In the recently concluded Montserrat Innovations Days, tourism expert James MacGregor said selling tranquility is a thing of the past and for the island to see an increase in visitors, there is an immediate need to find out what makes us unique and sell that.
He rightfully said that peace is something you can find even in New York City if you know where to look. Just as you can find it on every Caribbean island. So what sets Montserrat apart? What is the one thing or that thing we must sell to increase travel?
With recent tourism figures showing our numbers are still skewed towards friends and family in the Diaspora, it gives us plenty of room to maneuver. First to make it even more attractive for friends and family to come home but to introduce new visitors to our homeland.
55% of our visitors identify themselves as part of Montserrat’s Diaspora and they live in the United Kingdom and North America primarily. What can we do with that information?
Welsh Ponde in his presentation during the tourism innovation session, called one area with room for growth “Ancestral Tourism”. Montserratians have been leaving the island for more than a century. The Montserrat Progressive Society of New York is 104 years old. That means there are multiple generations who can trace their roots back to this island and who may have never had the opportunity to return to explore it.
How can we invite them home to rediscover Montserrat?
Trace Your Roots
With the increase of platforms such as ancestry.com which use a sample of your DNA to trace your heritage, more people want to know where they come from and who they are related to. There have been several efforts to digitise much of Montserrat’s archives but the work is far from done. If you have an interest in research and fancy yourself an investigative sleuth, can remember facts from way before your time, you could offer tours to help families connect with their roots. This could combine, trips to burial grounds, churches, the registry, library and the national trust. All of which can make the experience quite intriguing.
I am not giving this a fancy title so there is no mistaking what you are offering.
Attend any conference and ask the guests about their time on island, they always mention how great the food is. We take it for granted, but Montserratians know how to make even the simplest fare finger-licking. With other cultures infused in life here, it is becoming very rare to get some authentic Montserrat cuisine.
If you know how to cook the traditional dishes on a coal pot or in a modern way, which will allow a mother or father to replicate the meal back home, then consider offering classes. Not everyone makes the national dish well. If you’ve got the best goat water recipe then set up classes that families can take together.
Teach sessions on how to make coconut tarts, tamarind balls, guava cheese. Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows how to turn all of our fruits into delectable juices. Make the process interactive from picking the fruit to cleaning, processing and drinking the results. Test your classes on residents first to tweak before inviting visitors to take them.
Welsh Ponde, who is head of Fly Montserrat, shared that a significant amount of travelers to island are returning to attend funerals of loved ones. We know this to be an important part of island life and also for Montserratian communities abroad.
Are you a boss at arranging events and making it look seamless? Consider offering this service to families here and abroad. In times of grief or in high-stress events such as reunions and weddings, it is important to have someone who can take on the burden of making the arrangements, so others can have a great time.
For First Time Non-Diaspora Visitors
If we could bottle and sell what makes Montserrat unique, a few of us would be rich. It isn’t necessarily in a tangible form but you see the manifestation in the people you connect with. The secret is the stories.
If you took a Buried City Tour with different taxi drivers, the stories you hear would not be the same because no two people had the same experience. Craft a tour for visitors which highlights the stories you have that are authentic to your life on island. Where were you when the first eruption happened? What was life like living in a shelter? What losses did you suffer?
Body, Mind, and Soul
It is tempting to want to keep a visitor all to yourself but they will thank you for introducing them to different aspects of life here. Organise boat tours, trail hikes, snorkeling trips, shoreline fishing, spa days, and night outs. If all they desire is a tricked out villa with a breathtaking view, then make it happen.
Quirky But Real
Is your visitor a bug lover or fancies them self a lion fish hunter? Design a trip that will ensure they get to do as much of their heart’s desire as possible. Increasing the wow factor of their time on island ensures they will want to return and hopefully bring a friend.
Montserrat is set up to create unique travel adventures for individuals. Design an experience that caters to the interests of your guests. Then all you will need to do is spread the word about it. We will tackle that in another post.
Nerissa Golden is the Editor of Discover Montserrat and a media strategist who designs communication solutions to help clients connect with their audience and increase engagement and revenue.