Garifuna dancers at Laughing Bird Cay in Belize

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)’s upcoming conference on sustainable tourism will feature a session focused on how Caribbean indigenous communities are “accessing tourism markets” and welcoming visitors to encounter their culture and traditions.

A panel entitled “Indigenous Conversations – Celebrating Our Past, Embracing Our Future,” will highlight the agenda at CTO’s Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development, scheduled for August 26 to 29 at the Beachcombers Hotel in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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The August 27 panel will explore “the changing composition of local livelihoods” and demonstrate “how the region’s indigenous people have a tangible role and stake in the Caribbean tourism value chain,” CTO officials said in a statement.

Caribbean indigenous communities are expanding their interaction with contemporary mainstream travelers who are “booking experiential vacations that allow them to immerse themselves in the culture, people and history of a destination” officials said.

In turn, the communities are “utilizing tourism markets to embrace expanded entrepreneurial opportunities,” thereby adding new sources of income and creating “niches that are increasingly sought after,” CTO officials said.

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Zoila Ellis Browne, head of the Garifuna Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a non-governmental Vincentian organization promoting Garifuna heritage and culture. A Belize native, Dr. Browne also volunteers as technical program consultant to the foundation.

Panelists will include Uwahnie Martinez, the director of Palmento Grove Garifuna Eco Cultural & Fishing Institute in Belize; Colonel Marcia “Kim” Douglas, colonel of Jamaica’s Charles Town Maroon Community; and Rudolph Edwards, the toshao (chief) of Rewa village in Guyana, a small Amerindian community that founded the Rewa Eco-Lodge in 2005 in an effort to protect their homeland.

Under the theme “Keeping the Right Balance: Tourism Development in an Era of Diversification,” the conference will also focus on “the urgent need for a transformational, disruptive and regenerative tourism product to meet ever-rising challenges,” according to officials.

St Vincent and the Grenadines will host the gathering as it takes steps to create “a greener, more climate-resilient destination,” including construction of a geothermal plant on to complement the country’s hydro and solar energy capacity, officials said.