Theme pack sustainable tourism

A temple at Sambor Prei Kuk, formerly Isanapura, capital of the Kingdom of Chenla © Michael Meyer

The developing countries account for a substantial share – around 16 per cent – of the world travel market, and the figure is increasing. Tourism provides employment for millions of people, but it also creates a number of problems, such as degradation of the natural environment and high resource consumption at local people’s expense. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is engaged in 59 projects which aim to make tourism more sustainable so that it benefits nature conservation and local communities alike. The examples presented in this Theme Pack show how GIZ is supporting sustainable tourism – in regions with mass tourism, but also in largely unexplored areas whose natural attractions and cultural heritage have yet to be opened up to tourism.

GIZ, together with many other organisations, is a member of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism, which aims to inject sustainability principles into the tourism mainstream. From 25 to 27 March 2013 – soon after ITB – Germany will host the Annual Meeting of this global initiative, which has 83 members, including national governments, municipalities, tourism industry companies, international organisations and non-governmental organisations from the EU Member States and developing countries. On the first day of the Annual Meeting, GIZ will hold a symposium, which is open to the public and will include a discussion on ‘Tourism Growth - Sustainable, Green and Inclusive?’ chaired by GIZ’s tourism expert Klaus Lengefeld.

Cambodia: Ancient treasures

Cambodia: Ancient treasures
A temple city restored to life

Just 16 years ago, only a few historians, archaeologists and adventure tourists ventured off the beaten track into the jungle around the temple complex at Sambor Prei Kuk, whose oldest buildings date back to the 7th century. Today, the Government of Cambodia is campaigning to have this precious archaeological site, with its ancient treasures, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

‘The concept for the application is based on GIZ’s development plan,’ say Peter Bolster with hindsight. While working for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Peter – who describes himself as a ‘Berliner by choice’ – worked with Cambodian partners for more than five years on a project commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) which aimed to attract tourists to this impoverished and remote region and create jobs. The project, located to the north-east of the town of Kampong Thom, officially ended in 2011, but it lives on in local people’s ideas and enthusiasm.

Much has been done over recent years to upgrade the facilities for tourists around the temple complex. ‘Many families in our villages now rent out rooms and cook for the visitors, who come from many different countries,’ says Siem Norm. The 52-year-old community leader of seven villages near Sambor Prei Kuk is deep in conversation with two Canadians and several young men who have learned English and trained as temple guides with GIZ’s support. ‘The roads and paths have been improved as well,’ he adds.

A giant tree from the virgin forest provides shade for the small group as they converse. Nearby, one of the many temples, constructed from red stone which looks like an early form of modern brick, is overgrown by roots. Decorative masonry depicting the figures of animals, rulers and gods is still clearly visible in many places. In the past, this was the capital city – known as Isanapura – of the magnificent Hindu kingdom of Chenla.

In a simple open-air café, a chicken is boiling in a pan. A woman peels papayas. Three Khmer women are seated on the small veranda of a new wooden house where souvenirs are on display. The women are weaving baskets and mats – continuing their great-grandmothers’ tradition.

‘When I first came here in August 1997, there was nothing but ruins and virgin forest,’ says Dr So Sokuntheary from the university in Kampong Thom barely an hour’s drive away. Since then, she has participated in various excavations and research projects at the site. She is keen to emphasise that ‘GIZ and the local partners have done much to put this long-forgotten region back on the map.’ So far, the researchers have uncovered 290 temples and archaeologically valuable mounds; around 60 of them have now been excavated and can be visited by tourists.

The media – not only in Cambodia but as far afield as Thailand and Germany – have also reported on Sambor Prei Kuk and the rice farmers’ homestay programme on various occasions over the last three years. ‘That’s a tremendous help,’ says Peter Bolster, who has now retired. ‘The locals have a great thirst for knowledge. We worked well together.’

Today, it is a model of help towards self-help. As village leader Siem Norm says, ‘Our farmers now know that tourism brings in money, contacts and friends.’ Some of them are opening small restaurants and upgrading their guest rooms. Tourists can also cycle from one temple to the next. Cookery and craft courses, fishing, boat trips, hiking and excursions on horseback or by oxcart are now on offer as well.

‘There’s always someone in the village who speaks English but we make ourselves understood with smiles and gestures as well,’ says one of the villagers in Chheu Teal. His guest room is simple and the only water available for washing is cold, but the food – chicken, pork, fish, vegetables and fruits, some so exotic that their names have no German equivalents – is always fresh and is produced by the villager himself or his neighbours.

Khiri Travel, a tour operator with offices in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, offers multi-day homestays in the villages and is also supporting the further development and marketing of this sustainable tourism on a non-profit basis. Excursions to schools and farms, artisans’ workshops and local festivals are also organised for holiday-makers. ‘In 2012, around 27,500 tourists visited the temple complex, more than half of them from abroad,’ says Linda Oum, Khiri’s Deputy Manager in Cambodia. Just 10 years ago, there were fewer than 2,000 visitors to Sambor Prei Kuk in a year.

To date, only two Cambodian sites – Angkor Wat, one of South-East Asia’s largest tourist attractions, and the Temple of Preah Vihear near the border with Thailand – have won the coveted recognition as World Heritage Sites. Will UNESCO recognise Sambor Prei Kuk as well? That remains to be seen. This hidden temple city is not as splendid as Angkor Wat, but it is much older. And foreign visitors – such as merchants from China – have been travelling along the Mekong and its tributaries to reach Sambor Prei Kuk for centuries.

Michael Meyer

Mozambique: A diver’s paradise

Mozambique: A diver’s paradise
A whale of a time

Uncontrolled fishing, thoughtless holiday-makers and complacent authorities can put local communities’ incomes and the natural environment at risk. In Mozambique, Germany is supporting the development of sustainable tourism along the coast.

Gigantic whale sharks and powerful manta rays glide along near the surface of the blue-green waters of the Indian Ocean. Excitedly, the tourists on the small cruiser pull on their fins and masks. The sky is clear blue, dotted with fluffy white clouds. On shore, fishermen weigh their catch and palm trees sway in the light breeze. People of all ages and ethnic backgrounds relax on the sandy beach, in, on and under the water.

It could be paradise here at Praia do Tofo and other beaches in Mozambique, were it not for the conflicts. Of course, they exist everywhere in the world, but they are a particular problem in this south-east African country. Motorboats and jet skis race across the water, to the annoyance of environmentalists and many local people. Fishermen who kill sharks simply to cut off their fins, which they then sell to the Chinese for substantial profits, enrage local people and reinforce prejudices. Bureaucrats are often corrupt and do little to protect the environment.

Frank Weetjens and his small team have the task of bringing all these stakeholders around the table in an effort to facilitate a common understanding. The aim is to protect the environment and develop a sustainable tourism industry. The 51-year-old is a co-founder of the national Divers’ Association of Mozambique (AMAR), which was set up six years ago and is dedicated to the conservation and protection of marine resources and the coastline.

Originally from Belgium, Frank was seconded to AMAR by the Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM). Run jointly by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the German Federal Employment Agency, CIM implements programmes on behalf of the German Government.

‘We try to reconcile the interests of the fishermen and the diving industry,’ says Frank Weetjens, who has more than 15 years of experience in Africa. ‘It’s a long process but we are making progress. ‘Our voice seems to carry more and more weight. Diving schools, the local authorities, the marine conservation authority and the fishermen are stepping up their cooperation with us.’ AMAR is now recognised as an official mediator by the Government, he adds.

If habitats become degraded, the marine fauna will go elsewhere – and so will the tourists. ‘Most of the coastal communities and fishermen understand that now,’ says Claudio Zunguze. The 31-year-old is a technical assistant at AMAR. He grew up here on the coast and has an almost unrivalled knowledge of the region around the provincial capital Inhambane, the bay of the same name, and the local beaches and diving sites.

The young Mozambican and Frank Weetjens have had unforgettable experiences underwater, as the Belgian recollects, ‘Only a few weeks ago, I swam alongside a whale shark for a good 10 minutes. We were just one metre apart for most of that time. We were in perfect harmony. The shark kept looking at me curiously. Like all whale sharks, its eyes were tiny. It was completely relaxed. It weighed about six tonnes and was around eight metres long. As I dived deeper, its massive body blocked out the sunlight. It was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life.’ But close encounters of this kind are becoming increasingly rare in Mozambique.

In the international diving scene, Mozambique is regarded as one of the world’s best destinations – but it’s no longer an insider tip. Whale sharks, manta rays and humpback whales are sighted more frequently here than almost anywhere else in the world. But compared with 2003 and 2006, locals and tourists along this stretch of coastline are seeing far fewer whale sharks and large mantas today. Manta rays have a wingspan of up to six metres. They too are gentle giants, feeding on microscopic plants and animals, known as plankton.

The AMAR team has already resolved some difficult conflicts: two rival groups of fishermen were locked in a bitter dispute over access to fishing grounds. They even sank some of the buoys used by diving operators to mark the reefs. Frank Weetjens explains the approach, ‘Everyone got together around the table and talked. There’s now a written agreement in place, which everyone has accepted.’

Environmental awareness and nature conservation are, increasingly, a topic in Mozambique’s schools as well. GIZ is supporting AMAR with know-how. This includes offering alternatives to fishing. In the Philippines, for example, fishermen are becoming ‘marine gardeners’ and produce specific algae to meet demand from the cosmetics industry. Mozambique has some way to go yet. ‘But we’re on the right track,’ in Frank Weetjens’ expert opinion.

Laos: Tourism and community development

Laos: Tourism and community development
Culture lessons for foreign guests

Every year, around 15,000 foreign tourists visit Phongsaly, a remote province in northern Laos. They come to hike in the wild, evergreen mountain landscape, to learn about the region’s fascinating cultural diversity, or for the thrill of white-water rafting on the region’s rapids.

In Phongsaly, around 200,000 people live in 600 mountain villages, which are hard to reach. The region is home to a total of 28 ethnic groups. Many villages are not connected to the road network. Despite the difficult journey into the region, there has been some development in the tourism industry since 2008. One of the province’s main attractions is the Ethnic Museum. Here, tourists can learn about the local communities, their lifestyles and cultures, and thus heighten their awareness of their own experiences during their visit to the province. Thanks to the exhibitions, the province’s own residents have also gained a better understanding and appreciation of its highly diverse traditions. Another very special attraction is the tea-growing village of Komen, with its 400-year-old tea garden. A hiking trail wends its way through the garden, and tourists can visit an exhibition about its history and tea cultivation and purchase traditional speciality teas. A major contribution to its development was made by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which is working in Laos on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Development advisor Carine Pin has been assisting the Phongsaly Provincial Tourism Office to produce a strategy for community-based ecotourism activities and to develop and market tourism services on a professional basis.

Originally from Switzerland, the 35-year-old ethnologist came to Laos five years ago and has lived in Phongsaly for the past three years. An expert in community development, she has also worked in Mozambique. ‘I see my main task as being to build people’s skills and capacities,’ says Carine Pin. When she first arrived in Laos, there were very few tourists in Phongsaly, and she had to do a great deal of groundwork. As a result, up-to-date information brochures and maps are now available. Most visitors come to Phongsaly in order to go trekking, so the Tourism Office has developed 11 treks together with local communities and has introduced prices which ensure fair incomes for the villages throughout the province. The treks lead through the jungle and across rice fields to mountain villages where host families provide overnight accommodation. Information is now available on the internet and the treks can be booked by email or via one of the tour operators with which the Tourism Office cooperates. Transport for baggage is provided and mountain bikes are available for hire. In order to steadily improve the offer, the Tourism Office distributes evaluation forms to the guests. The 26 participating communities benefit in many diverse ways from tourism. Families earn an income by providing accommodation, food and traditional massages or accompany tourists on the treks. A proportion of the income is paid into village funds, or into a village development fund which is used to finance the upkeep of the trails, for example.

For Carine Pin, the priority, from the outset, was to ensure that local people benefited from tourism. ‘It’s not just about incomes. It’s about empowering people to take action, so that they are not simply viewed as objects of people’s curiosity,’ she emphasises. Many training workshops and discussions were needed, for the Tourism Office had no properly qualified personnel. Today, it has a database, and professionally designed brochures, and the staff have undergone training to give them the communication skills they need to deal with tourists. And the number of qualified staff is set to increase in future. ‘We now have our first graduates from the tourism degree course, who completed their studies last year,’ says Carine Pin.

Her work with local communities is extremely important to the Swiss expert. ‘The people in the villages had never seen any tourists before – but now, they are providing accommodation, food and excursions, and selling their products,’ Carine is delighted to report. The villagers also involve the visitors in their daily lives and offer them an insight into their culture. ‘The local people have become culture teachers. They show their guests what every-day life is like. For example, there’s a ‘Discovery Day’ when women from the Akha community take the visitors to their fields and gardens and show them how to harvest vegetables, forest fruits and medicinal herbs. Then everyone helps to cook lunch. In this way, the local skills and knowledge are recognised as valuable and women acquire new status in the village,’ Carine explains.

Carine also assists the women to develop their craft skills. Besides making traditional garments, they sew and embroider small figures, such as lizards and birds, which are proving very popular with tourists. This is motivating more and more girls to learn to sew. Carine Pin has arranged for their products to be sold in a craft shop in the town of Luang Prabang, which is often visited by tourists. ‘This has now become self-sustaining,’ Carine is pleased to say. The women are encouraged by the positive response to their products. ‘After three years of cooperation, the group leader opened a bank account,‘ Carine recalls. ‘The project has given the women self-confidence and independence, and this is reflected in all areas of their lives.’ Four Akha women have even presented their products at the Lao Handicraft Festival in the capital Vientiane. It was the first time they had ever visited the city – and to get there, they had to walk for hours and then spend two days on a bus. ‘I had to work very hard to convince the men to let their wives make the journey,’ says Carine Pin. But with their artistically embroidered garments, the Akha women were the stars of the show. Indeed, their products are now on sale via an internet store in Australia. ‘The women felt very proud of themselves when they came home with additional income in their pockets, all the richer for their experience. And the Festival was a very good advert for their home region,’ says Carine Pin, whose deployment in Phongsaly is due to end in late April 2013.

Further information

Phongsaly Province

Caribbean: Energy efficiency in hotels

Caribbean: Energy efficiency in hotels
Energy prices – a problem for islanders and tourists

Tourists in the Caribbean enjoy the sun and wind for relaxing, topping up their tans and surfing. But these natural resources still play a very minor role in the energy supply. Many hotels are now setting a good example, but others are energy-wasters. That’s a problem – but there are some signs of progress. Around 95 per cent of Caribbean households have access to an electricity supply, a figure that compares well with other countries. But during the current recession, thousands of islanders are spending their evenings in candlelight, with no lighting or TV. The electricity has been cut off because families can no longer afford to pay the bills.

Pilworth Bussano and his family of six live in Anguilla, a British overseas territory. They have no electricity. Pilworth explains, ‘I would have had to pay more than 2,000 dollars for the last two or three masts and the power lines to my house. I don’t have that kind of money.’ Energy costs in the Caribbean are generally even higher than in Germany. In fact, they are among the highest in the world. This is clearly reflected in the prices charged by hotels and restaurants.

For more than 10 years, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the German Government, has been working with partners from the EU and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to boost the use of wind, solar power, hydropower, geothermal power and biomass. ‘These energy sources exist in abundance on the islands but are not being used as much as they could be,’ says Thomas Scheutzlich, an advisor to the Caribbean Renewable Energy Development Programme in Saint Lucia.

There are various reasons for this, according to tourism industry representatives: obstructive monopolies, investment barriers, a lack of funding and know-how, and excessive red tape. But in many cases, bar, hotel and restaurant proprietors need to put their house in order as well. Energy saving and energy efficiency are still alien concepts to many of them – and this has been recognised by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA).

A joint programme launched by GIZ and CHTA has helped many hotels throughout the Caribbean to make savings, amounting to several million dollars, over recent years. Inspectors identified numerous weak points: obsolete air conditioning units, energy-guzzling lamps and hot water systems, a lack of energy saving strategies, and poor environmental awareness among staff and guests alike. The CHTA emphasises that by reducing costs, hotels become more competitive. This is an urgent necessity – otherwise, Caribbean tourism will be caught napping by its rivals in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Environmentally conscious tourists indicate each morning that they don’t need a fresh towel. But by midday, they’re often supplied with one anyway. ‘It annoys me every time it happens,’ says Thomas Scheutzlich. But there are some good energy-saving solutions as well, such as the plastic room key cards with an inbuilt microchip, which have to be inserted into a slot in the room in order to activate the power supply.

Of course, some hotels have been setting a good example for years. In the Tamarind Tree Hotel in Dominica, the hot water comes from solar collectors, towels are only changed upon request, and new energy-saving lighting is now in use. The chambermaids check that the air conditioning is switched off when the guest is absent. Co-proprietor Annette Peyer Lörner says, ‘Our guests appreciate that.’

Efforts are now under way to reduce dependence on diesel, oil and gas, for example in Saint Vincent and in Dominica, which are increasingly turning back to hydropower. ‘GIZ and its partners are providing assistance here too,’ says Thomas Scheudlitz. And in Guyana, he continues, the Prime Minister has assured him that plans to build a larger hydropower plant will soon be taken forward. In the hot water sector, Barbados is a model of best practice: more and more households are harnessing the sunshine on their rooftops. The Government has introduced a support scheme and now only issues permits for new buildings fitted out with solar panels.

Michael Meyer

Further information

Carribian Renewable Energy Development Programme

Albania: Mountain tourism

Albania: Mountain tourism
A hiker’s paradise in the ‘Accursed Mountains’

Tourism already accounts for around 10 per cent of Albania's GDP and offers great potential for development. Albania has impressive natural attractions and a rich cultural heritage. The Greeks, Ottomans, French and other nations have all left their mark on the country.

Albania offers something for everyone: sun-seekers love the sandy beaches along the Mediterranean, the more culturally minded can visit ancient ruins and historic monuments from the Ottoman period and beautiful old Orthodox churches, for example, and the mountains in the north of the country are proving increasingly popular with Central Europeans, who relish the opportunities for hiking and climbing here – for example around the village of Theth in the Albanian Alps. Theth is located in the upper Shala Valley, where the river flows down from the mountains and powers small-scale hydroelectric plants and a mill. The village extends for several kilometres along the valley floor, surrounded by towering peaks, some of them 2,000 m high.

In winter, Theth is often cut off for weeks at a time. One of the few families who brave these harsh conditions and live in Theth all year round is the Harusha family, who have lived here for generations. Prek, the head of the family, is proud to be continuing his forefathers’ way of life. He and his family run a guesthouse with three rooms and 12 beds. Reservations can be made by telephone or on the internet. Meals are included, and laundry, ironing and baby-sitting services are also available. However, there are no amenities such as a cash machine in the locality. ‘Guests are welcome to learn some of the Harusha family’s skills in self sufficiency, especially during the winter months,’ Prek Harusha writes on his website. Besides running the guesthouse, the family tends its meadows, keeps bees and protects the forest with its unique flora.

There are beautiful treks in the locality, and the Harusha family makes use of these in its advertising as well. For example, they are happy to arrange a riverside picnic or offer guided walks to the area’s natural or cultural highlights. The guesthouse is located near Theth National Park, which covers more than 2,600 hectares. It was founded in the 1960s in order to protect the wealth of flora, fauna and geological formations. And protection is urgently needed – illegal logging and hunting for wolf, chamois, badger, fox and wild boar are major problems in Albania. This makes alternative sources of income which increase the incentive to protect the natural environment even more important.

Guesthouses such as the Harusha family’s have come into being thanks to a project implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) since 2006. In order to create more income-generating opportunities for local people in this mountain region, nine families received support in order to modernise their stone-built houses. The houses were fitted with kitchens and sanitation, the roofs were replaced, double glazing was installed, and new beds and furniture were purchased. Some houses have been fitted with solar panels which supply hot water and lighting. The villagers were sceptical at first, but now there is lively competition to see who can run the best guesthouse. Today, 22 guesthouses and two hotels with more than 300 beds in total offer food and accommodation. There are also two restaurants in the village. In 2006, Theth had just 300 visitors – but by 2011, this had increased to around 12,000, most of them from abroad, whereas elsewhere in the country, three quarters of all tourists are Albanians. This growing interest is now generating additional revenue for Theth, amounting to around 200,000 euros per annum – a seven- to eightfold increase in the villagers’ incomes compared with the social assistance on which many of them previously depended.

Several leading tour operators are now offering tours to Albania’s ‘Accursed Mountains’, with their desolate peaks, rich biodiversity and remote villages where time seems to stand still. The project’s success is partly due to GIZ’s investment not only in the guesthouses but also in infrastructural development. The hiking trails have been upgraded, with waymarking and signposting as well as maps to help visitors get their bearings. Hiking maps have been developed and training provided for local mountain guides. The project also supported the development of mountain tourism beyond Albania’s borders. Hikers can now book half- to multi-day walking tours in the Albania-Montenegro-Kosovo triangle. The relevant authorities in the three countries worked with the project experts to speed up the border crossing process. Clearly, a lot has been achieved over the last six years – and work is continuing. A safety strategy is now being developed to ensure that assistance and medical care are provided swiftly when accidents occur in the mountains. For the Albanian Government, the efforts to boost economic growth and improve quality in the tourism industry have strategic significance – they are part of its long-term goal to join the European Union.

Further information

Albanian Mountains Peaks of the Balkans