Members of St. Croix’s business and nonprofit community discussed what is needed to foster cultural tourism at a meeting of St. Croix Action for Heritage, Economic and Development on Wednesday night.
AHEAD is a joint venture between the St. Croix Environmental Association and the St. Croix Unified for Community, Culture, Environment and Development Inc.
Claudette Young Hinds, president of SUCCEED, said the point of the project was to identify and overcome factors that might slow the growth of the cultural tourism industry on St. Croix. The group discussed potential obstacles in a wide range of fields, such as education, public policy and finance.
“The outcome of this process is to have basically a culture and heritage business plan that says, ‘these are the businesses that the people of St. Croix will develop if we can get these policies and assistance,’” Hinds said.
The cultural tourism industry has been a hot topic of discussion recently with the closing of the Hovensa refinery and the island potentially being deemed a national heritage area by Congress.
The industry includes any businesses that promote authentic aspects of the islands history and culture. This could include museums, Crucian cuisine restaurants or historic bed and breakfasts.
Proponents of cultural tourism argue that high-end tourists seek “authentic” experiences, and that St. Croix could better boost its tourism industry by promoting the things that make the island unique rather than attempting to attract more cruise ship visitors with generic shops, restaurants and attractions.
“Everyone of us needs to be a cultural ambassador,” said Devorath Elcock during the meeting. “We’re all in this together, and we need to know how to speak to what we have so we know how to preserve it.”
Approximately 40 people participated in the brainstorming session Wednesday. They were asked to prioritize a list of needs indentified at a previous meeting. These needs ranged from the relatively small, like creating a checklist of permits needed to open a bed and breakfast, to such far-reaching goals as increasing the amount of cultural education children receive in school.
Hinds said that over the next few months, the input they gathered at this meeting will be used to refine those needs into a comprehensive cultural tourism business plan, which will then be used as an advocacy tool.
“We are going to shop it, if you will, to make sure that government knows, policy makers know, organizations like the chamber of commerce know that this is what the people of St. Croix have in their heart and in their head to do,” she said.
Hinds said that it was important to craft this document now because it will make it easier to receive federal funds if and when the St. Croix National Heritage Area becomes a reality.
National heritage areas are permitted to request up to $1 million dollars a year to re-grant to cultural tourism entities within their borders. But before those funds can be accessed, the heritage area must show that planning and research has been conducted.
“There are 14 criteria you have to satisfy,” Hinds said. “When we finish St. Croix AHEAD on Sep. 30, we will have satisfied nine of the criteria that will then allow us to access the million dollar pot.”
She added that the remaining five criteria could not be addressed until specific projects had been identified for funding.
The St. Croix National Heritage Area has is currently waiting for final approval by Congress. Proponents of the heritage area say that the bill has been delayed due to election year politics, but they are hopeful it will pass before the end of the year. If it does, SUCCEED will be in charge of administering the heritage area and its funds.
For more information, visit: http://www.succeedstcroix.org.