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. 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 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.
Lodges that Are Helping Residents Increase Their Marketable 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.
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.
Lodges that Are 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.
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.
Lodges that Are 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 taken by Megan Alves.