Day two of the workshop started a little rough. The power went out last night (a common occurrence on Ometepe) so our rooms had no air conditioning or fans. The rooms were very hot all night long. Ometepe is not as hot as León, but I’ve become extremely accustomed to sleeping with a fan seven nights a week, so I was very uncomfortable last night.
On the other hand, the workshop is going very well. We started the day with a talk from a tourism expert on the tourism situation in Nicaragua. The most recent estimate put Nicaraguan tourism business at $800 million per annum. This is compared to the Central American behemoth, Costa Rica, at $2.5 billion per year. A PC Volunteer who had a blog post featured on the official Peace Corps blog had this to say about tourism in general:
In international development circles, tourism is hot. More than one billion people traveled internationally in 2013, accounting for nine percent of global GDP and one in every 11 jobs worldwide. For development professionals in developing countries where there are marketable tourism assets, these numbers should make you smile.
After the tourism talk a Nicaraguan business consultant who has collaborated with the Peace Corps before, María Luisa, came to talk about strategic planning. Her talk and technical assistance to the business owners was absolutely excellent. It helped the business owners a lot, and it has also helped me to develop my delivery techniques and the tools that I will use with my business advisory clients (for instance, the fish processing cooperative, who is not present at this taller, could greatly benefit from the goals-strategies-activities worksheet that María Luisa used with the participants). We recently got word that two of the three Small Business Development Volunteer Coordinators from the office in Managua are leaving the Peace Corps (both for masters degrees in the US), so the Peace Corps is going to be looking to hire two new members for the SBD team. I am definitely going to send in an e-mail to the directors recommending María Luisa.
After lunch the sessions were on marketing and building a professional network, followed by two hours of technical assistance, in which the business owners work on their business plans, and the Volunteers rotate around assisting them. It is actually very challenging work. There are around 20 business owners and only seven Volunteers. And every business owner comes from a different background, regions of the country, and tourism experience. I’ve noticed some other business owners, in addition to one that I brought, who have a hard time reading and writing. During the technical assistance we have to overcome those barriers and help the participants put pen to paper so that they can head back home on the ferry with at least a preliminary plan to share with their business partners.
Working with the President of the Cooperative at Cerro Negro, as usual, has been very challenging. On the one hand, the strategic planning session was perfect for her. The President is such a pathless visionary that she has lost the confidence of the other members of the Cooperative. The rigid plan-making structure of that session was ideal to force her mind to think in an orderly and deliberate manner. But for someone whose head is usually in the clouds, it remains difficult to get her to apply herself to the new tools she now has in front of her. Nevertheless, I see glimmers of hope. She is thinking about plans, and we’ve talked about how we can stimulate the other members of the Cooperative into positive action. To be honest, I have had so much trouble with this business, I had already wanted to dump them. Georgia, the Small Business Volunteer Coordinator, convinced me to keep trying with them. And I am glad that I have kept trying. However, this is the last effort that I am going to exert. If I can’t move ahead with the Cooperative after this I am not going to keep proactively reaching out to them.
As I was strolling around the grounds of Charco Verde I saw these light posts. At first they just seem like crappie painted lamp posts. But really, they perfectly encapsulate Ometepe. Ometepe is known for its rock carvings, called petroglyphs. And often, a spiral design appears on these carvings. It is an unofficial symbol of Ometepe, and perfect also for the hippie vibe.
Being so deeply involved in community tourism this week, I couldn’t help but thinking of a future business idea: either writing a series of community tourism guidebooks or having a community tourism website. I like the idea of community tourism. Community tourism is tourism side-by-side the daily lives of locals. It is locally owned and operated. It interweaves agro-tourism and eco-tourism into a “non-traditional” but “authentic” tourism experience. I think a lot of backpackers set out for this kind of experience, but unfortunately they wind up getting caught up in much more mass produced gringo trails and lose sight of what they set out for. I think there is a market for helping people keep their community-based focus, and it would probably be a lot of fun righting the guide books too!