Chatting with Community Host Rosemarie Burke

May 25, 2023

Hospitality is central to everything we do at Shorefast. We believe that every business that serves humans should be built around hospitality: the practice of relationship building and relationship making.

Guest Experience Director, Sandra Cull & Community Host, Rosemarie Burke (left to right) at the Inn. Photo credit: Valerie Howes.

Fogo Island Inn was built to showcase the culture and nature of Fogo Island and add another leg to the economy by complementing the primary and traditional fishing industry. Since opening its doors in 2013, the Inn has become a world leader in the practice of regenerative, community-based travel, and is inspiring other industry leaders to adopt practices that benefit both people and place.  

Initiated through Fogo Island Inn, the Community Host program pairs visitors to the island with community members who are incredibly knowledgeable about the island’s history, culture, and geography. Through informal island orientations, community members bring Fogo Island to life though their own lived experience and offer visitors a nuanced perspective of daily life.

Recently, we chatted with Rosemarie Burke, a Community Host who hails from the community of Tilting on Fogo Island, about her experience as a host and her reflections on Fogo Island Inn’s first decade of community business. The conversation has been edited to reflect highlights of our conversation.  

Becoming a Community Host 

When Rosemarie first heard that the Inn was being built, she was 56. “I’ve got to be a part of that,” she recalls thinking. After three years as the Head of Housekeeping she moved into the Community Host Coordinator role, one that she loved, but ultimately led her to see that a role as a Community Host would suit her best.  

“The thing I didn’t realize about the community host role until I started was that I’ve been doing community hosting my whole life,” Rosemarie adds. “I’m an avid outdoors person, always walking and hiking, and whenever I see someone coming toward me that I don’t know, I introduce myself and ask them where they are from; I’ll point out certain landmarks, such as the best spot to look out on the Atlantic ocean, or where to find Eider ducks nesting, and a conversation is started.” 

“I always want to welcome people; to let them know that they’d be offered help if they needed it; to invite them back for a cup of tea.” 

Managing Director of Fogo Island Inn, Amanda Decker-Penton & Rosemarie during the construction of Fogo Island Inn. Photo credit: Paddy Barry.

Creating the opportunity for exchange & connection  

Now, before I go to work in the morning, I’m wondering and excited about who I am going to meet today and where they will be from. Will they welcome me as I welcome them?” 

When people first learned about the creation of the Inn there was some worry, Rosemarie explains. “We have had very little change since the first settlers arrived. We didn’t know what this was going to mean. When the Inn opened Zita wrote a personal invite to everyone on the island to ask them to stay at the Inn for a night and experience what was being offered to guests. It made a difference.”  

“This Inn has brought new life to this place,” Rosemarie adds. “The community feels represented through this program. Guests come here knowing some things about the island but after a trip with a community host, they feel at home. They feel that they understand where they are.”  

That sense of understanding goes both ways. For Rosemarie, working with visitors has revealed her own island to her in a new way.  

“Now I have a greater appreciation for some of the things I ignored before I met guests. I just see the beauty of it all. Guests come into the Inn and see the Atlantic Ocean and say “wow.” That’s their first word. And you know, now I do too. I think to myself, How lucky am I to be living in a place like this. Now, I take more moments to stop and recognize the beauty around me.” 

In 2022 – Fogo Island Inn’s Community Hosts spent a combined 9,232 hours providing in-person, community-based island orientations and experiences for visitors to our island. Read more about our community-centric approach to economic development in our latest Impact Report.

Small-scale exchanges can have a big impact 

“The Inn is changing the perception people have of small and rural communities,” Rosemarie says. “Not many people knew about Fogo Island before the Inn. Now there are more artists coming here. They are seeing the beauty and painting the beauty. Everything we look at daily – the architecture, the fishing stages, the flakes – artists are painting them, and people are coming to see them.”  

While Fogo Island has always had a strong local artisan culture, increasing the opportunity for the cross-pollination of ideas, art, and experiences between people with different backgrounds is a vital way to strengthen our social fabric at a local level and at a national level. It brings renewed attention to the value of places big and small across our country and reminds us of our common humanity.  

“People who live in cities are coming now to enjoy the quiet and freedom of Fogo Island. We have a close proximity to nature. You can feel the ocean. I am sure that lots of little communities across Canada have the same beauty as Fogo Island. Small communities have so much to offer.”  

Hiking Fogo Island’s shoreline. Photo Credit: Amy Rowsell.

A cultural asset: Newfoundlander’s sense of hospitality 

“We live on an island. We know just about everybody here. And when people come to the island you are going to welcome them. Historically, this was a tough place to eke out a living – coming together is important.” 

“Fogo Islanders love a stranger. And when a stranger gets to know us, they love us too.” 

In 2015, Fogo Island Inn was awarded the Community Engagement award by PURE, a leading experiential travel show. In this 2-minute clip Zita Cobb, Shorefast’s Founder & CEO, reminds us why community connection is so important to our understanding of travel.