Jonathan B. Tourtellot
National Geographic Traveler
TravelWatch is produced by the geotourism editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine, Jonathan B. Tourtellot. TravelWatch focuses on sustainable tourism and destination stewardship. This column, updated for National Geographic News, appeared originally in Traveler. Look for TravelWatch every other Friday.
How can a tiny lodge get a nation's prime minister to rethink resort tourism and support creation of a new national park? Just win a World Legacy Award.
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Comprising just eleven safari-style bungalows, Tiamo (www.tiamoresorts.com) on South Andros Island, Bahamas, offers its guests an upscale experience: its own quiet beach, snorkeling, bird-watching, fishing, fine food and drink, and relaxation on a wild shoreline, accessible only by boat.
Tiamo owners Michael and Petagay Hartman do all this with the lightest of environmental footprints and strong community relations. That's why, when National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International presented the first World Legacy Awards for sustainable tourism in January 2003, Tiamo won an Honorable Mention.
Citing the award, the Hartmans invited Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie to tour the place and meet locals. In a country that often equates tourism with cruise ships and sprawling golf resorts, this was a chance to demonstrate a path less trampled. The Hartmans wanted the PM to see how a low-impact (and profitable) lodge like theirs is a preferred model for the country's largely unspoiled Out Islands. They also would ask him to endorse creation of a South Andros National Park, favored by Tiamo and its local friends.
The sprawling, thinly populated Andros Island complex includes such treasures as the world's third longest reef and its longest chain of linked blue holes. I snorkeled above one of them, noting the wealth of coral and reef fish that cluster around the cool, upwelling water. Adding to the thrill, one reef shark, then another, emerged from the hole 3 yards (2.7 meters) beneath my feet and calmly swam away.
On May 30, 2003, Christie showed up, with entourage and press corps. I was on hand to see if the Hartmans' gamble would pay off. After Christie toured the innovative solar energy system that powers the whole resort, walked through the kind of scrub forest (called coppice here) that he remembered from his boyhood, saw the roomy raised bungalows with their king-size beds and ceiling fans, and lunched on Tiamo's inventive Bahamian cuisine, the PM declared himself "astounded."
More significantly, he pledged in front of national television cameras to support the proposed South Andros park, agreeing with Tiamo's community allies (and potential voters) that the coast needed protection "before developers get hold of it." As for using the Tiamo approach as a model for Out Island hotels, Christie singled out another Andros hotelier present at the luncheon, telling him, "You can do this, my brother. You should come here once a week!"
Tiamo has shown a new path for the Bahamas. Expectations now are that a new plan for a park or protected reserve, backed by local peoplefishermen, Tiamo employees, and many otherscould be ready for Christie's approval within a year.
Best Practices: Aboriginally Authentic in Australia
You're mustering all your lung capacity to blow into a didgeridoo while your travel companion practices spear throwing. (Heads up!) Welcome to Manyallaluk, an Aboriginal community of 120 in Australia's Northern Territory a few hours south of Darwin by car. Upon your arrivalafter you've driven through tropical savanna, rain forest, and sandstone formationsthe Manyallaluk people welcome you warmly. Guides offer you barbecued kangaroo or barramundi (a local fish), salad, and Australian damper bread.
"It's unique. It's personal. It's real," says Leigh Phillips, coordinator for Manyallaluk's award-winning tour business, "not commercialized whatsoever." Your travel dollars go not to a distant corporation but to the community. That reduces poverty, boosts cultural identity, and inspires young people to learn bush skills that would otherwise vanish. During your day in Manyallaluk you can try bark paintingcheck out the local art firstpandanus leaf weaving, or lighting fires without matches. And, of course, there's the spear throwing, with laughter spoiling your aim.
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