ECOCLUB Interviews are a true who is who of the ecotourism movement
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INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MAGAZINE™
Year 8 - Issue 93 - Sep 07
Maui Botanical Gardens (US),
Traditional Apartments (GR),
Resort (IN), Beyond
NIKKI ROSE: "If we think tradition should be offered to us for free, we are part of the serious problem. The people we meet during our travels are not obligated to treat us to a single peanut, let alone a feast free of charge. They are not our free entertainment – no matter who we are."
Nikki Rose, Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries Founder and Director, is a Greek-American professional chef and writer. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in fine dining establishments and cultural-culinary education in Paris, San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC. She explored Greece for over 10 years before settling down in her grandmother's homeland of Crete in 1998 to form Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries.
Ms Rose has designed and hosted distinctive culinary arts preservation seminars since 1996, featuring leading US chefs. Her programs are approved by the American Culinary Federation for Continuing Education credits and have been professionally videotaped for educational purposes.
Nikki Rose was assistant cookbook editor at the Culinary Institute of America, working on professional and commercial cookbooks. She contributed to “Thirty Secrets of the World’s Healthiest Cuisines” (John Wiley & Sons). Her published articles, upcoming book and documentary focus on traditional cuisine, culture, sustainable agriculture and environmental issues.
Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries programs or "Intensive cultural immersion experiences" according to Nikki, cover the whole picture of Crete: culture, natural beauty, organic food and gardening. Classes are conducted in residents’ kitchens, gardens, olive oil factories, vineyards and ancient sites. Presentations are by local experts who have a proven track record in cultural preservation projects and sustainable tourism action programs. Over the years, CCS has expanded its all-local network to include 40 small businesses and individuals throughout the island.
Nikki Rose frequently speaks about eco-agritourism at international conferences and advises start-up programs, authors and researchers on the responsible travel as a means to help solve social and environmental issues.
(The Interview follows:)
ECOCLUB.com: Following your work over the past three years, it is evident that agrotourism & culinary tourism is far more than a job for you, you are a really passionate and articulate advocate. So, what brought you to culinary tourism and to Crete?
Nikki Rose: You are very right. I am a passionate advocate for preserving the cultural and culinary heritage of Crete, and created CCS as a vehicle to communicate the vital relationship between our beautiful environment, our heritage and the often damaging choices we make regarding travel and tourism.
Cultural-culinary heritage preservation has been my focus for over 20 years. I trained to become a professional chef and have worked with many extraordinarily skilled chefs and farmers. I have watched the foodservice and agriculture industries become more and more automated at the expense of quality food, safe food, and our environment.
In reaction, I began organizing dynamic educational seminars to rekindle public interest in the culinary arts, featuring fantastic chefs, sustainable organic farmers and artisan producers. The overwhelming interest and enthusiasm from the public fuelled my own. This led me to my family roots in Greece over ten years ago, where sustainable organic farming and artisan production is still of way of life for more people we might imagine.
Today, Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries supports the efforts of over 40 small businesses and individuals working on action programs to preserve Crete’s culture and environment. CCS is an internationally acclaimed program for best practices in responsible travel.
ECOCLUB.com: How would you honestly feel if two people in suits arrived one day to monitor and certify your culinary tours, in the context of some quality or environmental regulation?
Nikki Rose: My objective is to celebrate Crete’s culture and natural beauty – to build alliances with people already working on related projects. This is the CCS network. Part of our work includes education and presenting distinctive cultural immersion seminars. We share our knowledge about what we cherish and have worked very hard to help preserve, which has proved to be very beneficial for others.
Many people have already visited us - to learn about our work and share the information they acquired here with colleagues around the world. They did not wear suits, though, since we provided them with advice on practical attire for rural living. We are not available to host all interested parties, but try to make the time if they are also working on action programs. We have businesses to run. So, if the hypothetical observers are not practitioners, and planned to apply a generic checklist, based on mainstream standards in food and travel, I fear we would all become frustrated. But if they are agents of collaboration, then we all win!
CCS does not fit into the categorical box of culinary travel. Some people in our network do not work in tourism at all. My approach to education is considered unique, so a generic box is much too limiting for CCS network projects. The closest familiar descriptions are cultural heritage preservation or Responsible Travel practitioners. CCS is a benchmark for best practices in responsible travel. We have received international recognition for our work from The World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, World Travel and Tourism Council, et al. We exchange information with fellow practitioners, researchers and journalists. CCS cannot solve all of the problems of the world, but we can, and we do, salute and support people working on beneficial preservation programs.
ECOCLUB.com: Does agrotourism (agritourism) make a real difference in present-day Crete, or is it simply an add-on activity for large resorts.
Nikki Rose: Great question. What is agritourism? Since most of us are not farmers, we don’t know what to expect. Agritourism is supposed to support rural communities. In the case of organic agriculture, it also helps to protect our environment. So, agritourism can make a difference, as part of the bigger picture of preservation and responsible travel. Residents can share their knowledge and visitors can enjoy a fantastic cultural immersion experience. The mutual benefits can be infinite. But logically, agritourism is sporadic, supplemental income for most farmers. There are not many good, structured programs in Crete yet. It requires much more concrete support from the beneficiaries.
Responsible agritourism is offered by people that already have an extremely difficult business to run. Farming is not a 9 to 5 position, it is a life-long commitment. Supplying us with excellent food and wine is far more challenging than we might ever know or appreciate. While it might be a lovely notion if farmers could take the day off to entertain us, we are asking for the world. So, the time farmers make to devote to us is a rare and wonderful privilege. By contrast, if agritourism is viewed by hoteliers and travel agents as just another way to attract customers, and these businesses do not form mutually beneficial partnerships with local rural communities, it can turn into a disrespectful simulation of rural life. This can deny travellers the experiences they are looking for and limit a community’s opportunity to create jobs within their own field.
Responsible agritourism is a business, run by accomplished professionals. As long as the media and mega travel agencies instill the message that “cheap travel deals are the way of the world,” travellers will never be aware of the true cost of travel, including the long-term environmental and social impact that travel has on the communities they visit, and the true cost of good and safe food. We all need to know what responsible agritourism entails, if we are expecting to enjoy such valuable benefits. To successfully, as you asked, "make a difference", the cooperation between entrepreneurs, cultural and environmental preservationists and travellers must be strong.
ECOCLUB.com: You are known as someone who does not mince their words, even in ministerial press conferences. In the unlikely case that someone had absolute power over Crete, inhabited by famously fiercely independent- inhabitants and the only place in Greece where people are allowed to carry guns – and that person was you, what 3 measures would you take in relation to tourism and the environment?
Nikki Rose: I’m a realist. Dreaming of hypothetical power is free for someone else. To isolate tourism and environmental protection from all other societal issues, is not something I’d attempt to do. Crete is still much safer and cleaner than Washington, DC. To reserve the legal right to own a gun does not mean you plan to use it irresponsibly. In Crete, I’ve seen guns used for the purpose of hunting - for food, that is. If this seems barbaric, then we should all become vegetarians.
I think that fierce independence is a good thing, if it’s aimed at protecting your culture and environment. If it shifts to damaging your own neighbourhood, without concern for others, then that is another story. Crete is a beautiful island with a fascinating history. To lose that legacy to reckless entrepreneurs would be a tragedy. So, some steps a group of concerned citizens might take are: 1. More education and implementation of powerful cultural heritage and environmental protection programs, and sustainable organic farming practices. 2. Education and implementation of responsible travel programs. 3. Education in promoting the results of the above.
Tourism should not be "all or nothing" – to be overwhelmingly damaging for any community. We can learn from both the worst and the best practices around the world.
ECOCLUB.com: What is the optimum tour group size for a good, authentic culinary experience? Do you limit size through prices or by other means?
Nikki Rose: CCS network seminars are experiential learning - cultural immersion. Registration is usually limited to eight people. This gives people the opportunity to spend quality time with residents, dine in their homes, discuss the topics in detail, and explore the region more freely. As a small group, people have a rare opportunity to enjoy rural life, rather than observe it from a tour bus window. The benefits of such experiences are immeasurable. Though CCS seminars are expensive to present, we strive to make them accessible for the many, and not just the privileged few.
ECOCLUB.com: Laws and regulations are sometimes daunting for a small business, such as a small tour operator. What is your experience?
Nikki Rose: It’s amazing that any small business can survive in today’s climate. CCS is no exception.
ECOCLUB.com: Is there a magic formula to preserve authenticity in the face of repetition & commercialisation? You once told me that some Cretan villagers, your local partners, refused to accept payment from you for demonstrating their traditional culinary skills, and you had to insist. Should tradition be monetised in your view? Is it a question of "use it or lose it"?
Nikki Rose: There is no magic formula to preserve cultural-culinary traditions. Preservation is a difficult practice. Yes, there are realistic ways to support preservationists - sustainable organic farmers, artisan producers, ecologists and many others working on related projects – via responsible travel programs and other means. RT is not standard practice. It is a very different, ethical way of doing business. RT means providing communities with the resources they need to build programs that work for them, not an outsider’s vision of what local traditional culture should be. RT is crucial work that greatly benefits all of us. If we choose to play an active role in preserving our vital resources, we need to pay the practitioners.
If we think tradition should be offered to us for free, we are part of the serious problem. The people we meet during our travels are not obligated to treat us to a single peanut, let alone a feast free of charge. They are not our free entertainment – no matter who we are – public officials, entrepreneurs, journalists, researchers or travellers. Tradition is not ours to take for granted. It is ours to safeguard and support. If we want to be part of the solution, we need to be the solution. Ethical businesses cannot survive without ethical patrons.
Many people do not know much about tradition, so it requires education. Modern society often repels tradition. Industrialization of our food sources has proven to be dangerous to our health and environment. So the more we learn about traditional methods of food production, the more we know that it is a critical necessity today. To become a practitioner of tradition requires skill, investment and risk. Practitioners must also be educators and activists. Without solid opportunities to gain a return on these business investments, tradition continues to disappear. So, yes, we are losing "it."
Some travel agents, travellers, public and private entities, researchers, journalists and even food affinity groups have asked people in the CCS network to provide their knowledge and goods for little or no money. This is just wrong. They are requesting the services of accomplished professionals to help them with their own work, or provide a memorable travel experience but they are not giving back in return, in tangible economic benefits, to local people preserving traditions. This is a use it and destroy it approach to tradition.
So, while the imperative work of preserving tradition via responsible travel is taking off, we must all participate if we expect it to soar. Education, awareness and respectful partnerships between the providers and beneficiaries are the key. Responsible travel can improve our quality of life and environment. If we choose to be a part of sustainable solutions, this is our opportunity. It requires our action. To determine how to ethically monetize tradition, just ask the practitioners. We will discover how wonderful and beneficial cultural-culinary traditions are, and how we can all work together to preserve them.
ECOCLUB.com: You have international experience as a chef, in the restaurant sector, an industry that many find glamorous, but which insiders know as cut-throat and with abysmal working conditions backstage. How different is it really from the tourism sector?
Nikki Rose: All industries can be inhospitable backstage. It’s from these experiences that I chose to work in a very different manner. I’d like to think that the principles CCS represents -- sustainability, respect and fair compensation for our network participants, promotion of their work, and respect for the environment, ameliorates both the glamour and the cut-throat attitudes you allude to.
The hospitality industry is a service, not an invitation for maltreatment. We can choose to be a serious part of the problem or choose to be a part of the solution. Sure, you can find inconsiderate proprietors everywhere, but there are better, ethical ways to do business, which is what CCS strives for.
ECOCLUB.com: Travel journalism, is characterised, blighted according to some, by fam trips. What is your view? Are these ethical? And do mass travel media have a genuine interest in your work and sustainability, or are they mostly trying to attract lifestyle-conscious readers and advertisers?
Nikki Rose: Some people are looking for solutions to societal and environmental problems – to be "green", as they say. They want to do a little or a lot in their own lives to make a difference. Businesses are the same. They can turn many shades of green to supply demand. That includes the media.
A true green travel article should include facts about the destination’s action programs in cultural heritage preservation, fair labour practices, social issues and environmental protection. So many exploitative businesses feed the travel industry. An article listing interesting places to go is not enough information. Travellers might do more harm than good, if they don’t know the whole story. For the many journalists that care, and know much more than they are permitted to report, I commend them on working so hard - to fight to get their stories to us. As a writer myself, I know how hard this battle is. Also, as a host to a continuous stream of journalists passing through Crete, it’s challenging to clarify how rare CCS projects are, and to keep our work out of a potentially damaging mainstream box. CCS programs cannot be narrowed down to "a list." There is a fair amount of information available to report on responsible travel respectfully and professionally. Publishers need to give journalists the time to cover these stories properly. Responsible travel is not a trend or the wave of the future, it is a necessity of the present.
Access to the media is problematic for most responsible travel practitioners. By nature, projects are community-based small businesses, so they have little influence in the PR world. 90% of the people in the CCS network do not have websites - it’s just not feasible. So, if a journalist relies on the internet to find information on destinations, then RT practitioners are at a great disadvantage. However, many projects are now listed in guidebooks and on web directories of conservation groups like ECOCLUB, thankfully.
An increasing number of institutions are promoting responsible travel and subcategories thereof. This is great news to increase awareness, although the more subcategories we have, the harder it is for travellers to find RT programs. Also, some group membership fees and conferences are very cost prohibitive for practitioners. It’s as though the community is prohibited from attending community meetings. RT develops from the ground up – within local communities. International awareness of the issues and support can expedite that process. At this stage, more emphasis should be on sustaining current projects and supporting expansion. Strong collaboration between advocates and practitioners is essential for the success of RT programs. If advocates joined together to support practitioners in a very practical way, I think the message of responsible travel options would rapidly increase.
Of course, travellers deserve a "great getaway" but they need to be aware that it might come at a higher price on society and the environment than they ever imagined. People need more information in order to make better choices. Only responsible travellers can sustain responsible travel programs.
ECOCLUB.com: Do you plan to expand your trips in Crete and beyond, or do you believe that small is beautiful?
Nikki Rose: I am currently working to establish a base for CCS - for experiential learning that will simultaneously help to preserve Crete’s cultural-culinary heritage. The base will have an organic farm, of course, where we can organize more intensive programs covering culture, farming and cuisine. It is what we have already done for over a decade, but we will be saving precious time and our atmosphere by travelling less.
CCS promotes collaboration first and foremost, which is the only way to implement and expand long-term preservation programs, in my opinion. So, when it comes to preservation, big is beautiful.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!
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