Tuesday, November 20, 2012
About a week ago, I gave a tour to 11 African visitors. They were trainees in tourism development who came here through Shikoku JICA's program. The program seemed to be designed in the way that they can see what the tourism in Shikoku Island, Japan is like, give us feedback from their point of view and apply their learning to their home countries.
Usually oversea trainees who visit our Geopark are not specifically interested in Geopark per se. (Well, some of them might be, but not very many. ) But the trainees I met that day were totally different. They seemed to be interested in how the Geopark works and if it was a plausible idea for the tourism development in their own countries.
The tour on Cape Muroto itself wasn't anything great. It was terribly windy, and cold, too. An interpreter was with the group, but I couldn't hear what she was saying to the group at all. But when they came into the information center afterwards, the ball started to roll. There they directly asked me many questions about our evacuation points and evacuation plans for tourists, especially elder tourists. We talked about topics from the mechanism of sand liquefaction to the most advanced early warning system for earthquake and tsunami. And I was amazed - all their questions were right on target!
The enthusiasm remained the same throughout the post-tour meeting held at a different facility. There joined a specialist (with Ph.d.) from the geopark's promotion committee and three representatives of different guide associations in Muroto. The visitors asked more questions about our tour guide license system. I was amazed to find how much importance they put on tour guide service and the "national" certificate. Their training system for the national accreditation sounded somewhat similar to that of Malaysia. They also asked us if we had a "guided package tour" that included several or all geosites. That happened to be an idea recommended to us months ago by another geopark in Asia-Pacific region. And one visitor asked a question about the administrative body of our geopark, which was exactly the same as the question asked by the evaluators at our on-site evaluation in 2011.
So, to me, it looked like this: There IS such a thing as a global trend or something like that in tourism. It's not the matter of Western vs. non-Western, or Stable continental region vs. the Mobile Belt any more. There IS something almost becoming universal. As a member of a "global" network, we can't ignore it, must live with it, share the good aspect of it but shouldn't lose our uniqueness as a Japanese Geopark at the same time.
Another interesting part of our discussion (to me, at least) was about the theme that underlies our geotour here: Earthquake and Tsunami. Do tourists, especially those from abroad, feel scared if the theme like this is present or emphasized? That's our big question. Some Western tourists I had met before said No. According to them, people all over the world already know that Japan is prone to earthquake and tsunami anyway. Having prior information is important -- if we would give it properly to tourists from abroad, it would be seen as our conscientious attitude... That sounded encouraging, but I wasn't sure what people from other parts of the world would think and feel.
The overall response at this meeting seemed to be basically the same as what I had heard from those Westerners. There is a good chance that the tourists would feel more interested in the theme and the local life here, rather than being scared. One participant even suggested using photos of Muroto's landscape "before and after" the 1946 earthquake to have visitors better understand what this community went through. On the other hand, another participant said that if a negative image was associated with the country, it takes time to get rid of it.
So I think there is nothing wrong with having the natural disaster as our big theme. But it IS important NOT to make it "all negative." Well, we sort of knew that from before, but I felt so good to see our view being supported like this.
And above all, I was happy to hear what one participant said. She said that the most impressive part of her visit to Muroto was "feeling" the peacefulness of the landscape of Cape Muroto. She didn't say that it was "learning about" the mechanism of the land upheaval. I was happy that the tour provided an opportunity to stimulate their "feeling"part...
But me and my fellow tour guide were kind of upset in the car on our way back. At the meeting, we found out that those in our geopark's promotion committee did not know much about and did not try to see the reality that we locals (incl. tour guides) are facing. Well, that can't be helped, to some extent. But then why do they try to speak for us, make decisions for us instead of us?!
We are not just a bunch of people that can be categorized as "them."
We locals have faces and voices.
Posted by obachan at 10:52 AM