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Zalala Beach Lodge, located on the Northern Coast of Mozambique, bordering a fishing village of 5,000 inhabitants is about to be launched as the first responsible tourism initiative in Zambezia Province, the largest and most populous province in the country. Within months after my first visit to the place in December 2006, I joined forces with a close friend and we launched into an ambitious ‘dream project’ – that of transforming a neglected and resource-starved slice of the Mozambican coast into a small haven attracting both domestic and international visitors and bringing jobs and opportunities for local inhabitants. The challenges were enormous: road access in the wet season almost impossible; very limited access to the inputs required, most of which had to be transported from South Africa via Maputo, 1,700kms away; notoriously slow-moving bureaucratic machinery; very low educational levels among the local population (the majority of the women have not had more than two or three years of schooling); the list goes on. But, on the plus side, the community response from the word go was very positive and, moreover, I was working with a team of natives all of whom were fully committed to making the dream a reality.
Applying a ‘pro-poor’ perspective: In order to learn more about how to achieve this, I enrolled on the RT Management Course (which at the time was still at Greenwich University). The course readings and class discussions were thought-provoking and have helped to guide me and keep me ‘on the straight and narrow’! I mean, when caught up with the day to day challenges of managing an ambitious project in a remote part of resource-starved Africa, you can quickly lose sight of why you started in the first place! I don’t claim to have been able to successfully apply the principles of responsible tourism in the way I would have liked to. But, I feel I can give myself credit for adhering to some of the core principles, such as recognising that working with communities is not just about ticking a few boxes as a ‘do-gooder’. It means listening to and respecting community values and aspirations and trying to find common ground between the interests of the managers and those of the host community. The fact that the Project Steering Team , with the exception of myself (I a Greek living in the UK) is composed of native Zambezians, helped to establish trust between the Lodge and the community.
Using survey research to guide future decision-making : Having established a certain level of trust, I wanted to find out about the changes (both positive and negative) brought about in people’s lives since the advent of tourism in the area.
The first step involved gathering baseline data about people’s lives in the form of a community livelihoods survey. In order to compare the ‘before and after’, we plan to undertake a repeat survey in 12 months from Lodge opening. But, even at this stage, the survey provided strong confirmation that access to jobs and income-generating opportunities is the most widely shared hope amongst the host community. The findings and highlights of other initiatives taken to support communities (such as the establishment of rotating savings and credit groups, access to permanent and seasonal employment for large numbers of people, etc) are recorded in News Updates that can be downloaded from our website: www.zalalabeach.com. At the World Travel Market, I will be talking about some of the challenges of trying to provide equal opportunities to men and women in the community at an Event on Gender and Sustainable Tourism Development on 9 November, 12.30-13.30pm in the Excel Grounds, North Gallery, Room 8. If you are interested in supporting and finding out more about this work and in sharing ideas and experiences, please contact me, Angela Hadjipateras on firstname.lastname@example.org.