Interview with Hopineo Founders – Now Spreading Sustainable Solutions in West Africa

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet game changer Florie Thielin of the Hopineo initiative, which endeavors to use the principles of the sharing economy to promote sustainable tourism.  In exchange for sharing best practices and providing specific recommendations for how responsible hotels and tourism boards can enhance their efforts, Hopineo provides access to experienced sustainability and marketing experts who only ask that their room and board accommodations be waived.

The founders of Hopineo, Justine and Mahery, have just embarked on a tour of West Africa.  While they were in Sine Saloum, Senegal, I had a chance to ask them some questions about their new project, which is also running a crowdfunding campaign through the end of February.

Why is now the right time for Hopineo to expand into West Africa?

It has always been our dream to go to West Africa as, even more than in other parts of the world, since tourism for the past decades, has been more under threat than seen an opportunity. According to the African tourism boards, we have met lately, there is an urgent need for responsible tourism development.

Moreover, Mahery is half-African, so he has always been very concerned with African development. At first, we had planned to travel to Africa in January 2015, right after spending four months on a HopTour of France. But as the project grew more quickly than we originally planned, we had to spend the past year structuring the activities, making conferences for schools and local tourism boards in France, and of course, managing the new website development.

This new website is a milestone in the short Hopineo history. It was launched on January 9th, together with a new video presentation of the community.

And thanks to a growing fantastic team of volunteers, we could now start traveling again to develop the network. The HopTour West Africa began in Dakar, Senegal, on January 25th.

Given socio-political and economic issues, sustainability takes on different definitions in different regions of the world. What does sustainability in West Africa look like to you?

Sustainability here in West Africa is full of paradoxes. On one hand, they preserve and promote local heritage, tradition, and biodiversity while on the other, we can see plastic bags and all kinds of trash ruining the landscapes almost everywhere. Nevertheless, from our field observations and encounters, we have noticed that the world global concern for sustainability has part of its roots here in West Africa.

It is worth noting though that Senegal’s first priority is to be self-sufficient for food.  Some people here know that it’s better to eat organic food rather than “conventional” food.  As a matter of fact, most of the food eaten by people in the countryside is organic, as the food industry is not highly developed.

This is the same for construction. Temperature wise, it’s cooler to be in an earth-built home than in one built with concrete. The question is, how government policies can make it easier for people in cities (around 60% of the population) to benefit from traditional experience rather than building big buildings with concrete.  Also, what policies can be in place to stop political and economical lobbies from building 100% concrete in the countryside.

Another example of a needed policy is, as we said above, plastic waste, which you can, unfortunately, see on the floor around most places, even in villages, spread outside and burned. But recently, a factory opened in the country where they buy kilos of plastic bags to recycle and produce new PET products (water tanks…). It’s not well known yet, but hopefully this type of factory along with the new government declaring it illegal to use small plastic bags in shops (since the beginning of this year), it will ensure that plastic will begin to disappear from the streets. 

Developing countries like Senegal are very dynamic from all points of view. And, when you have less money, you tend to reduce, recycle, and reuse as much as possible. So, we believe there is hope that strategic development is sustainably oriented, and probably easier to implement than in western countries, where habits are hardly anchored.

A lot of solutions already exist, big or small. What is mainly needed is knowledge sharing and education. And this is what Hopineo is all about, focusing on tourism, of course.

What can Europe and the Americas learn about responsible travel from West Africa and vice versa?

Common sense. Common sense and resourcefulness.

You don’t have electricity, but you have the sun that can be used for electricity! You don’t have access to concrete, but you have the earth you can build with! You have a rich history and culture that can be used as an asset while preserving it!

There are thousands of shells fishermen throw away because they just sell the animal inside.  Why not use it as an external coating? Where gas is too expensive to cook for your customers, one can build a rocket stove! If the soil is not fertile and there is little water, why not make a keyhole to grow good vegetables?

A lot of what we call “innovations” in France are actually from here in Africa, because they have to find ways when they don’t have the means. And at our level, we are actually doing our first HopTrip swap experience here in Senegal.

The good news is we have already given two good practices to our host. One collected by Florie in Latin America that helps hoteliers deal with how to provide hot water at no cost, and another one we collected in France for how to improve the way hoteliers can welcome their guests.

In addition, we made a video (not yet translated into English) on an irrigation system that we believe could be very useful to small farmers in France or elsewhere who don’t have the means to buy big, industrial machines. And we are only getting started!

Something else we believe could be very useful is the Community Based Tourism experience of Latin America. Here, in Africa, they call it Integrated Tourism, and it’s one of the main tourism development lines according to officials, as it ensures efficient local development and preservation of local culture and global environment.

What are you most looking forward too during this tour?

Learn, learn, learn… and be useful to our hosts.

From Hopineo’s point of view, we deeply hope that we will develop a network in this part of the world that will encourage people to come to visit these amazing countries and places.

All the tourists we meet here are thrilled by their experience. So we believe it’s part of our task to show, as much as we can, how beautiful it is, and how delightful travel experiences are here, whatever type of vacation you are looking forward to (cultural, relaxation, adventure, nature…).

Here is a first video we published to achieve this goal:

Who are you looking to partner with and how can individuals and businesses in West Africa best get in touch with you?

After Senegal, where we had the chance to meet tourism authorities last weekend, we will go to Ivory Coast and Ghana. We look forward to meeting tourism authorities there as well as local tourism stakeholders committed to a responsible approach.

It is a good way for us to get an introduction to the country, an overview of the main issues, and develop many interesting contacts. We would also love to partner with pan African media that would be keen on using our HopTour to promote responsible tourism, both to local stakeholders and visitors.

To finish with, we are also welcoming anyone willing to become a local ambassador and continue to develop both the network and the local knowledge after we leave.

HopTour Africa JetM copy


You can follow the HopTour West Africa on Justine & Mahery’s HopBlog. All the videos about the HopTour West Africa on YouTube and you can sign up on to join the community dedicated to better trips, for better days!

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