Entering my 4th year as a Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) student at TRSM, I was able to combine formal learning and travel by going on the experiential learning trip to Jamaica this past spring with Dr. Frederic Dimanche’s class (HTT800 – Field Studies in Hospitality and Tourism). I had the unique opportunity to experience Jamaica with other TRSM students and with RSVP Caribbean Volunteers (our partner in Jamaica), which was the perfect way to discover the island, from its culture and community to its lush landscapes and delicious cuisine.
The stigma that falls on Jamaica – and many other Caribbean islands – as being solely a source of all-inclusive resort vacations, is such a narrow view of what the destination has to offer. I was amazed that our itinerary kept us so busy for the full two weeks, yet we only spent one afternoon experiencing the resorts of the island.
I was able to have such authentic and enriching experiences in Jamaica, which made the trip truly unforgettable. I stayed at the Rastafari Indigenous Village, and was immersed in a subculture I knew next to nothing about prior to the trip. I was also able to witness the real community connection between RSVP Caribbean Volunteers and the homeless people of Mandeville during our Community Outreach project.
As a tourism student, I embarked on this trip with the goal of learning the fundamentals of community-based and sustainable tourism so that I could apply what I had learned to aid with tourism development in Chile after graduation. Once we met with Diana McIntyre-Pike, President of Countrystyle Community Tourism Network/Villages as Businesses and community-based tourism consultant, I felt incredibly motivated by her passion and inspired by her philosophy.
My biggest take-away from the trip was when McIntyre-Pike said, “Community tourism is community development. You have to start from the ground up.” This simple phrase carried a lot of weight for me. Before this HTM course, I understood that community-based tourism revolved around the idea of being by and for locals, but I did not realize how large the scope really was. There needs to be a fair allocation of funding to help build small businesses and entrepreneurs, available training, and most importantly, but also most difficult to achieve, a supportive and open mindset from the local people so that development is welcome.
The greatest thing about travel is being able to learn about and connect with a new culture, and to experience another way of living. This is something that is constant in almost all travel, but very diverse in every place I’ve had the good fortune of visiting, including Jamaica. It was being able to experience Jamaica in the way that we did, as a group of students looking to learn about everything the island had to offer and how to be engaged with it or apply our lessons – it was a once in a lifetime experience.
If there is one thing that I hope comes out of our time there, it is that more students get to learn about community-based and sustainable tourism in the same way we did. I also hope we get to witness real change sooner rather than later, and see more TRSM alumni being the drivers of such change.