Mauritius Tourism

Government’s plan to bring around 2 million tourists into Mauritius by 2015 is a very laudable one. But what will we show to them Stray dogs around La Citadelle Litter in Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens Five-star hotels in impoverished areas Mosquito-breeding pools all around the island.

While it is commonly agreed that, for the tourism industry to thrive and sustain itself in Mauritius (and anywhere else, for that matter!), operators imperatively need to move towards ecotourism, there is a certain confusion about what ecotourism really is. The recent eco-tourist project of a cable car over Tamarind Falls, for which an Environment Impact Assessment was not even carried out and which would involve the felling or pruning of some rare tree specimens (Albizia Vaughani), speaks a lot about the general misunderstanding of the concept.

So what is ecotourism. There is no one definition for the term but the International Ecotourism Standard (IES) defines it as: Ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation (Ecotourism Australia 2003).

Commitment-based scheme

The IES is one of the four standards developed by Green Globe 21; the other ones being the Company Standard, the Community Standard and the Design and Construct Standard. Green Globe 21 is a certification scheme for the Travel and Tourism Industry, whose head office is in Canberra, Australia. Developed in 1993 by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) as a commitment-based scheme, it expanded to include Benchmarking and Independent Onsite Audit.

Based on the internationally accepted environmental and social performance requirements of Agenda 21, which is a comprehensive program of action adopted by 182 governments at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 of which Mauritius is one of the signatories, it provides an environmental performance monitoring framework, underpinned by global standards and the latest sustainable tourism research.

The IES is articulated around 11 key principles:

1. Ecotourism policy, performance and framework

The policy should delineate the operator’s commitment to uphold ecotourism principles and to implement a proper management system to measure, analyse and improve its performance.

2. Natural area focus

The prime focus of an ecotourism product should be on a direct and personal experience of nature.

3. Interpretation and education

An ecotourism product should enable visitors to better understand, appreciate and enjoy the natural environment and cultural context in which it operates.

4. Ecologically compatible infrastructure

Buildings and amenities should be constructed in such a way that they do not dominate the visual landscape and have minimal impacts on the environment.

5. Ecologically sustainable practices

An ecotourism product should employ ecologically sustainable practices particularly with respect to waste management, energy efficiency, water conservation, treatment of wastewater and effluents, biodiversity conservation, air quality, lighting and noise to ensure that its activities do not degrade the environment.

6. Contribution to conservation

Ecotourism goes on a par with conservation. Contributions to conservation projects could be in the form of direct on-the-ground actions or monetary or in-kind gifts to organizations involved in such projects.

7. Benefit to local communities

Local communities cannot be neglected by an ecotourism product. It can contribute by employing local people, sourcing local products and services, sales of locally made handicrafts and souvenirs and cash or in-kind contributions to local projects.

8. Cultural respect and sensitivity

An ecotourism product should be respectful of and sensitive to local cultures. There is a need to consult with local people and experts to ensure that cultural values are treated appropriately and that legitimate aspirations of the local people are met while depicting their culture.

9. Customer satisfaction

Operators should gather, analyze and act upon customer feedback to ensure that their products meet and even exceed customer satisfaction.

10. Responsible marketing

While marketing an ecotourism product, it should be ensured that accurate and responsible information is provided to enable potential customers to have realistic expectations.

11. Minimal impact codes of conduct

Ecotourism products shall develop or adopt a minimal impact code of conduct to have the least effect on the natural, social and cultural environment. Depending on the nature of its activities, codes of conduct could be developed for trekking, camping, vehicle use, powered and non-powered boat use, wildlife viewing, caving and fishing among others.

The road to certification to the IES is easy. It involves the following steps:

Register and pay a fee to Green Globe 21 Undertake benchmarking Be above baseline level of performance Receive benchmarking certificate and report Meet the requirements of the applicable Green Globe 21 standard Be assessed by an independent qualified assessor Receive certificate Repeat annually

However companies do not necessarily have to be certified. They can participate in the Green Globe 21 programme at three levels namely the affiliate one (awareness level),the benchmarking one and eventually the certification one.

No! Ecotourism is not the latest fad. Countries like the Commonwealth of Dominica, the Maldives, New Zealand, Mexico and Jamaica have moved towards the concept and are reaping the benefits in terms of considerable contribution to their gross domestic product. What are we waiting for?

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