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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Africa-Caribbean connection

by Bevan Springer:

Following recent visits to Africa and the Caribbean, more and more the Africa-Caribbean connection appears to me to be worth serious exploration.

Bevan Springer is a New York Amsterdam News columnist who writes frequently on travel and tourism issues. He also produces the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism - CMEx.I always felt this during my educational pursuits in North America and remain indebted to my West African brothers and sisters for teaching me so much about the French language, not to mention helping me pass my examinations!

After an incredible visit to the mother continent, I invited my media colleague Ogo Sow and tourism executive Aziz Gueye - both from Senegal - to the Caribbean for a taste of West Indian hospitality after they so graciously hosted yours truly and a group of media and travel representatives in Senegal a month earlier.

The ease with which my African brothers assimilated into Caribbean culture while attending the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) meeting in St Lucia this month was heartwarming, but even more so was their collective will to promote tourism to the region and encourage more Caribbean nationals to set foot in the land whence we came.

So just how do we do promote cultural exchanges between the Caribbean and Africa, or America and Africa? How do we explore trade opportunities? How do we create new communications links among media organisations and the more contemporary social media platforms? How do we trace our roots and let our children and grandchildren understand the richness of our African heritage?

Well, New York native Gregg Truman, considered an honorary West Indian after spending numerous years working for Air Jamaica, now spearheads the marketing charge at South African Airways (SAA) and he is clearly making a difference.

Truman, SAA's Vice President of Marketing, said the African-American and Caribbean-American Diaspora are critical to the airline's overall strategies for success and in promoting the airline's routes throughout Africa. "The rich cultural diversity of both West Africa and South Africa provides members of the Diaspora an opportunity to experience the continent in extremely personal ways," he said.

The multilingual Amat Kane of Africa Connection Tours educates visitors to the historic Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Senegal.

Truman, who accompanied us on our recent Senegal sojourn, was impressed with what the West African nation offered to visitors. "In addition to Gorée Island and the Slave Houses - an incredibly touching experience - the ability to go off-roading on massive sand dunes and enjoy a wonderful Caribbean-style beach holiday allowed us to appreciate some of what Senegal has to offer," he said, adding that the wide ranging hotel product - from Club Med to Le Méridien and the new four-star TERROU-BI Dakar, positions Senegal as a great choice for a unique holiday.

Like all of us, Truman was impressed with the art and music in Dakar, which provided "an amazing backdrop for a rich vibrant vacation where one can spend some time on the beach, but can also appreciate a truly cultural experience and gain a better understanding of the human condition."

It is certainly helpful that Senegal is only seven and a half hours from Washington DC's Dulles Airport, offering daily non-stop flights which depart in the late afternoon and get visitors to Senegal early the next morning. SAA also has two daily flights to South Africa, including a non-stop flight from New York City's JFK airport to Johannesburg.

With SAA providing friendly infrastructure to connect the Caribbean and America with Africa, the sky's the limit for the exploration of new linkages.

December 31, 2009