When Secret Paradise was formed in 2012 local tourism was at the beginning of its journey and our co-founder, Ruth Franklin, was conscious that however we developed the business we needed to be mindful of ensuring we promoted local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs. As many of you know Secret Paradise provides a range of unique guided local island multi tours as well as day tours and guesthouse accommodation options. All combining the beauty of the Maldives, with activities and cultural engagement.
Over recent years the terms responsible tourism, sustainable tourism and eco-tourism have become common vocabulary within the travel industry and through discussions with our guests, but what do they actually mean?
There are countless interpretations of these terms floating around the internet and while there are a lot of overlaps between these terms, there are also significant differences.
The differentiation of the individual terms might not seem very relevant at first, but knowing the differences is especially important for businesses such as ourselves as well as for travelers wishing to ensure they book wisely and inline with their values.
Responsible tourism refers to the way in which visitors, residents and businesses interact with a destination. This style of tourism should maximize the benefits to local communities and minimize negative social or environmental impact, helping local people to preserve fragile cultures and habitats.
In many instances it is reflective of those who choose to travel responsibly and foster a positive interaction between themselves and their chosen destination.
• Choosing environmentally friendly products
• Respecting local customs and traditions
• Conserving energy
• Choosing and supporting local businesses
• Buying souvenirs that are produced locally.
This is tourism that leads to the management of resources in such a way that economic, social, and environmental needs can be fulfilled.
In essence it is the stakeholders of a destination, be that businesses such as Secret Paradise or governments and tourism related bodies who work to achieve and improve sustainability within their destination. Sustainable tourism is integral to the continued practice of the travel industry worldwide.
• Conservation of resources such as water
• Reduction of waste
• Strengthening local production
• Protection of the environment
• Promoting local economy and securing jobs
• Involving local people in decisions that affect their lives.
Ecotourism is now defined by the International Eco Tourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Education is meant to be inclusive of both employees and guests.
The interests of the local population and a positive guest experience are the top priorities of ecotourism. Interference with nature, the local traditions and ways of life are to be kept to a minimum. One of the big advantages of ecotourism is that the majority of revenue produced flows into the local economy.
In essence ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainability.
• Providing positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
• Providing direct financial benefits for conservation
• Generating financial benefits for both local people and private industry
• Designing, constructing and operating low environment-impact facilities.
With people now able to travel to the remotest locations, tourism is one of the biggest industries in the world, one that employs countless people and keeps many nations afloat. Whilst there is an argument by environmentalists that international flights does nothing to support an individual’s green foot print, the United Nations state that annual international trips around the world are expected to double to 1.6 billion by 2020, a quarter of them by long-haul travelers. That’s a substantial figure isn’t it? So we think it is fair to say tourism will not be disappearing any time soon.
Travelers however increasingly want to take steps to cut their holidays’ environmental impact. We have seen this in the type of questions our guest’s ask and the activities and experiences our guests are looking for.
According to the 2019 Booking.com survey, 86% of global travelers would be willing to engage with activities that counteract the environmental impact of their trip – whether that be helping with beach cleaning projects or consciously booking more eco-friendly stays.
71% of travelers think that travel companies should offer consumers more sustainable travel choices
73% of travelers intended to stay in an eco-accommodation in 2019, up from 68% in 2018 and 65% in 2017.
Around 77% of all consumers state that they trust companies that produce or offer ethnically correct products.
The transition then from mass tourism to sustainable tourism is we would suggest not simply a temporary fad but an unavoidable step to combine our responsibility as a tour company towards the environment, the needs of our guests and the economic interests of our destination and local communities.
At Secret Paradise Sustainable and Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life.
By staying in local island guest houses our guests are contributing to the local economy and increasing local employment. The properties we partner are run by local island families where everyone is instrumental in the day to day running of the guest house.
Buying locally made souvenirs and eating local produce means that local farmers and small businesses benefit. We recommend souvenir shops in Male that are off the main tourist route, where guests have the opportunity to buy locally crafted products as opposed to the imported souvenirs that are sold in standard tourist souvenir shops.
We attend and support local art and craft exhibitions and share on social media to create awareness to locals and guests alike.
We provide employment, good working conditions, a fair wage and performance reviews for our local employees. Our guides are all Maldivian and with the exception of our Sales Director, our operations team are Maldivian. Not only does this ensure our guests get a real insight to Maldivian life, our guides achieve personal development through interaction with guests from different cultures and backgrounds. They also have the opportunity to participate in tour leader development programs available from our international partners.
Our guests travel the Maldives with one of our local guides who between them have years of local knowledge and expertise to share. They are passionate in sharing their country’s culture, history and tradition, as well as their own personal experiences.
Our tours are designed so that guests not only experience the natural beauty and participate in activities commonly associated with the Maldives but that they have the opportunity to learn about it’s people and culture first hand.
Eco tourism and sustainable tourism has always been an integral part of our philosophy and part of our mission statement. As we have grown we have looked for opportunities where we can support local initiatives. We seek out ways to open up channels to allow Maldives based organisations, NGOs, marine-life charities the opportunity to interact with guests and in so doing increase their exposure to a wider audience.
Our guests can become actively involved in conservation programs and learn how they too can be responsible during their stay in the Maldives. We specifically developed an island hopping tour that incorporated volunteer opportunities in order that guests who wished can contribute to the environment by attending beach cleans or working on coral nurseries as well as enjoying a Maldives holiday.
Both education and communication play a vital role in the growth of sustainable tourism. They allow people to make informed decisions, take considered actions and understand how their decisions and actions can impact a destination. We provide guests with pre trip information as part of the booking process to ensure they understand the requirements of travelling to a locally inhabited island. Social content provides information on local customs and requirements, particularly in relation to religion, dress, food and beverages and upon arrival our guests receive a further briefing from one of our guiding team which includes environmental and cultural awareness and highlights the opportunities they may have during the time with us to support local environmental initiatives.
We understand that sustainable tourism requires focus and adaption. It requires long-term thinking and realization that change is often cumulative and gradual. We also believe that in a destination such as the Maldives it is our responsibility to make that difference and we are proud to have that responsibility and voice.