Across Africa, the transformational abilities of tourism have proven invaluable in helping to repair the relationship between people and planet. Sustainable certification standards, like those instituted by South Africa’s Fair Trade Tourism, have ushered in new awareness for tourism that benefits communities socially, economically and environmentally.  This awareness has translated into action on the island of Madagascar responsible travel program. A country of startling contrasts, its incredible natural beauty, and unique ecosystems are offset by a rapidly expanding and largely impoverished population, threatening species found nowhere else on earth.

Thankfully, tourism enterprises across the island have begun to step in where the government is failing. Using the power of responsible tourism to uplift and empower rural communities, they are creating jobs, developing skills, providing healthcare and conserving ecosystems.

Fair Trade Tourism’s globally recognized and internationally lauded standards were formally adopted by Madagascar last year and there are currently six certified products that showcase the island’s people, endemic species and natural vistas to the world.

Andonaka Mami's House

Madagascar Responsible Travel Bush House Lodge School

Madagascar Responsible Travel: Lodges Helping Residents Increase Hospitality Skills

Iharana Bush Camp and Bushhouse are helping local people to increase their marketable hospitality skills. Located in the north of Madagascar, overlooking the Ankarana Tsingy, Iharana Bush Camp has become a beacon of hope for the communities around it. Staffed by local villagers who receive ongoing training in all aspects of hospitality, Iharana has also trained and deployed scientists from the community who are studying the area’s ecosystem, helping to broaden its understanding.

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Bushhouse, on the island’s east coast, is one of two Fair Trade Tourism certified lodges belonging to Sonja Gottlebe. Sonja has lived in Madagascar since she was a child. After finishing her studies, she founded GOTO Madagascar, a tourism association promoting the principles of sustainable, ethical tourism.

She ran Bushhouse for seven years, and during that time she developed a deep, abiding relationship with the local communities. Without even realising it, she became involved in responsible tourism, employing and training local people, overseeing the sustainable development of the forest and lake ecosystems adjacent to the lodge.


Madagascar Responsible Travel: Lodges Conserving Natural Heritage 

Conserving Madagascar’s natural heritage is also a prime concern at Tsara Camp and Salary Bay. Tsara Camp is Sonja’s other certified lodge, located in the magnificent Tsaranoro Valley in the island’s central highlands. The camp’s development was a natural extension of what Sonja had been doing at Bushhouse, so surrounding communities immediately became involved and learned that preserving and conserving Madagascar’s natural heritage is important to their future.

Salary Bay, on the south-west coast, overlooks the deep blue waters of the Mozambique Channel, where seemingly endless soft, white sand beaches and dunes give way to vast swathes of endemic spiny forest. Owners Michelle and Philippe Cotsoyannis retired here with the idea of using tourism to help conserve the marine and coastal ecosystems and uplift local communities.

Salary Bay

Salary Bay

Salary South Women's Association

The extensive offshore lagoon is now a marine reserve and the surrounding spiny forest is an intriguing attraction where guests take guided tours to learn more about it and the Mikea community that calls it home. Salary Bay has also provided a clinic and school to the villages alongside it and supports the local women’s association with various initiatives. Its staff is sourced from the local community and skills development and training are ongoing. South of Salary Bay is Hotel Le Paradisier. Together with Mantasoa Lodge outside the capital city of Antananarivo, this chic hotel is helping to spur local entrepreneurship.

Horseback Riding Le Jardin du Roy

Le Paradisier Room

Le Paradisier Dining Area

Madagascar Responsible Trave: Lodges Spurring Entrepreneurship 

Hotel Le Paradisier (pictured above) is located on Ifaty Beach, arguably one of Madagascar’s finest. Like its Fair Trade Tourism certified colleagues, it is making positive contributions to the impoverished community which surrounds it, especially by encouraging local people to start their own tourism-related businesses to provide ancillary services, such as guided tours and sourcing of fresh produce.

Mantasoa Lodge may not be on a beach or situated in a popular international tourist destination, but it is nonetheless contributing to the growth and development of communities on its doorstep, 70km east of Antananarivo. Built overlooking Lake Mantasoa, the lodge pays particular attention to empowering women in the area and has established a community association offering them mutual aid, development, and employment.

This is sustainable tourism in action, making a difference to Madagascar in many different yet crucially important ways. There are more certified products in the pipeline and next year should see Fair Trade Tourism increase its influence on the island as more certified businesses are rolled out. All of which is excellent news for any self-respecting responsible traveller.  

All photos were taken by Megan Alves

3 Responses
  1. Avatar
    Indrilisa Azwar

    currently I’m studying about ecotourism and thanks for this blog.
    Awareness that being done by South Africa’s Fair Trade Tourism is literally work for development of Ecolodge in Madagascar especially the Local Communities.
    firstly,lodges that Are Helping Residents Increase Their Marketable Hospitality Skills.there is one thing that Sonja Gottlebe have done,she grown up and engaged around an area. after she graduate she established a camp named,Bushhouse. she run the lodge but also empower local communities through educate and employed them to run the lodge.
    other than that,this awareness actually conserving natural heritage through notified the local communities how responsible tourism is an important thing for them. to preserve the nature heritage for present and future. because Eco tourism rely so much on the beauty and the could directly uplift their life economically. last but not least, the local communities been encourage to do built their own business,such as open up souvenirs shop or merchandises shop and any tourism-related business that sustain and cover their daily needs. on my point of view, i agree with the idea of Sonja Gottlebe by established GOTO Madagascar, an association that concern about sustainable and ethical tourism in Madagascar. I guess we need more people like Sonja in all over parts of this world,to encourage people to make better living for unfortunate one.

  2. Avatar

    I am a tourism student and undergoing ecotourism subject.

    Madagascar is a beautiful country indeed, from the friendly people to the beautiful coastline and unique floral and fauna in the country. Madagascar has total 9 national parks and it has a very big potential to be one of the top ecotourism destination in the world.
    Firstly, I think the government should work with the NGOs to build up both tourism and ecotourism in the country. Examples like come up with a tourism marketing slogan and a logo. So people will aware of it.
    Secondly, local should get educational knowledge about ecotourism knowledge, let them know the importance of the ecosystem in both our daily lives and also tourism sector. Basic tourism and hospitality skills also should be learn by the locals. This will give job opportunities to the locals without hiring foreign labours as well as to contribute and build up the country’s economy.
    Lastly, government should encourage both local and foreign company to develop business in the ecotourism sector.

  3. Avatar

    Madagascar is blessed with its natural beauty and this is an advantage for people in Madagascar to develop ecotourism business. Tourism industry provides lucrative ROI for a country, hence Madagascar should train their own people to develop the businesses. This not only will improve their lives in doing something meaningful to conserve and preserve their nation’s treasure. They also get to improve their quality of lives.

    My home country Malaysia, efforts have been continuously done to improve the service quality of people working in tourism industry. Think Tourism is a tourism and customer service awareness programme for front liners in the tourism industry. The fact that Madagascar started to adopt the Fair Trade Tourism’s concept certainly is a good move to improve the country’s economy and tourism industry. I think that the most important thing that government needs to do would be improving the education level of the people. With more exposure to the knowledge about their own country resources and outside world, the people will be more innovative in developing the tourism industry. Effort by lodges definitely couldn’t benefit most of the people therefore the government should take this move.

    The government should also provide subsidy for those who have excellent ecotourism business ideas. Through managing a sustainable business, the operators and workers could learn how to preserve and conserve their country’s natural heritage while providing job opportunities to the local community.