Aug. 26, 2004 – Ideas on how to make tourism more profitable for V.I. residents were tossed back and forth across the table in the Government House conference room this week.
Oceana James, executive director of CHANT, which stands for Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, was presenting the organization's strategic plan to Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards.
Bernadette Richards accompanied the commissioner, and James was joined by CHANT board members Willard John and Onaje Jackson.
CHANT's mission is to "establish heritage and nature as both the lead tourism product for St. Croix and the vehicle for sustainable economic development."
The not-for-profit organization opened its doors last October after receiving a $100,000 grant from an anonymous donor. Since then it has received a $5,000 donation from a foundation sponsored by the Azimuth Co. and $7,300 in contributions received at a dinner honoring outgoing U.S. Attorney David Nissman.
James said CHANT hopes to certify about 20 "providers" of knowledge in nature and heritage tourism areas by the end of 2005.
The meeting with Richards was just the beginning as CHANT strived to get the word out this week about its mission. A press conference is scheduled for Friday.
There, CHANT officials will be armed with facts from consultant Mark Gruin about the popularity and economic benefits of nature and heritage tours. Among his findings:
– Sixty-five percent of American adults traveling in 2001 (a total of 97 million persons) included a cultural, arts, heritage or historic activity on their trip.
– More people visit cultural and historic sites in the United States than set foot in casinos, theme parks, professional sporting events and cruises combined.
– Travelers seeking cultural and historic experiences spend an average $631 per day on their trips compared to the overall average traveler who spends $457 a day.
– Nature-based tourism continues to be the fastest growing segment of the international tourism industry, growing by 10 to 30 percent annually, compared with 2 to 4 percent growth for conventional tourism.
– Visitors who participate in these kinds of outdoor activities have the longest average length of stay 7.4 nights.
Gruin, of Greenpoint Inc., said he gathered his information from reports by groups such as Tourism in America, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Travel Organization.
In a business development plan he drafted for CHANT, he writes: "The conclusions are obvious — St. Croix's best opportunities lie in the development of the combination of heritage and nature tourism opportunities — exactly CHANT's focus."
Another conclusion Gruin presents in the report is that local people become more involved economically as owners and employees in nature and heritage tours than is the case in mass tourism endeavors.
CHANT's strategic plan has four sections and three phases.
The sections are Program Development and Implementation, Marketing Promotions, Management and Operations, and Funding and Revenues.
James told Richards, "We are pretty much on target at this stage."
CHANT is hosting a series of events to showcase heritage and nature tourism. The third, a "Jumbie Talk," will be presented Saturday in conjunction with Mount Victory Camp, located in the St. Croix rainforest.
Jumbie stories will be told with an open mic format and there will be a moonlight country hike. The evening, which begins at 6 p.m., also will feature a pig roast with all the trimmings and a cash bar. Bully and the Musical Kafooners will provide music. The public is invited. Tickets are $5 and $10.
James said CHANT expected to have a sample package of information about tour providers available by November. Richards asked if she could have it in early October so as to take it to a major travel industry convention she will be attending.
Jackson said it is the aim of CHANT to supplement what the Tourism Department does.
John said, "We want to get as many people on board as possible to move this thing forward."
Richards said she is glad that CHANT will be certifying providers, and she asked how that would be done.
James replied that CHANT personnel "will have to take the tours." She said there also will be follow-ups on all certified providers.
Richards said the Tourism Department offers free training sessions for people involved in the hospitality industry. She recommended that CHANT get its providers to take part in the sessions coming up in October.
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