This is a piece I wrote on fairtrade tourism for the Zanzibar Commission for Tourism magazine Karibu:
Rachel Hamada looks at the ethical tourism sector in Zanzibar
A holiday for many people in the world used to be a simple thing – a well-earned rest from the grind of regular work, perhaps a few days or a week by the sea, or maybe staying with friends. As the cost and availability of flights made air travel much cheaper and easier, the world suddenly shrunk, and people started to demand more exotic destinations and ever more sophisticated or unusual experiences. Now, finally, there is a sense that this craze has peaked, and while tourists might still want to visit long-haul destinations, a desire for authenticity and simplicity is gradually taking over as the prevailing trend from the need for the thrilling and outlandish.
So, as tourism has matured, tourists have too. As well as looking for a good location, price and things to do, many tourists also now consider the implications of where they stay for the local community and environment. Are staff being employed from the local area and being paid well enough? How are hotels and tourist businesses dealing with all the waste they produce? Are locals being consulted about how they could work with tourism businesses to maximise the benefits for everyone?
With travellers sometimes already feeling a little guilty about their carbon footprint after long-haul flights, they like to know that the hotels they stay in and the tourist attractions they visit are low-impact and that some share of the profits is going to local people. But at the moment this is not policed – so anyone can make grandiose claims with little to back them up.
The good news is that a solid, international fairtrade labelling scheme could be on the horizon soon. In November 2005 Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) – the body that is responsible for the fairtrade brand seen on tea, coffee, chocolate, bananas and many other agricultural products – decided to commission a feasibility study on a fairtrade brand for tourism, and set up an advisory board consisting of organisations such as Oxfam, Tourism Concern and South Africa’s fairtrade scheme. This study has been finalised but consultation is now going on and FLO should decide by next year if it is going to throw its weight behind a global fairtrade labelling system for the tourism industry.
This isn’t a sure thing yet – the development of fairtrade standards for a service industry is new to the fairtrade labelling system. However, there are some complicated supply chains in the food and agricultural sector, and the existing fairtrade scheme has managed to cope with these admirably. There are also already over sixty certification programmes at national or sub-national level promoting environmentally friendly or sustainable tourism. It is likely that a global fairtrade certification system will only go ahead if it can be proved that it can bring substantial and additional benefits to disadvantaged communities.
Tourism Concern is one of the main organisations that campaigns for more ethical tourism. Campaigns manager Rachel Noble says that an accredited fairtrade label could certainly provide a boost for real ethical tourism, “as part of the problem now is that there are so many labelling schemes, none of which are independently monitored, making tourists confused and justifiably sceptical of their clout”.
“Tourism Concern would certainly encourage Zanzibar to develop a genuinely ethical tourism industry; where local communities have a say over any developments that take place which could affect them, and which provides them with meaningful, long-term and sustainable benefits.”
Noble explains that it is difficult to tell whether there has been a genuine rise in ethical tourism so far in Africa. “While the number of tour operators offering responsible holidays has certainly increased and some great new precedents have been set in terms of sustainable ventures,typically small-scale, this has to be offset by the widespread ‘greenwashing’ that exists within the industry. In many cases, labels such as ‘eco’, ‘ethical’ and ‘responsible’ are applied to tourist enterprises simply as a marketing tool and do not necessarily equal good practice.”
“Furthermore, the prevalence and popularity of package holidays in all-inclusive luxury resorts complete with golf course and mega-yacht marina continues to dominate. The tendency towards such holidays (of the package, all-inclusive variety at least), could certainly increase in the current economic climate.”
Noble says that there is a common misconception that ethical tourism is more expensive, when in fact it can be cheaper. “Ethical tourism isn’t just about the products on offer, it’s also about how people holiday. For example, eating in local restaurants and shopping at local markets is probably cheaper than buying everything at the hotel and also helps ensure that more of your money reaches the local economy. It also involves learning about the culture of a place before you go so you don’t behave in a way that is disrespectful and offensive to local people – this costs nothing but a bit of time and consideration.”
There are many in Zanzibar who would welcome the move to a global fairtrade labelling system. Simone Di Vicenz works at an Italian NGO called ACRA, the Association for Rural Cooperation in Africa and Latin America. He is based in Stone Town and works mainly in the field of pro-poor tourism – a trendy term at the moment that basically translates as making sure that those in poverty get as much benefit as possible out of local tourism.
Di Vicenz says that the different fairtrade schemes that operate at the moment – in Africa the biggest are in South Africa and Kenya – are too piecemeal, and that one global standard, successfully monitored, would be extremely welcome. But in Zanzibar there is at least some good practice. Chumbe Island Coral Park is a shining example – a stunning luxury island hotel that has almost no impact on the environment and involves the local community. But there are others – Di Vicenz mentions Matemwe Bungalows as being another hotel where the management clearly cares about the local area and acts responsibly.
Perhaps more surprisingly, Italian package tourism chain Venta Club is also doing good work in Zanzibar. Zanzibaris have sometimes had to lower their eyes as package tourists wander around Stone Town in skimpy clothes, with no real notion of the local culture and Muslim sensibilities. Venta Club, however, has employed an environmental interpreter; an individual who explains to tourists all about the local culture and how to get the most from their holiday. The other big chains that offer holidays in Zanzibar have not yet engaged in the pro-poor tourism agenda, says Di Vicenz, but it is hoped that they will in time.
Tribes Travel is a medium-sized travel company that specialises in fairtrade travel and offers holidays to Zanzibar, among many destinations. Founder Amanda Marks says that her priority was trying to ensure that local people were getting benefit from tourism. How does this work in practice? “We send out ‘responsible questionnaires’ to the hotels we use and we give them an eco-rating. Based on this we promote those hotels and lodges which have the best policies in terms of staff, local communities, environment etc.”
Marks says that if there is an option, she believes that most people will choose the ethical option, and welcomes the idea of a global fairtrade scheme so that travellers can understand what it stands for on a worldwide level.
Stone Town’s Serena Hotel is one of the hotels used by Tribes, and in one example of good practice, the hotel has been taking on trainees who graduate in therapeutic massage through the African Touch training programme. This is a groundbreaking scheme that offers fortnight-long training courses for disadvantaged or disabled local people, who can then offer their skills to Zanzibar’s hotel industry. As new spas are popping up all over Zanzibar, this is a win-win situation, with the hotels gaining access to well-trained locals and locals gaining access to interesting, skilled jobs.
Another ethical tourism company that exploits tourists’ desire for more authentic travel is Explore Zanzibar. Run by Danish-Zanzibari Maryam Olsen, the company specialises in linking tourists up with local communities. Visits can be tailored very specifically to the particular interests of travellers, but can range from study trips to learn about Islamic shariah law, to expand the knowledge of law students and practising lawyers, to local cookery classes for those who want to find out more about Swahili cuisine.
Olsen says that cultural tourism in Zanzibar “is starting to come now. I remember when I started there were not that many people.” On mainland Tanzania, there are some hotspots for cultural tourism, such as the Usumbara mountains in the north-east. If Zanzibar can tap into this kind of market by developing grassroots tourism linked directly into local communities, then the benefits should be obvious.
One example of such a project is the locally owned Zanzibar Butterfly Centre, situated right next to the small village of Pete. This project has from inception closely involved locals, and the centre also has a close symbiotic relationship with the surrounding forest. Villagers are encouraged to harvest butterfly pupae for sale to the centre for use in its tropical gardens, visited by tourists and local schoolchildren on educational trips. This provides an income for villagers and also encourages the preservation of the forest. It seems like exactly the kind of project that would benefit from a global fairtrade labelling scheme.
Manager Alistair Mould says that such a scheme would be really good because the butterfly centre is “locally owned and about poverty alleviation, and about helping an area that is not normally positively affected by tourism because it is not by the coast”. Situated close to famous Jozani forest with its red colobus monkeys, Pete has nevertheless normally been bypassed by tourists who whistled past on the main road on their way to the beach or back to town. The hope is that now more people will visit, enjoy the butterfly centre and interact with the villagers. “The idea of the project is to rely on that change of consciousness in tourism – people being more aware of what they are doing and who the money they are spending is benefiting,” says Mould.
And the promotion of ethical and fairtrade tourism above all makes economic sense –fairtrade-branded products are a success worldwide and enjoyed as much as 47 per cent growth in 2007. It remains to be seen whether the fairtrade brand will definitely be extended to tourism next year, but the appetite is clearly there, and in Zanzibar there is clearly a growing enthusiasm for a more ethical, authentic experience that could bring local peoples and tourist from all over the world much closer together. In time, more and more people should leave Zanzibar with a lasting impression of the uniqueness of its people and culture as well as memories of its beautiful beaches.