as Lead Volunteer Advisor for CESO to establish the basis for future Volunteer (there are 900 of us!) visits from CESO. They are in need of volunteers in specialized areas of community-based tourism, looking specifically at capacity-building and market-readiness.​

Now…the first thing to know about this wonderful Treasure Beach is that there’s no such place! Rather it is a chain of coastal communities.  And just how many communities constitute “Treasure Beach”?  Nobody’s quite sure – somewhere between four.  And seven!

And the second thing to know?  In this ‘place’ that doesn’t formally exist, it also gets along pretty well without any municipal governments!  None!  Treasure Beach is more a ‘state-of-mind’, than an actual place. And yet… the sense of community is steel-strong!  Almost miraculous.  And wonderful.

Two organizations in particular keep it humming: 1) The Breds Foundation, which contributes to much of the infrastructure of this community; and 2) the Treasure Beach Women’s Group, which offers an array of social services. And they have been able to accomplish so much! There is a sports complex with fields and amenities built and maintained by Breds; that promotes and provides “Education, Sports, Cultural Heritage and Emergency Health Care”. The latter is critical as the nearest medical facility is 25 km away in Black River. So what did the Foundation do? They established, and operate, a community-based ambulance service!

And the Women’s Group – if I had a hat on, I’d take it off to them. Twice-a-year free medical clinics. Literacy Training programs. Kids’ summer arts programs. Christmas parties for local children. And elders and shut-ins! Support for the orphanage. Free sewing classes, and workshops.

Treasure Bay Women's Group
Treasure Bay Women’s Group

 And they donate! To the primary school, to Jamaica Aids Support, to the Walk for Haiti. Yes, and to the Community Ambulance too. How? They raise their own funds of course; by community events and their “Treasure Hunt Craft Shop”.

All up and down the Treasure Beach communities, one can find praiseworthy examples of initiatives to better the place where they all live. And to look after their own. When a recent spate of petty thefts occurred, the informal telephone- tree alerted an army of ‘eyes’ and the problem disappeared immediately. As only a community that believes in itself can accomplish.

So…what happened when one of Treasure Beach’s two ‘anchor industries’ collapsed? As the waters of Jamaica became over-fished and that vital mainstay industry evaporated, the community collectively came to the conclusion that the other anchor industry – farming – needed another ‘leg’ to maintain employment and opportunity for their people.

Hence, tourism. But, as they gazed around they resolved to become Jamaica’s proud, “Home of Community Tourism”. And the Government of Jamaica agreed.

Without the commitment and enthusiasm of the local people, and their collective vision, none of this would be possible.

What will their ‘tourism experience’ offer?  It’s still being developed, but I have no doubt it will reflect the ‘Community Tourism’ they have embraced and the attributes they have developed together: “Unexpected. Authentic. Connection”.  “Authentic” and “connected” are things they provide to their visitors every day.   And about that “Unexpected”. On my last morning at Sunset Beach Resort, I asked two guests who’d been having a romantic sundown meal at Frenchman’s Reef the night before what they’d liked most about their visit? They were a late-30’s couple from Holland – and widely travelled – and she answered immediately. “You know, in Holland, at night we see only city lights or grow-lights from all our greenhouses. As we sat at our dinner, it was so magical to look out over the Caribbean.  And see just the dark!”

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