In collaboration with Marcia Guerrero, Chair, LCCT and Director, Mariposa.
The old adage, “There is no place like home” is the basis of the local tourism experiences organised by the community organisation, the Lopinot Countrystyle Community Tourism (LCCT).
This organisation was formed in July 2015 and adopts a special approach in their sustainable tourism-based activities, which can be modelled by other communities in Trinidad and Tobago, who wish to offer a unique, immersive experience.
Members of LCCT, longstanding residents of Lopinot, create memorable experiences for visitors by coupling their skills/talents with the natural treasures and traditions of their village.
One can taste their passion in the wonderful food and drinks they prepare from local resources and feel the pride and deep love for their village, as you tour the nature trails, riverside, and cocoa estate.
Q: How did the idea of a community-wide immersive experience come about?
We have always been considered a very close-knit community and our culture, faith, traditions, and cuisine have been an integral part of village life and experiences.
Also, being a village with a known historical site, meant that we were always visited by people from all social classes, local and international. As the community matured, each family began building their legacy individually. Although it made sense for those of us who were interested in a united product to come together, we are all aware of how community dynamics filter down and across generations, so we were operating separately.
Q: What subsequent steps were taken to move from concept to execution?
In 2015, we had several visits from Michele Celestine of Citizens for Conservation and the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, who saw in Lopinot the proverbial ‘diamond’ and suggested that a village such as ours should have a course in Managing Villages as a Business.
Celestine navigated the negotiations with the various government bodies to contract with Diana Mc Intyre-Pike of Jamaica, to teach her formula of Countrystyle Community Tourism to our community.
We had approximately 50 persons in attendance. The attendees were so excited to be able to share their ideas. It was a wonderful week. Following the training sessions, a Steering Committee was selected and today we have a group which has at least nine families linked under the umbrella of LCCT.
This group has represented Lopinot, and by extension Trinidad and Tobago, at the London World Travel Market for two years in succession, 2016 and 2017. We have met with persons who were interested in eco-tourism, birding, local cuisine, and persons desirous of experiencing our brand of village life.
It is our belief that this model can bring economic balance to rural communities, each displaying their brand of what is natural to their culture, history, and tradition.
This does not mean that the entire community is on board from the start because as villages go, we are beautiful and typical…we are like everyone else with our various idiosyncrasies.
Q: How long did the process take before fruition?
The group was formed in August 2015, following training given by Diane Mc Intyre-Pike. Michele Celestine was the catalyst to sourcing her assistance to assist the community in creating a sustainable tourism product.
We formalised our first tour package after several weeks of meeting to discern what were the best aspects of the village life to highlight.
Our Vice Chair chose the tagline ‘Experience Lopinot’ and on October 22, 2015, we hosted 22 members of the Tourism Development Company Ltd (TDC), the tourism body in place at that time.
The group spent an entire day enjoying the village experiences which we had linked together. They sent us a critique on the highlights and aspects that needed improvement.
The package has been changed and enhanced several times, but our limited marketing has not brought the visitor footfall that we know is possible to the group.
Q: What challenges did you experience along the way and how were they overcome?
Challenges present in various forms. One of the main challenges is that Lopinot Road needs serious attention or we may end up the way of Maracas Bay Road. As a known tourism village for over 50 years, we lack a home for a visitor centre. The historical site has been in disrepair for a while now, which means a main attraction is offline.
We needed assistance with marketing our Authentic Community Product. In addition, some community members have not yet accepted the formation of this group which is seven years old. We continue and try building bridges or alliances wherever possible.
Q: What advice would you have for any other communities that may have a unique experience to offer?
Persons must meet on common ground. We are really not present to compete, but to share ideas. Share space, and links, remember traditions and cuisine unique to your area.
Speak to older folks in your community and ask about traditions that may enhance your offering and record what they are saying as it may be the only legacy they leave.
Passion is very key to making things blossom –without it many fall on the way.
Let go of pettiness and keep an open mind at all times. Encourage each other, share the work, and form alliances with corporate entities.
Keep going despite any negativity sent your way and be aware not all plans work out. Go back to the drawing board and follow up. Formalise by choosing a name, brand your group, register your business formally.
Remember it is about your community and not about you.
Be your best promoter. Be a success story.