Among the issues under review at the forthcoming Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) in St Lucia is the call to Caribbean tourism authorities to have the faith to aggressively pursue travelers who place a premium on their spiritual heritage.
The region’s destinations have a lot to offer spiritually-minded travelers, said 12 media, tourism and youth delegates who debated the issue at the earlier CMEx in San Juan this year.
They believe that in the midst of international chaos, the Caribbean should position itself as a refuge for those seeking to grow and explore spirituality given the region’s rich history, spiritual heritage and Christian foundation.
A 2005 Newsweek/Beliefnet Poll points to growing importance of spirituality among Americans, and delegates observed that spiritual development is as integral to a balanced individual as physical, intellectual and social development. Where spirituality is absent in a given society, moral and environmental decay are present, the discussants observed.
“It was mooted that proper spiritual development leads to harmony with oneself and the environment in terms of promoting order, which is what people are attracted to ... people will come and be renewed,” said British Virgin Islands journalist Angela Burns Piper, who collated the points made by her colleagues.
“We also suggested that this branding mechanism can be unique to the Caribbean,” she said. “We believe that when God created the Caribbean, He was showing off. So, the Caribbean has a unique opportunity because it’s a jewel in God’s eyes.”
Burns Piper said the group proposed branding the region as a “spiritual oasis” where God’s laws are followed, people are good stewards of the environment, and morality and peace among the people prevail.
“People are not looking for sand and sea only, but the experience of the destination ... and a lot are looking to understand the hope and joy that that it is grounded in our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ,” said one Christian delegate.
While delegates agree that faith tourism is viable, they acknowledged that a “balancing act” is needed. Though the region has strong Christian roots, some expressed concern that a marketing strategy focused solely on the region’s Christian heritage may alienate those who would be drawn to but are unaware of the region’s Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Rastafarian faiths, for example.
“There should be sensitivity to people of other faiths, but that doesn’t mean you should hide who you are. We recognize there are varying faiths, but common to the Caribbean is Christianity.”
Most CMEx attendees agreed that it is time for the region to emerge as a destination for spiritual renewal and revival. And some effort is already being made in this regard. Since the February conference, one of the 12 participants in the roundtable, former CNN news anchor Andria Hall hosted a successful faith tourism retreat in St. Lucia for women, and is preparing for another conference in the Bahamas from November 30 to December 3 this year. “Faith is already at work in the Caribbean”, she smiled.
CMEx St. Lucia, to be held October 12-16, 2006, is produced by Counterpart International. The San Juan February talks were produced in partnership with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.