Jamaica gets pointers in gastronomic tourism from UNWTO forum

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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The 5th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism was held at the Kursaal Congress Center in Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain, earlier this month and attended by the director of Jamaica's Tourism Linkages Network, Carolyn McDonald-Riley, and Nicola Madden-Greig, the chairman of the Gastronomy Network within the Tourism Linkages Network.

The two represented Jamaica at the conference which focused on ”job creation and entrepreneurship as a means to advance tourism´s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

McDonald-Riley and Madden-Greig joined other national and local tourism administration representatives from around the globe as well as professionals,chefs, educators and other tourism and gastronomy industry stakeholders.

Madden-Greig, who participated in a panel on entrepreneurship and how to support small and medium-ssized enterprises in gastronomy explained the objectives of Jamaica's participation in the event.

“The reason for attending last year, as well as this year, is to be at the forefront of the gastronomy tourism movement and to see what other countries are doing, to identify good practices, to work to promote gastronomy tourism and to see what other areas we as a country may implement at the local level to network with other professionals in the field and to exchange ideas,” she stated.

Indeed, the forum was originally conceived to foster an exchange of experiences between experts in the industry to pinpoint good practices and to advance gastronomy tourism as a vehicle for national development.

Madden-Greig also pointed out that the event, which involved over 700 participants was an opportunity, to promote Jamaican gastronomy to a field of experts and McDonald-Riley was pleased to reveal that a lot of ideas that were being suggested at the conference have already been implemented in Jamaica.

“I think one of the biggest takeaways was when they started to say ok, this is what we are going to be doing, we were able to say we are doing this already,” she said. “We were also able to share a book about Jamaica and our food, and they were very excited about what we are doing.”

Madden-Greig elaborated on some of the initiatives that are already underway in Jamaica.

“We found that quite a few of the things that are being touted as good practices, we have already accomplished them, like having the Taste Jamaica website and app where we curate all of the gastronomy experiences across the island, the promotion of farm-to-table experiences and restaurants which we are already doing, working with agriculture to develop the agricultural side of it to make sure the ingredients are of quality and that we are utilising local ingredients in new and unique ways,” she said.

There were presentations, however, that highlighted practices and programmes that the two Jamaican tourism officials say they plan to implement on the island.

McDonald-Riley said that the information presented on pop-up kitchens was particularly enlightening and they were able to see layouts and the work that goes into the back end. These kitchens are often used for tourists travelling for cooking classes who are very excited about learning to cook new dishes.

Madden-Greig added that another revelation involved identifying ingredients from specific regions and how to take one ingredient and create a whole industry around it.

“It's about getting the best ingredient,” she explained. “What else can you do with it and its history? Tours can be developed. People can go to see how it is grown.”

McDonald Riley expanded on this point.

“How do I say to the farmer that this food or vegetable is something awesome that can be used for this (dish)?” she asked. “How do I convince some of our restaurants that we need to change some of our menus to match our local food? How do we make our food more appealing? We can do so much more with sweet potato as a dessert as opposed to what I grew up knowing about how it is used and how it is eaten.”

Madden-Greig said that in taking these concepts back to Jamaica, communication will be the key to educating the different stakeholders in tourism and agriculture about new possibilities, and the Tourism Linkages Network is taking steps to enhance this aspect of their administration.

“We are looking to put in place an e-mail and newsletter network system so we can send information out to a database,” she said. “We want to have a database of everybody who is involved in gastronomy both in terms of the forward facing restaurants, the chefs etc, as well as agriculture, so that we can push information out to them in terms of concepts and ideas and any sort of knowledge acquisition so that they can also be aware.”

She went on to say that the communication would flow both ways as, on the other hand, persons would “be able to send information into the network so we can be aware of what's happening out there, who are being inspired, what new restaurants, what new food items, what new ingredients are being grown all over the country and then how we canleverage that relationship around us”.

McDonald-Riley said that based on the knowledge gleaned, and the promotion of Jamaica's gastronomy that was achieved, Jamaica will continue to participate in the World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism as well as similar events.

“I am looking forward to taking another team to visit any of these gastronomy seminars so we can share experiences,” she said. “I think there are a lot of wins because we learned some new things.”

The theme of advantageous linkages between tourism and different sectors of the economy has become a common topic in the island's tourism discourse. 'Linkages' was also the buzzword at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises, which was held earlier this year at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Rose Hall, St James.

McDonald-Riley believes that the point of this kind of cooperation between various sectors of the economy needs to be driven home, particularly as it relates to tourism and agriculture in the generation of new ideas and creations in gastronomy.

“A lot more needs to be done so that we can encourage our people to use what we have to make exotic things,” she said.

 

 

 


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