Grenada Heritage At Risk: Carriacou cemetery vanishes

The Good News

One of Grenada’s most important commodity is Tourism.  All our other resources are equally important and of cause should be regarded hand-in-hand with our Tourism Resources.  On the 9-11 of July 2014 the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) held the 3rd Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism here at St. George’, Grenada. This event brought together over 150 ‘green’ experts and practitioners, including hoteliers, real estate developers, operators, investors, and others within the tourism industry committed to (or considering) new sustainable models of marine, coastal, and island tourism development and management.  Over 40 of these international tourism experts spoke on various aspects of sustainable coastal and marine tourism and the event was even represented for us by our Minister of Tourism and Alexandra Otway-Noel, who bolstered Grenada’s enthusiasm for a sustainable future through tourism, and stating action is already underway. View the Symposium Proceedings.

The Down Side

Sadly none of this covered our Historical or Heritage acpects of the island of Grenada – a very important commodity for tourism, our island community and the education of our young.

“Natural.” “Eden.” “Genuine.” “Safe.” “Paradise.”  “Pristine.” “Unspoiled.”

Russ Jarman Price was telling the audience at this international symposium that these and many other words had been offered to describe our island nation of Grenada. Collecting such descriptors was one step in the process that his team used in coming up with its new “Pure Grenada” marketing campaign. The new brand had provoked local controversy, even though the “pure” theme is intended to help spur Grenada into becoming a model of sustainability for the region – you will see it used all over Grenada’s new tourism site.

The conference represented the Grenada’s next step in staking out that claim: A three-day symposium on Innovations in Coastal Tourism, held this month at St. George’s University in Grenada. CREST, the U.S.-based Center for Responsible Travel, organized it. Symposium discussions moved along two closely related tracks: How to practice coastal tourism more responsibly in a world of rising seas, declining ocean quality, and growing tourism pressures, and more specifically, how to do so in Grenada and the Caribbean. (Shockingly Jonathan Tourtellot also spoke at the symposium, but the compete Caribbean development fund covered his travel expenses.)

Jarman Price was sensitive to the audience, the majority of cause Grenadian – the Ogilvy’s campaign “Pure Grenada: Freedom to Wonder” had been systematically thought out. For those who don’t know he is the Executive Creative Director for Inglefield/Ogilvy & Mather Ltd (the Caribbean part of global advertising giant Ogilvy) and a local resident.

Many have encouraged Grenada for several years to adopt a geotourism approach focused on its numerous unique qualities (though they constantly forget Heritgage) and the Pure Grenada was characterized as a geotourism rebranding campaign when Ogilvy introduced it in February of this year. National Geographic Society have defined geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” A great fit for Grenada.

Unfortunately, things had not gone smoothly back in February.

Symposium speakers Andy Dumaine and Todd Comen check out a bin of nutmeg husks, from which mace is made, at the Belmont Estate. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.
Symposium speakers Andy Dumaine and Todd Comen check out a bin of nutmeg husks, from which mace is made, at the Belmont Estate.

Jarman Price admitted, the new brand rolled out “in isolation,” with the usual inadequate community preparation. Partly because of that—rebrandings often get public push-back anyway—a storm of controversy arose. Many Grenadians objected, mistakenly assuming the new slogan was intended to replace Grenada’s long-standing identity as the “Spice Island,” a nod to its many nutmeg trees. After much politically hyped debate, PM Keith Mitchell himself had to intervene, yielding the camel-like compromise “Grenada, the Spice of the Caribbean” – oh how we continue to show our ignorance!

Make of that what you will. The intent of Pure Grenada was to underscore what is considered the real reason to visit: The island is one of the last to offer a broad and authentic Caribbean travel experience. Grenada still has beauty, a benign climate, rich culture and heritage, good beaches, still-viable nature on land and in the sea, and relative freedom from intrusive mass tourism.

Can Grenada Pull It Off?

The question is whether our country can retain and build on that distinction. Like other islands, Grenada copes with numerous challenges—overfishing, sand mining, unemployment, irresponsible development, care-less attitute to heritage, limiting-unencompassing education. Take for example the terrible loss of our wave-swamped cemetery on our sister island of Carriacou – it has become an emblem for the Caribbean’s accelerated sea level rise. Certainly since the financial crisis, but truely even before the 1970’s, our government has basically been financially broke, and many of us Grenadians are therefore eager to grab at any economic opportunity, sustainable or not – with no care for the longer term stategies to protect our island and including our heritage for our youth (those who will become custodians in long after we’re gone).

Sockingly at the Symposium we were reminded that someone on Carriacou had chopped down about seven acres of mangroves to make room for a big new marina!  That environmental insult, which most certainly contributed to the demise of one of ancient cemeteries, was mentioned repeatedly at this symposium—a pimple of the face of Pure. In ignorance apologists often argue for a “balance between growth and conservation” in such cases. Sustainable marketing consultant Andy Dumaine grumbled when he heard that: “It’s not an either-or”.  Other endangered cemeteries are the  Mt. Airy cemetery in St. Paul’s and the church yard cemetery of St. Paul’s Anglican Church (the graves are literally sliding down an embankment into a ravine).

Indeed, Dr. Angus Friday, our current ambassador to the United States and Mexico, encouragingly believes sustainability is economic opportunity. He sees Grenada as taking a global lead in renewable energy and conservation for small island nations. While diplomatically not mentioning those missing mangroves, he argued, “Our natural capital is principal in the bank. We need to weave this into our DNA”. This implies that Good businesses don’t invade principal.  Is Friday in the minority when he hopes that Grenada can develop in a way that disrupts the standard model of Caribbean tourism—“Become the Airbnb of responsible travel”.

Let us hope it can be done and the symposium itself seemed quite successful. (Presentations here.)

At a geotourism meeting the next day, it became clear that many of our boutique hotel owners that dominate the Grenada tourism market don’t want to see huge all-inclusive resorts or more big cruise ships. But tourism growth is so much more than these two areas.  At a rural exposition on another day, many of our local artisans and ‘entrepreneurs’ took the opportunity to show off wares unique to our island, keen to grow their businesses through ‘responsible tourism‘. They had set up their booths at Belmont Estate, which itself has become one of our well-known agritourism attractions in the Caribbean.

Local entrepreneur Modesty makes Grenadian-themed fashions and hopes to add employees. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.
Local entrepreneur Modesty makes Grenadian-themed fashions and hopes to add employees.

And what about those spices? Grenada’s big three are nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon. One visitor  remembers landing at the Grenada airport long ago, entering the terminal, and immediately smelling these telltale scents. However the Symposium visitor detected no such pleasant odor when they arrived this time.  What an opportunity missed, and an other aspect of our heritage dies!  Research tells us that the brain’s wiring for memories and for smells are directly linked one another. Why not once again suffuse the airport arrival and departure halls with delicious fragrance?  Do that, and every time for years after, when we former visitors smell cinnamon on a roll or nutmeg in the eggnog, we’ll remember:

Ah, Grenada.


Contibutor Jonathan Tourtellot of National Geographic Traveler
CREST is a non-profit research instituteat Stanford University (Washington, DC) founded in 2003.




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