ATW Connect chats to Gail Woods, co-founder of Ilha Blue Island Safaris, based on the World Heritage listed Ilha de Mozambique, on working with local communities to create an authentic and meaningful tourism offering.
Why do you think responsible tourism is important?
I am passionate about responsible tourism, it’s the only way to travel. Surely, we know by now that we must take care of our planet at every turn.; it is our greatest and most important responsibility. Tourism is no exception.
Tourism has surged exponentially with a growing population and affordable travel; it will only be sustainable if it is done responsibly. Both as tourism providers and as tourists we have a moral responsibility to protect the places we represent and visit.
We must ensure that tourism benefits the local people involved, maintaining and strengthening local culture and protecting the environment and natural resources for the community to grow and flourish. True success is measured in balance with environmental, social, and cultural factors. Travel should be able to make the world a better place
What is the one thing you always highlight, when someone asks you why they should travel sustainably?
The one thing I always highlight about why you should travel sustainably is respect. Respect where you are visiting – local people, local culture, local languages, local environment, local economy – shop, eat, sleep locally, take locally operated tours and experiences. Respectfully share in the whole travel event.
What makes Ilha Blue Island Safaris a unique offering?
Ilha Blue Island Safaris capably brings together people from all walks of life to participate in life-changing cross-cultural experiences here on Ilha de Mozambique. Everything we do is designed to link tourists with locals – to facilitate rich, memorable and authentic transformations.
Tourism the way we do it has a role in reinvigorating culture, such as the scheduling of dance performances in traditional (often domestic) settings rather than in hotels.
We run workshops that encourage local people to examine their culture so they can gain an appreciation of how tourists might see it. In addition, we host workshops for guides to design their own tours, specifically privileging local culture; illustrating the significance and importance of maintaining and promoting culture, not just for tourist consumption but for all the intrinsic reasons which older community members understand.
Ilha Blue Island Safaris never loses sight of the social context in which we function. After eight years of operation we have become an integral part of the community. In addition to tourism workshops and seminars for local government officials and tourism stakeholders, we also give parties, prepare large lunches for special occasions like ‘Day of the Mariner’, screen films and occasionally football games, and contribute financial and other resources to community events.
We established the ‘Welcome the Whales’ festival an inclusive, community event focussing on responsible whale watching, conservation and protection of the marine environment and the importance of keeping it in local hands. This festival has been a galvanising event for the whole community, bringing people from a diverse range of sectors into important discussion about tourism and conservation and the way forward.
Our products include sailing on traditional Swahili Dhows, whale watching, snorkelling, sunset cruises, island hopping, beach wilderness camping tours to uninhabited islands; walking tours of mainland Swahili Village and the Makuti Town Bairros with home visits; bicycle tours of the whole island.
Everything we do showcases local cultural and social perspectives and highlights the natural environment. All our activities are entirely operated by locals. We shop locally, utilise local artisans, foreground traditional sailing, grow organic vegetables, bring women into meaningful roles in tourism.
We set up a travel and tourism workers exchange programme, attained World Cetacean Alliance Responsible Whale Watching Certification and continue to run workshops in responsible whale watching.
How do you experience green travel in Africa?
The responsible travel options are certainly available here in the southern and eastern parts of Africa. For tourists who are not so conversant with booking travel in Africa it would be marvellous if travel agents and DMCs would highlight the responsible options as opposed to just promoting the hotels and safari operators that offer the higher commissions. The industry needs to step up and demand responsible options.
Travel slow, make it last. Stay longer. Mitigate your carbon impact. Travel with hearts and minds wide open. Make every experience a lasting experience. Establish and maintain an emotional connection, share in the experience, delve deep, be flexible, be open, be ready to change course.Gail Woods
Why should people visit Africa?
Africa is a massive continent with a myriad of diverse cultures, landscapes, wonders, unique wildlife, deep histories, big futures, art, music, dance, tradition, religion. I have travelled to many countries in Africa, but certainly not all. Every country offers special experiences, challenges, and enrichments. Just come. It’s amazing.
Ilha Blue Island Safaris won a Silver Destination Award at the 2020 Inspirational Africa Responsible Tourism Awards. Read the Judges’ reasons here.