This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

International Group for Tourism and Economic Development

This past week, the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor Leadership Program hosted a group of people from all over the world. The multi-regional project on Tourism and Economic development came to Vermont to learn about how our state promotes a large multi-seasonal tourism industry. With us we had Mr. Ahmed Farid Essarhane, the director of the Bab El Djazair Travel Agency in Algeria, Ms. Azra Dzigal, a ministry advisor for the Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Ms. Kadri Jalonen, a tourism coordinator for the Ida-Viru County Government of Estonia, Ms. Evangelia Zampetoglou, the education manager of the Institute of the Greek Tourism Association, Mr. Raoul Chollet Rochin, a Federal delegate for the Fondo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo National Tourism Foundation of Mexico, Ms. Dragana Cenic, the general director for spatial planning for the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro, Mrs. Maria Cheggour, a professor of Tourism Studies, English Language and Communication at Cadi Ayad University in Marrakech, Morocco, and lasly Mr. Ilia Nikolaevich Markov, the ECO of the Ural Cultural Center in Russia.

The group started the trip off with a drive down to Woodstock, Vermont. Regarded as the gateway to Vermont’s rural heritage, Woodstock features one of the finest operating dairy farms in America and a museum of Vermont's rural past. Billings Farm features many aspects of farm work, including care of the Jersey cows and other livestock, milking of the herd, crop rotation, and feed production. The group took a tour of Billings Farm and Museum and met with Director David Simmons to discuss the museum's role in showcasing Vermont rural heritage.
Afterwards, the group went to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Vermont’s only National Park Unit. The park was gifted to the American people by Mary and Laurance Rockefeller in 1992 and plays an important role in the tourism sector of the Upper Valley region of Vermont. It has formed a unique partnership with the town of Woodstock and the nearby Billings Farm and Museum. The group took a walking tour of the park with Assistant Superintendent Christina Marts and discussed the park’s role in promoting tourism, their partnership with Billings Farm and Museum, and the effects of both entities on tourism in Woodstock and in Vermont’s Upper Valley.
The group then had lunch and a Round Table Discussion with staff from Billings Farm and Museum, Marsh Billings Rockefeller NHP, Woodstock Chamber of Commerce, and other area nonprofits involved in the tourism industry.

The group departed from Woodstock and headed up north to Montpelier, where they met with Deputy Commissioner Steven cook of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. The VDTM promotes Vermont’s travel, recreation, cultural, and historic attractions, as well as the state’s goods and services. They work in coordination with public and private sector partners to market the state to a global audience for the economic benefit of all Vermonters. The group had an interesting conversation with Cook about how the different seasons effect tourism in Vermont, and learned that August was the most popular month for tourism. The group also got to see the VDTM's twitter page called @ThisisVT, which is unique because each week, Cook chooses a new Vermonter to run the twitter page and promote Vermont life and culture.

On Tuesday, the group started the morning off going to the University of Vermont to meet with Director of the Vermont Tourism and Research Center, Lisa Chase and Research Specialist Bill Valliere. The center began as a partnership between the University of Vermont and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. Today it collaborates with educational institutions, government agencies, local communities, non-profit organizations, and private sector businesses across the country. Lisa Chase was in her office in Brattleboro, so Bill set up a skype call so the group could talk about ecotourism and agritourism in Vermont and discuss relevant research projects.
The group then spent the afternoon down in Killington, Vermont. Killington is the largest and most visited ski area in the Eastern United States and has the largest vertical drop in New England. Killington draws visitors year round to ski, mountain bike, and golf. In 2015, the resort received a permit from the state allowing them to add zip lines and a mountain coaster. The group met with Director of Operations Rich McCoy, who discussed strategies to attract guests to the resort and best practices for promoting Killington in a saturated ski market.

The group had a fantastic time traveling around Vermont to some of the most popular tourism destinations. Thank you to everyone who took part and made this possible for our International Visitors!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity: A Project for Afghanistan

This week the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor leadership Program hosted a group traveling all the way from Afghanistan. The project was for Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity by learning about various government systems in the United States and Vermont. We were fortunate enough to have five politicians from five of the 31 different Afghanistan provinces  to learn about the many diverse political systems that we have here in Vermont. With us we had Mr. Amruden Wali of the Kunduz Province, Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani of the Sar-e Pul Province, Mr. Firozuddin Aimaq of the Baghlan Province, Mr. Karim Atal of the Helmand Province, and Mr. Sayed Azim Kabarzany of the Heart Province, all accompanied by their Dari language interpretors Noor Durrani and Mohammad Azis. The group spent Monday and Tuesday traveling around Vermont and Burlington meeting with various organizations to discuss political and government structures with their counterparts.

On Monday morning we met with Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo to discuss town governments. What is unique about Colangelo's role as Town Manager is that he functions very much like a town Mayor. The difference between a Mayor and a manager is that a Mayor is elected for his position, whereas the manager is hired for his job and he has no set term. What we learned from Colangelo is that different towns in Vermont and all around the nation have extremely varied government systems, which makes it difficult to collaborate directly with other towns. Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani called Colangelo "young and energetic," and we learned a lot about Shelburne's politics in comparison to surrounding Vermont towns.

During the afternoon on Monday we were fortunate enough to have the time to get to explore the Vermont State House in Montpelier. The group loved seeing all the historic pieces displayed throughout the house, as well as the Senate and the House meeting rooms. While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting Representative Jill Krowinski, House Majority Leader who talked a little bit about the work that the Vermont State Representatives take part in.
After we left the State House, we went on over to meet with the Vermont League of Cities in Towns in Montpelier. There we met with the executive director of the program, Maura Carroll, who explained the importance of having representation of all the towns in the state of Vermont. The League provides various types of insurance around the state, and the organization offers a Municipal Assistance Center for consultation on a wide range of municipal issues for citizens around the state.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Burlington City Hall meeting with various members of the Burlington government system. First we met with members of the Burlington City Council. Out of a total of 12 councilors, we had the opportunity to meet with four councilors. Joan Shannon discussed the importance of having both a strong Mayor and a strong City Council Government, and that neither can do without the other. All councilors are part time, and they work with the Mayor to discuss the needs of the city. They deal with everything from passing resolutions, city ordinances and charter changes, to the construction of the town center, to things as specific as fixing pot holes in the roads.

Next we got to meet with Bob Rustin, the Burlington City Treasurer. Rustin has the immense responsibility of overseeing all of the city's finances. He creates monthly reviews for the city council, oversees all city taxes, and prepares monthly budgets that get reviewed by the council. He also organizes all city elections. Last March there was the town meeting election, and Rustin was responsible for arranging ballots, hiring and scheduling election workers, and organizing and reporting the results. In addition, Rustin is required to keep track of all documents, licenses and certificates such as land records, birth records, marriages, etc. The meeting provided an immense amount of information to our Afghan visitors about the many different responsibilities that our local leaders are in charge of, and provided insight to various methods of organizing city works.

Lastly, the group met with members of Burlington's Neighborhood Planning Assembly. Created 35 years ago, the goal of the assembly was to bring the different areas of Burlington together to discuss the different issues as well as keep an open line of communication. Burlington is divided into eight different wards, or neighborhoods, and each month different neighborhoods get together for a meeting to discuss whatever issues have developed and proposing possible solutions. Providing a public dialogue is essential because it gives an opportunity for members of the community to voice any of their concerns and be involved with the city's planning. Each neighborhood in Burlington has its own unique issues, and having the monthly meetings with the National Planning Assembly offers a space for the community to get involved.

Throughout the various meetings, our group of Afghan Politicians were able to get a sense of government in Vermont in a neighborhood scale, a town and city scale, a state scale as well as a national scale. The Vermont Council on World Affairs would like to thank the members of the Afghanistan provincial councils, their incredible translators, and the many #802Diplomats we met along the way.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Recap: Cuba Trip 2017

I stepped off the plane, on a beautiful warm day, and the realization suddenly hit me. I had just set foot in the country that I haven't been allowed to visit my entire life. Here as part of the Vermont Council on World Affairs' 2nd Annual Cuba trip, I wasn't sure what to expect, but images of Fidel, '55 Chevies, cigars, and Hemingway ran through my mind.

Tom Clavelle under the Cuban flag

For 8 sun-filled days, a congenial group of 20 curious Vermonters immersed ourselves in the culture of the Caribbean's largest island. Our travels began with a relaxing morning on the beautiful beaches and aqua blue waters of Veradero. Then off to Havana, Cuba's largest city and capital, where we spent the next 3 days exploring its bustling streets, visiting a local elementary school, attending the traditional Canon Firing Ceremony, and learning about the country's intriguing history. Who had ever heard of Jose Marti before? Turns out he's the greatest Cuban martyr/hero, from the late 1800s, stirring his countrymen to revolt against the Spanish. Evenings were spent in some great local eateries, followed by a relaxing time on the outside porch of the President Hotel, listening to the upbeat Cuban music of local bands. And no trip to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Hemingway's home, Finca Vigia.

Cuba Trip group

Next morning, after an interesting tour of a cigar factory, we headed south for a few days in the coastal city of Trinidad, best known for its well-preserved Cuban culture. On the way from Trinidad to Santa Clara, located in the center of the country, we stopped by for a morning visit and lunch at the El Nicho waterfalls. It was one of the highlights of the trip, taking us deep into the beautiful Cuban mountain countryside. Santa Clara is the place where the Cuban Revolution took hold, and where revolutionary hero (and honorary Cuban) Che Guevera is memorialized. The concept of revolution is deeply engrained in the country's history, and while the presence and influence of Fidel Castro was everywhere, we were quite struck by the simplicity of his final resting grounds.

Historic street in Cuba

Looking out over the island as we flew back to Montreal, I wished I could have stayed a few days longer. The Cuban people were very welcoming and friendly, excited to see Americans coming to explore their great country. While it's often been referred to as the country that got "stuck in time", my sense is that it is destined for some big changes in the next 5-10 years. I guess one more reason to go back!      

Post and photos by Tom Clavelle, Cuba Trip 2017 participant