The head of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation says strengthening the participation of local communities and indigenous people in tourism development is the key to offering unique travel experiences.
Christopher Cocker says culture is at the centre of what is on offer in the Pacific.
He told Jenny Meyer a recent international meeting highlighted the need for indigenous people to have more of a voice in the way tourism is planned and developed.
CHRISTOPHER COCKER (CC) : With regards to our organisation, we focus mainly on the side of cultural tourism. And of course when we look at the Pacific it is one of the key things that differentiates us from our competitors in the Indian Ocean and Carribbean, is the wide range and diversity of culture in our islands.
JENNY MEYER (JM) : How can you help to blend that cultural experience with tourism so that tourists feel like they are getting an authentic experience and the local people are feeling like they’re involved rather than say maybe exploited or ripped off in some way?
CC: It’s by engagement of local communities and indigenous people in tourism planning and development within our member countries themselves so that they take ownership of the direction of tourism and how it’s developed. Capacity building opportunities to empower local people and indigenous people. And I think also one of the key things that our communities and indigenous people need is funding opportunities and also the opportunity to access capital to start up their businesses or to help them continue with their businesses. In the area of capacity building, it is basically training them in the management expertise, the ability to understand more of the visitors etc. But I also think of how to make it happen more is to encourage, for the National Tourism Offices to encourage the visitors to go out of the hotels and resorts rather than I mean, a Fiji experience or a Cook Island experience is not just lying around in the poolside etc and enjoying cocktails and the sun, sand and sea and watching a one-off show, cultural show. But to go out to the communities, go out to the villages and learn more of what’s happening there as well as mix and mingle with the indigenous people.
JM: What role do you think education plays in that in terms of trying to get young people into the tourism sector and trying to reach out to tourists to provide that more rounded experience rather than just, like you say lying by the pool?
CC: To me education is a two way thing. It’s educating the visitors to understand more of the culture to respect it and educating our local communities to understand more of the consumers’ behaviour or the tourists’ behaviour, their needs, so that they’re able to provide these more authentic experiences.
JM: Following from the conference where would you say things are at in terms of tourism in the Pacific region?
CC: Our tourism figures are doing well. 2017 figures show a growth of three percent. the forecast for tourism is very positive. Even the Pacific Asia Travel Association is predicting that the future travellers will be more environmentally responsible, culturally rich and they’ll probably be seeking more off the beaten track destinations. And that fits in very well with the Pacific Islands.
Source: Radio NZ