Tourism Redux by Joyce McClure (Yap)

Inside the Reef

Doing the same thing,
expecting a different result

By Joyce McClure


A few years before Covid slammed the door shut on tourism, I was working with the Yap Visitors Bureau and researched ways that Yap might promote the island to more than divers. The marketing director began to explore opportunities to attract special-interest groups interested in World War II.

The result was a visit by a tour company that focuses on war buffs. It’s not a huge market, but big enough to warrant getting Yap on their schedule for visits by travelers who have never heard of the island where the Japanese surrendered and the wreckage of planes that were downed in dogfights during the last year of the war are memorials.

Reading the stories about Guam and CNMI and their struggles to recapture the tourism market, I am struck by the effort being put toward tourism like it was “back then.” Vacationers who were largely interested in shopping, diving, sightseeing and staged entertainment were then and still are the target. But they aren’t the only market by any stretch.

War buffs are only one of the many niche markets that a few forward-thinking islands have recognized and gained significant economic success from.

My research turned up several niche markets based on unique cultural practices that could benefit Pacific islands. All it takes is identifying and contacting travel companies that specialize in lucrative experiential tourism.



While some dive resorts offer deep-sea fishing, many fishing enthusiasts are interested in learning about traditional net fishing, how to make the nets, build shoreline fish traps and identify reef fish. At the end of a day spent learning new fishing skills, they could also be taught how to prepare and cook the fish they catch. It’s not that they expect to use the netmaking skills back home in a Michigan lake, rather it’s about the hands-on learning experience, interaction with skilled island fishermen and the love of fishing.


Not limited to 19-year-olds signing up to work on a farm in Idaho for the summer, agritourism reaches people who enjoy gardening and are interested in learning about growing methods and edible vegetation in far-away places. Hosted by local gardeners and farmers, a group of enthusiasts could be taught by community members, including the knowledgeable agriculture professionals who work for the Land Grant programs at the University of Guam, the College of Micronesia and Northern Marianas College. Paired with guided walks through the forest to learn the many ways indigenous plants and trees are used for eating, traditional medicine, building materials and other uses would provide visitors with a unique education they could never receive elsewhere.

Handweaving workshop

 There are thousands of handweavers around the world (I once was one!) as well as travel companies that cater to them by offering handweaving workshop tours. The workshops often take place over a one- to two-week period and include daily lessons and mentoring by local women who are weaving masters. The workshops could begin with lessons in selecting and preparing traditional materials like hibiscus to make the “yarn”; using a handmade backstrap loom; lectures about the culture; and weaving a lava lava to take home as a souvenir.

Culinary tourism

There are a lot of foodies in the world who enjoy taking cooking classes when they travel. Many go to a destination specifically to learn about the local cuisine. How about offering a weeklong cooking course that includes learning about local ingredients and how they are grown; instruction about what a traditional kitchen garden contains; an introduction to a family’s outdoor kitchen; and hands-on harvesting and teaching of recipes using fresh fish, taro, bananas, coconut, breadfruit and the many other delicious fruits and vegetables grown locally. Every evening, dinner would consist of the foods made by participants that day, and each would be given a recipe book of local favorites as a keepsake.

Canoe building

In Maine there is a Wooden Boat School where men and women from all over the world go to learn how to build a wooden boat. Why not a canoe-building school? During a month-long workshop, participants could learn how to design, make and sail a traditional proa from the selection of the log to the use of an adz; the materials used for a traditional sail and how it is woven; and an introduction to traditional wayfaring. While a month may not be long enough to build an entire canoe, the teachers could use half-built demonstration pieces to allow participants to experience the different steps in the process. A voyage to a nearby island with a master navigator would be a highlight of the workshop.

Cultural village

 In Guam, the Chamorro Village offers locally made products. But visitors want more than an opportunity to buy jewelry and jams. They want to experience how people live on these islands.

I suggest erecting a small group of traditional cottages where visitors can stay for one or two nights during their longer stay. The women would be hosted by a group of local women and the men by local men. Each group would be taught the way of life on the island. For example, in Yap the men would be shown how to wear a thu’u; how to climb a coconut tree and collect coconuts; how to make a fishing net or construct a weir; how to carve a canoe; how traditional navigation has been used for centuries; and visit the men’s house to learn from the chief about men’s roles and the history and culture of the island.

The women would be presented with a lava lava to wear; learn how taro is grown, harvested and cooked; how cloth is woven on a backstrap loom; how a basket is woven from palm fronds; how to make a flower marmar; and how plants are used for traditional medicine. Like the men, the women would go to the women’s house to learn about the culture, women’s roles and history of the island. At the end of the day, everyone would come together at the community house to share their experiences, watch a traditional dance; and eat traditional foods.

Museum tours

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. are among many museums that have collections of Pacific island arts and culture. They offer special interest tours that focus on various countries, hiring tour companies to plan and manage the tours. Those tour companies are the target market for visitors bureaus. Although the trips are planned several years in advance, it’s a niche market worth marketing to.

These are just a few of the offerings in the lucrative experiential tourism market that bring travelers to distinctive destinations.


Post-pandemic, Pacific islands are again attempting to entice tourists back. But it’s no longer business-as-usual. It’s a waste of time and money to continue doing the same old, tired trade shows. It’s time to think differently. Granted it takes planning, coordination, training and marketing beyond a Facebook page, but as they say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Joyce McClure is a former senior marketing executive and former Peace Corps volunteer in Yap. Transitioning to freelance writing, she moved to Guam in 2021 and recently relocated back to the mainland. Send feedback to


Joyce McClure Writes

Joyce McClure (Yap)

I joined the Peace Corps as a Response Volunteer in August 2016 and traded the island of Manhattan for the island of Yap after a long career as a senior executive in marketing communications. The stories of companies and brands and the people behind them were my stock-in-trade for nearly 40 years, but today I tell the stories of the people, culture and politics of the Pacific Region and how they live in the modern world while maintaining their traditional way of life.

After five years in Yap, I moved to Guam in June 2021 and continued to write stories through the lens of both personal experience as well as interviews and observations.

I moved back to the mainland in 2023 but am still a regular contributor to the Pacific Island Times and other regional news media. My writing and photos have also appeared over the years in The Guardian, New York Times, Pacific Daily News, Verge, Stars & Stripes,,, Transitions Abroad, Wooden Canoe Magazine, Journal for Weavers, Spinners & Dyers, and many others. For work samples:

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