From Loop Head to the World Bank

Cillian Murphy, a Masters student on the Responsible  Tourism course at MMU writes about being invited to the speak on tourism at the World Bank

Bing..’you’ve got mail’….spam …spam …spam..then one email caught my eye…to say I was in shock was putting it mildly! It was a surprising culmination to an exciting 8 weeks or so.

 

Less than 6 years previously the Loop Head Peninsula hadn’t even existed as a destination and to say we had achieved a lot since then was to put it mildly.

We had set up Loop Head Tourism to begin the process of developing tourism on our forgotten part of the West of Ireland. Off the tourism super-highway between Killarney and the Cliffs of Moher the area was overlooked, by-passed and ignored. However, with many other destinations along the coast starting to become overcrowded, we realised it wouldn’t be long before the beady eye of the local authority, travel operators and tourism agencies started to look at our unparalleled landscape and heritage as new grist to the mass tourism mill. But what kind of tourism did we want?

 

Eco tourism, sustainable tourism, community based tourism all were models that were in vogue yet it was Responsible Tourism which caught my eye, primarily because it spoke about ‘better paces to live in, being better places to visit’ which resonated with the feeling that tourism should really be a means to an end rather than a goal, a development tool if you will, one that meets the needs of local people.

Resported on RTE News https://www.facebook.com/rtenews/videos/1227071937321806/

In May 2010 we won the European Destination of Excellence competition.

In 2013, The Irish Times, ran a competition called the ‘Best Place to Holiday in Ireland’. There were over 1400 entries from all over the island of Ireland, and our commitment to each other as a community and our ethos of ensuring tourism was embedded within all who live on the peninsula meant we were declared the winners. We were surprised but not shocked, quite frankly though, the rest of the country was stunned, where was this ‘Loop Head Peninsula’ place….others on the shortlist were nationally and internationally known destinations. We had arrived, overnight success….after three years of hard work. In 2014 we were the only Irish inclusion in the Sustainable Destinations Global Top 100 and in 2015 we won the Best Destination at the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards and followed that up with the Loop Head Heritage Trail winning Gold at the World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM in 2015.

 

We were making a name for ourselves as a best practice destination but at a personal level I found I was lacking both the language for the discussions that we were involved in and the knowledge base to take the peninsula to the next level so I decided it was time for me to do a formal degree and I chose to do the MSc in Responsible Tourism with Prof Harold Goodwin at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was a big commitment as my wife and I own a busy restaurant and added to the large amount of time already given over to Loop Head Tourism I would be really stretched.

 

In October 2014 I received my first reading material and immediately felt at ease, many of the concepts discussed were ideas that I had been thinking about but didn’t know how to structure. Conversations with local authorities and tourism agencies became easier as I now had references and a common language that everyone understood and it also put me on a different level in our discussions, I could no longer be dismissed as ‘just some guy from the West.’ I found that I was beginning to have a better grasp of tourism and development concepts than the people I was talking to.

 

But back to that email that was looking up at me….it seemed that just one year on from beginning my Masters in Responsible Tourism, I had ‘lucked out’ as they say.

 

Earlier in the year, as part of the Tourism and Local Economic Development module, I had submitted an assignment titled ‘Tourism as a LED strategy for the Loop Head Peninsula’ which, thankfully, marked quite well. Harold asked me if I would be prepared to deliver it as a presentation at the Responsible Tourism Sessions at World Travel Market, nervously….very nervously, I accepted and in due course I travelled over and on the 3rd of November stood up to talk. It seemed to go well and after the event I spoke to many people who liked what we were doing and promised to call/email/talk, but of course, one never knows where these things lead to.

 

10 days after returning home, there it was…remember that email I spoke about, well it went pretty much like this:

 

‘Hi Cillian, I saw your talk at WTM and really liked what you had to say and your approach to tourism development, we are organising a conference in December about tourism and how it can contribute to the twin goals of the World Bank……’

 

I didn’t really see too much past the World Bank bit to be honest…I even had to check that it wasn’t a hoax email…!

 

The Loop Head story was off to the HQ of the World Bank Group in Washington.

The list of speakers reads like a list of who’s who in the global tourism industry, and to see a small destination like Loop Head sharing the stage with them in the first tourism conference held by the World Bank Group in 17 years was a pretty happy day for all of us who live there.

 

The opening speech by Dr Jim Yong Kim,  President of the World Bank Group, spoke about how tourism could be an important tool in realising the twin goals of the World Bank Group, eliminating poverty and boosting income for the world’s poorest people using three headline strategies, Grow; developing an inclusive economic growth model. Invest; in people and human capital and Ensure; people do not regress or become victims;

 

Over the course of the rest of the day it seemed every speaker had a quota of times they had to use the word ‘sustainable’…I lost count after the first panel…there was on the day, and largely is in general, a huge lack of clarity on the use of the word, the first discussion that needs to be had is what do we mean by sustainable tourism…is it the industry as a whole, is it solely confined to resource use, is it tourism at a destination level or do we mean the ability for tourism to sustain our communities. All of these are valid with none being more important than the other, but it is vital that when anyone speaks about sustainable tourism they first should define from which perspective they view it.

 

For instance, the cruise ship industry, may have made valiant efforts to reduce their resource use but can have such huge local negative social and economic impacts that they far outweigh any positive environmental ones. It surely isn’t enough to claim you are sustainable because you have saved yourself millions of dollars in fuel costs by implementing ‘efficiency measures’ while using the same language, ‘efficiency measures’, in a different context to pay as little as possible to staff because you have found a legal loophole which allows you to do so, and to cut prices paid to on-shore operators providing services to your guests.

 

When you hear Brian Mullis, the CEO of Sustainable Tourism International, saying “as the cruise lines take the lead in promoting sustainability” and that “2000 cruises had been verified for sustainable practices”[1] it is surely time to have a proper discussion about the meaning of the word sustainable within the industry.

 

In Loop Head we have never asked our members to undertake green certification, our feeling is there is enough of a financial imperative for our operators to use resources more efficiently, we pay by weight for our refuse collection with a sliding scale of costs depending on whether we recycle, compost or send to landfill. We pay per unit for water use, effluent treatment and electricity. Business, whether an SME or a multinational, pays attention to these costs, it is to their benefit to do so. When I visit a hotel I do not need to know they are minimising resource use, it pays them to do so and seeing a certificate in reception means nothing to me.

 

I prefer to see a certificate saying that all their staff are paid a decent wage, what staffing percentage come from the immediate locality and what percentage of their supply chain is produced locally and whether they have worked to increase the amount of local producers in the area from which they can purchase. These are not just sustainable practices, they show the industry taking full responsibility for the overall welfare of the communities it exists within and depends upon to survive.

 

Many of the speakers on the day passed in a blur of ‘brochure speak’…in effect there was nothing much to learn that couldn’t be by looking at one of their destination or company brochures. However, a couple of people and concepts stood out;

 

The one item that was raised time and time again by many speakers at many of the different sessions during the day was the need for proper metrics about the value of tourism especially at a local level.

On a discussion about Pathways to Growth there were two contributions worth considering, one from Helen Marano VP for Industry at WTTC about security and our wish to travel, what I took from the discussion was that if we want open borders there will be a ‘tax’ on our privacy, our wish to travel freely may come with data protection waivers. A very interesting and thought provoking concept; given the amount of ‘big data’ companies and governments have available from our everyday use of technology; are we prepared to sign away our privacy in order to travel around the world? I know the concept bothers me, but I am 50, with a very different set of privacy values than, for instance, my children who have grown up in a digital world and simply shrug when I ask them if they care.

 

The second interesting contribution came from the same panel and again mentioned ‘big data’, Ms Marta Blanco, Director General of Turespaña, who spoke about the use of the information from credit card companies to provide very detailed breakdowns of tourist spending patterns. Like all brilliant ideas, it is the very essence of simplicity. Credit card companies know where you are from, how you travelled, what you spent your money on when abroad, whether you ate in fast food or upmarket restaurants, what activities you took part in, how many attractions you visited, on peak or off peak, car hire, mileage etc…the potential is incredible and could conceivably deliver detailed metrics from national levels right down to local.

 

In the panel discussion about Tourism’s Sustainability & Inclusion there were two items that merit reporting here, one from the Costa Rican Minister for Tourism who explained that the government retained ownership of the last 200m of land with the 50m closest to the water solely for public use and the next 150m available on a concession contingent on local council planning regulations.

 

The other came from Lynn Cutter, Exec. VP for National Geographic Travel who spoke about identifying pristine seas and making the case for their protection, putting a value on them and how that value can be utilised for local benefit. Other good discussion were had at the Leveraging the Cultural & Heritage Assets of Tourism with the Georgian Deputy Minister of Economy and Development Ms Keti Bochorrishvili showing us how they have protected their local heritage and leveraged it for local economic benefit.

 

My own gig was on the following day, last panel of the day, just before lunch, always going to be hard to fill the room but with the award winning journalist Elizabeth Becker moderating we had a very good attendance. Our panel was Destinations that Deliver and Elizabeth drew a line in the sand by showing a clip from the movie ‘Bye Bye Barcelona’ and asked us to comment on how DMOs could avoid hitting the same self-destruct button. Brian Said from Discover Philadelphia spoke about tourism in general and missed the opportunity to speak about whether they had a strategy in place to avoid the ‘Barcelona effect’ and the other panellist was Miguel Pena, Senior Sustainability Analyst for Royal Caribbean Cruises who to be fair was between a rock and a hard place given the pretty indefensible practices the cruise ship industry has promoted in the past.

 

From my own point of view, I spoke about why we do what we do, how we engage the local community and what the benefits have been for the area as a whole, I did have a fan in the moderators chair though which always makes things a little easier. We were asked to finish with recommendations to the World Bank Group and for my own part it was simply this:

 

There is no guarantee that tourism will be a good development tool, it will only do so if managed with local benefit at its core. It is not good enough for companies to talk about the trickle down benefits of tourism, the benefits should flow around and expecting it to do so without specific monitoring and reporting is naïve at best and negligent at worst.

 

A number of World Bank Group staff approached me at lunch to say that they had waited a day and a half to hear from someone such as ourselves, operating at ground level, and in touch with the realities of what tourism can do if developed with the local community benefits to the fore at all times.

 

The primary benefit for Loop Head, and myself as the chairperson of the group who manage its tourism development, is the validation we received for our Responsible |Tourism ethos from simply being there. Our small destination of barely 125 sq kms with a network of 47 local businesses, working voluntarily on an annual budget of less than €20,000 sitting on the stage at the World Bank taking part in their first tourism conference in 17 years.

 

Sweet!

 

Harold Goodwin adds – Sweet for me too. A previous student inviting a current student to speak at the first World Bank Tourism Summit on 17 years!

 

Cillian Murphy,

Chairperson Loop Head Tourism

Kilkee,

Loop Head Peninsula,

Co Clare.

 

http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2015/11/20/world-bank-group-tourism-forum-2015

 

www.loophead.ie

[1] http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2015/12/04/cruise-lines-go-from-losers-to-leaders-in-sustainable-tourism/ accessed 20/12/15

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Crowdfunding to develop MzansiStore

Out alumni achieve some amazing this – Deidre has achieved a great deal and with crowdsourcing can achieve more.

Deidre writes:
After I graduated I consulted a bit but nothing really clicked for me. In 2012 I decided two things:
1. To start the business I had always dreamed I would do whilst living in the UK once I returned back home to South Africa. And not a one-person consulting business but a business that can grow, scale, create employment and build small businesses and grow micro economies: and
2. to go back to my technical roots combining all I had learnt through my ICRT Masters, other jobs I had in the UK, my travel experiences and my research interests (market access for small business, local economic development, removing barriers to global markets)

Enter MzansiStore.com – an online marketplace for South African hand-crafters, designers, artisans to promote their brand and sell their products to South Africans and the world. Each seller manages their own shop-front and ships directly to the customer.

So now I have built a Tech start-up that builds small hand-craft businesses. I have been running for 15 months and have grown to over 100 sellers. That is over 100 small creative business owners who now have access to eCommerce as a sales channel. Many have never sold on-line before, only at craft markets or in small handmade retail outlets.

And it is going OK. I have two ladies working for me and together we market this monster of an on-line business as best we can. I manage and recruit suppliers (B2B) and find customers (B2C). The South African market is still slow to accept eCommerce but there will be a Tipping Point and I will be there with MzansiStore.com when it happens. After- all you and I know a bit about tipping points. We created that tipping point for Responsible Tourism with all our collective efforts.

In the meantime my business was selected by the World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 committee to be one of their official projects. They recognised that my business bridges the gap between technology and creativity. We are receiving amazing media exposure through our association with @WDC2014. We have been in national glossy magazines, tech blogs, financial newspapers.

Now – @WDC2014 has partnered with South Africa’s first Crowdfunding website called @Thundafund. All projects have the opportunity to raise funds through Crowdfunding and the @WDC2014 will match-fund my campaign by R10 000 but only if I raise my first milestone of R12 000. So this where you come in. You know how Crowdfunding works in your country:
1. if projects don’t make at least their first milestone they get NOTHING.
2. You back a project you believe in and you receive a reward. And we have some special rewards for you.

You see- I am raising funds for MzansiStore AND enabling one of my sellers at the same time. A talented young designer, Chantel, who does not have the funds to purchase a silk-screening and fabric printing equipment to bring her sketches to life, is my fundraising partner. So funds go towards this equipment AND towards marketing her new Home Decor range on @MzansiStore but will only see the light of day if you back our campaign.

Rewards are indicated in approx. euro and pound sterling conversions to make the decision easy and include standard international mail.

So help me show all my South African friends and supporters( who have been slow to back my horse) what a huge impact a successful Crowdfunding campaign can really make.

*** Help me reach all the way to Milestone 3 ***

You know what to do : www.thundafund.com/MzansiStore

Thanks

Deidre Luzmore
Founder and Director

Alumni Blogs

Our alumni are developing reputations as bloggers:

Vicky Smith has a blog on Volunteer Tourism a ” vehicle to air some commentary, enter some debate and discuss the developing industry sector that is Volunteer Tourism – highlighting the good and could-be-better.” Vicky hopes others will contribute too.

Her paper on paper with Xavier Font entitled ‘Volunteer tourism, greenwashing and understanding responsible marketing using market signalling theory‘, was published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism in January 2014 It has generated a lot of press coverage – more

Tweet @VolunteerTourismV (for volunteer tourism) @vickysmith to contact Vicky

Nick Stewart a sustainability professional specialising in marketing, communications, collaboration and engagement – tools for positive societal change, currently working in the Communications and Engagement team at South Downs National Park Authority  delivering integrated, multichannel awareness raising and behaviour change. More about Nick

Nick is currently working on a sustainable travel campaign called Discover More of the South Downs for Less designed to encourage visitors to ditch the car and get out to enjoy the longer, lighter days, thirteen popular visitor attractions including National Trust and RSPB are working with the National Park Authority to offer 2-for-1 entrance fees for public transport users. This is part of their “Discover Another Way” behaviour change campaign, being run jointly with the New Forest National Park Authority, encouraging visitors to swap the car in favour of other modes of transport in the National Park. Alongside improved public transport services and infrastructure development such as new cycle paths, by 2015 the campaigns aim to switch 370,000 car journeys to bus, train, cycling and walking instead, which equates to 11,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Background here.

If more of you are blogging let me know and I’ll add you here,

The Jus’ Sail Youth Programme Celebrates the Graduation of its 2013 Students.

Justsail1JustsailJustsail2 

On an uncharacteristically rainy and grey January evening aboard Jus’ Sail’s Carriacou Sloop Good Expectation at Rodney Bay Marina, the students, instructors and mentors of the Jus’ Sail 2013 youth sailing program were joined by some of the programs key financial supporters to celebrate the graduation of the students from the 2013 Jus’ Sail program.

Originally, the students joined the Jus’ Sail program after Jus’ Sail formed an alliance with the International Youth Foundation and their local partner the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC) who recently completed phase two of their Caribbean Youth Empowerment Program.

The weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the gathering, so as the rain cleared, the barbeque was lit and the drinks flowed, the three graduating students – O’Brian Forde, Vestus Severin and Mikhail St Clare – were awarded their Jus’ Sail Certificates after successfully completing the syllabus set by RYA Offshore Yachtmaster James Crockett and fulfilling an extended period of work experience with IGY Rodney Bay Marina.

In addition, the students also received their First Aid and CPR certification from St John’s Ambulance and their Swim to Survive Certificate from The St Lucia Lifesaving Association, the training for which was delivered by Germaine Anthony of the SLLA who was also in attendance. These two additional certificates formed an integral part of the Jus’ Sail program to ensure a well-rounded and thorough training regime.

An exciting announcement was also made at the event: Jus’ Sail has recently been accredited as an official Sail Training Centre with International Yacht Training Worldwide (http://www.IYTworld.com), the world leaders in internationally recognised sailing certification, endorsed by the gold standard industry body, the UK’s MCA. This important development heralds a new era of sailing opportunities for St Lucia’s youth, who can now gain access to the sailing industry through internationally recognised certification delivered right here in St Lucia at affordable prices or at no cost depending on the level of funding Jus’ Sail can achieve to support their activities.

The courses on offer with Jus’ Sail to participants in the summer of 2014 will include – International Competent Crew, Flotilla Skipper, Bareboat Skipper, Small Powerboat/RIB Master and VHF Operator certification. All the courses offer a springboard to further industry career paths.

In other news Jus’ Sail was also the recent recipient of a second vessel, the J30 Jaystar, which broke its mooring in Barbados in November 2013 and drifted to St Lucia, where by it was collected by the coastguard and brought into the Rodney Bay Marina. The vessel’s owner Ronald Hunt after over 20 years racing Jaystar across the region decided he did not want her back and sought a good home for her in St Lucia. When someone recommended Jus’ Sail, the paperwork was handed over and the local charter company now has a second vessel that is ideal for sail training. The first goal for Jaystar, funding allowing however, is a significant refit in the Rodney Bay Ship Yard undertaken with the 2014 cohort of students so that they can get first-hand experience of fiberglassing, woodwork, engine, electric and rigging repairs and maintenance.
Jus’ Sail are seeking donations and assistance to help fund the 2014 program; interested parties can contact James Crockett or by email – james@jussail.com for more information.

James Crockett is a Responsible Tourism Masters graduate.

Jo Baddeley of Thomas Cook, one of our alumni, featured on Positive Voices in Travel

Susdane is a freelance journalist and blogger with a passion for revealing the treasures of a sustainable and socially aware world.

“I first met Jo a few months ago at Sandele Eco-Retreat in The Gambia and we instantly hit it off, spending hours talking about our mutual interest: Responsible travel. Jo’s story is the tale of a small voice that gradually grew louder in a bid to introduce responsible tourism to a large organization from within.

It is an interesting one to me, as it demonstrates the amount of work that sometimes goes on behind the scenes by dedicated individuals to make mass tourism more sustainable.

 “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to he a holiday rep”, Jo says closely followed by her infectious laugh. On holiday with her family, she would be at the rep’s desk, hassling them to show her their work. As she grew up, she learnt Spanish and wanted to travel, but backpacking was just too scary for her at that point. Solo female travel has come a long way since then.”

Read more

Some of you will notice Sean Owens, another of our alumni, in the photo “Taste of Fethiye”

Love Local in Greece with Thomas Cook

The Thomas Cook Group ‘Local Label’ excursion was borne from the overseas sustainability framework ‘Destinations of Excellence’ that was launched in May 2012.  The framework is divided into Bronze, Silver and Gold levels and resorts are targeted with meeting these criteria and reporting their progress annually.

Bronze criteria are about getting our own house in order, looking at reducing energy and water consumption in our overseas homes and offices, reducing waste and passing on practical tips to holidaymakers.

The Silver and Gold levels have criteria that relate to ‘identifying excursions within our programme that are founded in sustainability and assessing their positive impacts to local communities and economies’ (Silver level), the same applies at Gold Level however this time they must be newly created excursions not existing ones, therefore increasing the scope of our positive impacts.

Mario Klemm, Head of Operations (HOO) for Greece and Cyprus came up with the idea of promoting the ‘local’ features of our excursions as he knows that this is what his customers are interested in and knew that this would tick the right Destinations of Excellence boxes.  He approached me for support with the idea and together with Joe MacDiarmid who is Mario’s Regional Operations Manager, we created the ‘Local Label’

Locally Greek

Based on the Travel Foundation’s Greener Excursions Checklist’, the component parts of each excursion are checked against the relevant criteria (shopping, markets, food & drinks venues etc) I request detailed information from our overseas staff and send the completed checklists to an internal panel which includes a colleague from Thomas Cook Germany.  To ensure robustness, we also send at least one in five of the checklists to the Travel Foundation for external review.

If the criteria are met, the excursion can be promoted using the ‘Local Label’ logo and strapline and our overseas representatives can communicate the benefits for the destination, the local community and local economy plus the added value to our guests of taking such an excursion as they will get a more authentic and locally focussed experience.

The Local Label was officially launched in April 2013 and by July we had 28 excursions in 19 destinations.  Some excursions have been regular features on the resort planners before and seven are new for summer 2013.  Most Local Labels began to run in June with a few starting later in July, and we have been able to do a year on year comparison for these two months.

By promoting the Local Labels based on the authenticity and added value to the customer experience, we have increased our excursion sales by 42% and have sent over 5000 more customers on these excursions during this two month comparison period with 2012.  Some of the regular events saw an increase in turnover of between 59% and 280% year on year, which really does demonstrate that sustainability sells and our customers are looking for it.

In addition to the great income achievement, our customers also fill in Local Label surveys to let us know their feedback and their discretionary spend on local produce, this means that we can also demonstrate the added value to local communities and economies from our business.  These surveys will be fully analysed at the end of October 2013 when the summer season is closed.

 I’m looking forward to the introduction of more Local Labels throughout the remainder of the summer and into the winter programme, and have set myself a target of having at least one Local Label per destination by the end of summer 2014.

Jo Baddeley

Sustainable Destinations Manager

Thomas CookUK & Ireland

and ICRT Alumni

Developing a Heritage Trail in Sierra Leone, West Africa

A post from Thomas Armitt

When you have been working for some time on your ambition to create opportunities for poor communities in West Africa to benefit from tourism, it is an immense privilege to finally be able to work closely with local communities in rural Sierra Leone to put in place a tourism idea that can potentially have a positive impact on community members’ livelihood generation methods.

For the past 4 months I have been putting together a plan to create a Heritage Trail around a well known ecotourism attraction, called Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary , in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone.  Tiwai itself if a unique place where 11 species of monkeys (most of which are endangered or rare), two families of chimpanzees, the endemic Pygmy Hippo, the elusive Bongo, over 135 species of birds, 700+ species of plants, and many other animals coexist on a 12sq km island that lies in the middle of a tropical river called the Moa. The area itself displays some interesting geological faults, creating white water rapids that meander through about 100 islands of varying sizes until it hits the Atlantic Ocean, which offers ample opportunities to explore, discover and let loose the adventurer in you by dugout canoe, fiber glass kayak or speedboat.

But the natural features of this unique destination are not the only interesting and exciting features of the area, even though these have been the focus of the ever increasing number of visiting tourists since the end of the well publicized Civil War that ended in 2001.

The Eastern province of Sierra Leone is home to the vibrant and very friendly Mende tribe, a group of people who are native to the region throughout four districts (Kailahun, Kono, Kenema and Pujehun). Around Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, there are eight Mende communities that traditionally own the island, and that each display unique characteristics, interesting cultural and historical heritage, and hold true to their traditional values of hospitality and respect. These are the communities that are the focus of the Tiwai Heritage Trail that I have devised, with the support of the Environmental Foundation for Africa  and Welt Hunger Hilfe , and on the back of my Local Economic Development through Tourism Module as part of my MSc in Responsible Tourism Management on the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University.

The MSc module gave me an opportunity to put together a plan for a small scale tourism intervention that could provide net benefits to local community members that surround an existing tourism venture. At the same time, I was asked by the National Tourism Board of Sierra Leone to come up with a Small Grant Proposal for Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary. It couldn’t have happened at a better time! However, the process of going through the various channels to get grants takes time, and my time is limited, so I approached the Food Security and Economic Development program I work for as part of their Ecotourism Development project, and pitched the idea. They liked it and agreed to support the initial stages of the Heritage Trail development.

 Up until now, I have been using the knowledge I have gained through the MSc in terms of community participation and tourism development. I have been gaining insights into the communities’ perceptions of ‘tourism’ and of tourist expectations, understanding their current livelihood generation methods, creating sensitization activities to increase their understanding of tourism, helping them create tourist maps of their villages and their surrounding cultural heritage sites, mapping their seasonal agricultural activities so they can determine the best time for tourists to visit them, assessing their training needs for hospitality management and the possibility for roles and responsibilities to be created within the villages cultural context to deal with the incoming of tourists. I have also been mapping the Tiwai Heritage Trail with GPS by walking the bush trails that connect the villages, crossing the Moa River by dugout canoe, exploring the islands for possible tourism development such as bush camps, and training the guides up for tourist expectations and techniques to add value to the tourists’ experience.

The unique aspect to this idea is that the community members will manage the product so that they do not have to rely on outside support on a long-term basis. There are community members who live in the big cities, have influential jobs, and most importantly who are committed to providing benefits to their communities. It will be a tourism project that will be run by the communities, for the communities. Of course partnerships will have to be formed with various organizations and institutions (tour operators, government, etc…) however, the majority of the operations, from taking bookings, to organizing the communities, will solely be addressed by community members.

The work has been challenging, especially when it comes to managing community expectations to create a realistic perception about the development of tourism in their communities. No matter how many times I say that “I do not promise that this will happen” or “This will not solve all your problems”, whenever a ‘Pumui’ (white man in Mende Language) turns up in a community in Sierra Leone, automatically the perception is that he/she carries the answers to all woes, has unlimited amounts of money to throw around, and will solve health, financial and all other social problems. I am just speculating, but this may be a result of twenty plus years of International NGO focus in the country. The capital, Freetown, is home to 140+ NGOs, and a majority of the countries’ villages (even the most remote) have received at least some NGO aid in the past (a lot of which are malfunctioning wells that cost too much for the communities to repair themselves).

 Regardless, I am soldiering on with the idea, working around financial, logistical and communication limitations, and am currently in Freetown meeting with journalists, tour operators, National Tourism Board employees, potential product facilitators and partners, as well as building a website for the product, creating a visual training manual for community members, and meditating on a finely tuned management plan that can be sustainable, and grant ownership to the communities over this project.

 The deadline for the first pilot tour is November this year, and I am drumming up interest within the young Expat/NGO worker social scene for four people to join the tour. Hopefully one of them will be a free-lance journalist who could get us some coverage in a variety of newspapers and magazines, both National & International. If this project is successful (and I hope “When this project is successful), it will be a first in Sierra Leone, and could be replicated in other up and coming destinations around the country such as National Parks, Mountain Ranges, Beach areas, etc…

 All this on top of my MSc research project, marketing Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, creating an ecotourism plan for the future of the project, and experiencing the amazing potential of this unique and very beautiful country. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to fit all of this in…

For more information on Tiwai Island Wildife Sanctuary: www.tiwaiisland.org

To learn more about the Environmental Foundation for Africa activities: www.efasl.org.uk

To understand a bit about some of Welt Hunger Hilfe’s projects: www.welthungerhilfe.org

Or you can contact me on my email address: Thomas_armitt@hotmail.com.