May 23, 2004

A resident displays the colorful headress in Nebaj, Guatemala. Using the methods he learned in Israel, Felipe Brito hopes to increase tourism to his town. After a three-week stay in Israel, Guatemalan Felipe Brito is returning to his home village Nebaj with stars in his eyes, intent on starting a cultural revolution.

After 25 days of lectures, tours and workshops on Rural Tourism, Brito and 32 other representatives from a total of 16 Latin American countries have left their incubator of ideas and flown home, impatient to begin applying their new attitudes and methodologies in their own countries.

The course the completed, conducted by the Weitz Center for development Studies in Rehovot for the Latin American professionals, included lectures and workshops with leading Israeli experts. The participants learned tools and techniques for the formulation of tourism-related projects in rural areas. Among the guests participating in the closing ceremony were members of the diplomatic corps in Israel, representatives of the Israel-Argentina Chamber of Commerce, and delegates from MASHAV.

Brito, who had already begun to establish a comprehensive tourist infrastructure back home in Nebaj, 180 miles from Guatemala City, had come to Israel with many questions: Am I doing the right thing? Will it continue to develop? Which difficulties will I find along the way? Should I take a different direction?

Traveling around Israel and seeing the different cities, kibbutzim and other places of interest, set the scene for his learning, says Brito. “I understood the importance of this country and how it has been built one step at a time.”

The 32 participants in the course were divided into six groups in order to carry out fictional projects, which set the stage for the methodology they will be applying in their countries of origin.

“Our presentation was followed by an evaluation,” says Felipe. “It was amazing. With all the projects I have established and am managing in Nebaj with the help of volunteers, I am now seeing the importance and the necessity of making a plan and overseeing the product of that plan. I learned from the evaluation that I need to understand the ultimate direction I am going in, in order to succeed.”

Brito’s group consisted of six members from Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Paraguay. They chose to work on a project related to ecotourism in Colombia, which reflected a situation very similar to Brito?s own in Nebaj. The team included two economists, with Brito providing the direction and the Colombian representative as the coordinator.

“We learned that in our test case, the most important aspect,” says Brito, “was to establish a tourist information center in Colombia. This can be complemented by starting a restaurant, and an artists studio with 30 people from the community of Guaya in Cabo La Vela.”

Brito was eager to get home and begin work on his own turf. He has decided that the established businesses in his area (a restaurant, an internet café, an artist’s studio, a Spanish-language school and tours of the area) need to be strengthened.

“I now know what path I am going to take to properly implement the projects I have on hand, and to start new projects. Now I have to get home and get my projects organized.”

At the Weitz Center, Brito was able to relate the theory he learned with his practical experience, choose a methodology and come up with a master plan.

Brito now intends to formulate a system by which he will be able to analyze local references and data in view of the new skills and attitude he has leant. He expects to be keeping a close check on the economic situation in his area for the next year and a half and to analyze its weaknesses.

“Through the weaknesses I will look for opportunities,” he says.

He feels that during this visit he has been most influenced by the organization of the kibbutzim in terms of health, education, community, equal benefits and cooperation.

“It is incredible how they work together and they benefit equally,” he says. “I know have a different vision than before.”

Brito plans to attempt to integrate his group of co-workers in a different way now, so that everyone will be equated in the profits department. He hopes it will not be too difficult to convince the others.

Brito’s Israel adventure excited him and gave him and a strong admiration for Israel’s professionals.

“The capacity of the professionals that the Weitz Center has is incredible,” he says. “And their aim is simply to assist other countries in their own development. This so useful to us because although it is more modern now in Israel we all have similar beginnings.”

Brito is particularly grateful to Prof. Yoram Porta, formerly of the Ministry of Agriculture and Weitz Center director, Julia Margulies. Margulies points out that the development of tourism is part of regional development and must be seen in that context.

“The participants have learned from the Israeli experience by observing, ‘in the field,’ the roles of government and local organizations in the promotion of tourism. Lovely ideas need to be viewed in terms of their social, economic and ecological impact. We have given them tools and we hope they can succeed,” Margulies says. “The Weitz Center is at their disposal for the future implementation of any projects they would like to approach with us.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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