When choosing a holiday, an increasing number of people are looking beyond the traditional touristic elements of a destination. As awareness of the environment grows across the world, people are looking to partake in environmentally sustainable traveling that not only minimizes carbon footprint, but also adds value to the local communities they are visiting. This has led to the emergence of a new trend called eco-tourism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa. The continent offers a huge variety of relatively undiscovered cultures that offer the traveler a unique perspective into a different way of life, while also providing local communities with a valuable income source.
Many of Africa’s more stable economies are offering travelers a safe haven through which to find a truly authentic experience; countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Namibia are seeing an influx of travelers that are not necessarily looking for luxurious surroundings, but instead want to learn about local people and nature. There are now many government-run programs and private companies offering a range of educational tours of local villages and parks. These programs are run by local people, providing jobs and prospects to previously under-privileged communities.
Eco-tourism is an increasing source of revenue for more than 33,000 protected areas across the world. Getting tourists to visit these areas in a responsible manner is key to the long term development and management of the sites. Attracting the tourists is the first task, but the second task is a lot harder; getting tourists to visit these areas in a way that benefits local people, helps protect wildlife and contributes to the well-being of communities is the biggest challenge of all.
Giving something back
There are many not for profit initiatives currently in operation that are helping to protect these sites. One such organisation is Conservation International, which runs various tourism schemes and projects in partnership with local people across Africa. One example is the Ibo Island Lodge project in Mozambique; the company states that the lodge is a perfect example of how tourism goes hand in hand with economic growth and conservation. Conservation International established the lodge in 2006, as a destination that provides refuge for ten severely threatened species of birds and five endangered species of turtle. At the time of the lodge’s inception, the area suffered from high levels of poverty; its 4,000 inhabitants were driven to unsustainable methods of fishing and the illegal hunting of sharks and turtles as a consequence. The opening of the lodge provided a number of local jobs, as well as educating local people on the area’s delicate ecosystems and park enforcement rules. The ecolodge has fast become a top tourist destination that gives as much to tourists as they can give back to the local economy by visiting.
Another example of ecotourism is the Kakum National Park in Ghana. Conservation International worked with a variety of national and local partners to address the pressing issue of a loss of rainforest in Ghana. With financial support from public sector organisations, the company was able to build a sustainable and effectively managed new national park. This park relied on tourism for income, so it was built in order to attract tourists and show them the breadth of wildlife on offer in Ghana. This included building a series of canopies and walkways that take the ambler on a unique journey through the rainforest.
Cost effective travel
Ecotourism in Africa is helped by the fact that, for many tourists, the continent is a cost effective destination to visit. With many developed countries being particularly hard hit by the financial crisis, tourists are looking for places they can visit that will save them money. Compared with tourist hotspots in many developed countries, Africa can present great value for money as foreign currencies in African countries are worth far less than their developed world counterparts. As a result, tourists from the Western world will find that their travel money goes a lot further than it would if visiting a developed country. In turn, this provides an advantage for both the tourist and the developing countries; the tourist is getting unique experiences at great value for money, and the local communities they visit are benefiting from an increased income that will aid their future development.
Copyright © 2013 Laura Byland All Rights Reserved.