The Places We Love VI: Grenada on the Cusp

“Natural.” “Eden.” “Genuine.” “Safe.” “Paradise.”  “Pristine.” “Unspoiled.”

Russ Jarman Price was telling the audience at our international symposium that these and many other words had been offered to describe the island nation of Grenada. Collecting such descriptors was one step in the process that his creative team used in coming up with its new “Pure Grenada” marketing campaign. The new brand had provoked local controversy, even though the “pure” theme was intended to help spur Grenada into becoming a model of sustainability for the region.

Our conference represented the country’s next step in staking out that claim: A three-day symposium on Innovations in Coastal Tourism, held this month at St. George’s University in Grenada. CRESTthe U.S.-based Center for Responsible Travel, organized it. Symposium discussions moved along two closely related tracks: How to practice coastal tourism more responsibly in a world of rising seas, declining ocean quality, and growing tourism pressures, and more specifically, how to do so in in Grenada and the Caribbean. (Full reveal: I also spoke at the symposium, and the Compete Caribbean development fund covered my travel expenses.) Here’s a guide to the presentations.

Jarman Price was sensitive to his audience, the majority Grenadian. He’s the Executive Creative Director for Inglefield/Ogilvy & Mather Ltd (the Caribbean part of global advertising giant Ogilvy) and a local resident. Watching his presentation, I thought Ogilvy’s campaign “Pure Grenada: Freedom to Wonder” had been systematically thought out.

But I’m biased. Having encouraged Grenada for several years to adopt a geotourism approach focused on its numerous unique qualities, I had been happy to see Pure Grenada characterized as a geotourism rebranding campaign when Ogilvy introduced it in February of this year. We at the National Geographic Society have defined geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” A great fit for Grenada.

Unfortunately, things had not gone smoothly back in February.

Symposium speakers Andy Dumaine and Todd Comen check out a bin of nutmeg husks, from which mace is made, at the Belmont Estate. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.
Symposium speakers Andy Dumaine and Todd Comen check out a bin of nutmeg husks, from which mace is made, at the Belmont Estate. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.

As Jarman Price admitted, the new brand rolled out “in isolation,” with inadequate community preparation. Partly because of that—rebrandings often get public push-back anyway—a storm of controversy arose. Many Grenadians objected, mistakenly assuming the new slogan was intended to replace Grenada’s long-standing identity as the “Spice Island,” a nod to its many nutmeg trees. After much politically hyped debate, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell himself had to intervene, yielding the camel-like compromise “Grenada, the Spice of the Caribbean.”

Make of that what you will. The intent of Pure Grenada was to underscore what I consider the real reason to visit: The island is one of the last to offer a broad and authentic Caribbean travel experience. Grenada still has beauty, a benign climate, rich culture and heritage, good beaches, still-viable nature on land and in the sea, and relative freedom from intrusive mass tourism. I wrote a brief article to that effect in the Dec.2012/Jan. 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Can Grenada Pull It Off?

The question is whether the country can retain and build on that distinction. Like other islands, Grenada copes with numerous challenges—overfishing, sand mining, unemployment, irresponsible development. A wave-swamped cemetery on Grenada’s small, charming sister island of Carriacou has become an emblem for the Caribbean’s accelerated sea level rise. Since the financial crisis, the government has basically been broke, and many Grenadians are therefore eager to grab at any economic opportunity, sustainable or not.

Someone on Carriacou, for instance, chopped down about seven acres of mangroves to make room for a big new marina. That environmental insult was mentioned repeatedly at the symposium—a pimple of the face of Pure. Apologists often argue for a “balance between growth and conservation” in such cases. Sustainable marketing consultant Andy Dumaine grumbled when he heard that: “It’s not an either-or.”

Indeed, Dr. Angus Friday, Grenada’s current ambassador to the United States and Mexico, thinks sustainability is economic opportunity. He sees Grenada as taking a global lead in renewable energy and conservation for small island nations. While diplomatically not mentioning those missing mangroves, he argued, “Our natural capital is principal in the bank. We need to weave this into our DNA.” Implication: Good businesses don’t invade principal. Friday hopes that Grenada can develop in a way that disrupts the standard model of Caribbean tourism—“Become the Airbnb of responsible travel.”

I think it can be done. My July visit included many rays of hope. The symposium itself seemed quite successful. (You can see the many presentations here.)

At a geotourism meeting the next day, it became clear that many of the boutique hotel owners that dominate the Grenada tourism market don’t want to see huge all-inclusive resorts or more big cruise ships. At a rural exposition on another day, many local artisans and entrepreneurs showed off wares unique to the island, ready to grow their businesses through responsible tourism. They had set up their booths at the engaging Belmont Estate, which itself has become one of the best-known agritourism attractions in the Caribbean. As Belmont’s lunch offerings show, much opportunity also exists for building an increasingly sophisticated Grenada-flavored cuisine, appropriate to the “Spice Island.”

Local entrepreneur Modesty makes Grenadian-themed fashions and hopes to add employees. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.
Local entrepreneur Modesty makes Grenadian-themed fashions and hopes to add employees.
Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot.

And what about those spices? Grenada’s big three are nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon. A colleague of mine remembers landing at the Grenada airport long ago, entering the terminal, and immediately smelling these telltale scents. I detected no such pleasant odor when I arrived this time. But what an opportunity! Research tells us that the brain’s wiring for memories and for smells lie next to one another. Why not suffuse the airport arrival and departure halls with delicious fragrance? Do that, and every time for years after, when we former visitors smell cinnamon on a roll or nutmeg in the eggnog, we’ll remember:

Ah, Grenada.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
National Geographic Fellow Emeritus; Founding Director, Nat Geo Center for Sustainable Destinations; former Geotourism Editor, National Geographic Traveler; CEO, Destination Stewardship Center; President, Focus on Places LLC