I imagine many readers who have travelled in a developing country will have had a similar experience to that which I’m about to describe.
I spent the summer of 2016 in Tanzania as part of my medical degree. After 6 weeks working in a hospital near Kilimanjaro, my boyfriend and I travelled to Zanzibar island for two weeks of downtime. Our first stop was a hotel in the village of Kendwa. This is a very small village to the north of the island, and visitors generally flock here for the stunning, white-sand beach.
The hotel we stayed in was beautiful, but it became very quickly apparent that none of this luxury had managed to trickle down to the locals. The hotel was a short walk to the beach, which, catering to westerners was lined with trendy restaurants and bars. When walking through the village we were faced with extreme poverty; a basic collection of small huts, with a water-well and an abandoned half-built play area for the children. With the evolving tourism industry generally in the hands of wealthier foreigners, it was clear the villagers benefited in no way from the hotel resorts surrounding them.
We were left feeling uncomfortable, guilty, and almost wondering what we were doing there.
We decided not to turn a blind eye to the stark difference between the developed beach-front and the impoverished village right behind it. We searched online for local tours, to see if we could immerse ourselves more in the ‘real’ Kendwa. Luckily I found the local company called ‘Kendwa Community Tours’. This is a tour operator organised and run by the community, and from which the benefits go towards sustainable projects to develop the village. Their current projects are working towards electricity and improving the water supply.
This company offer various tours around the island, but we decided to take the ‘Kendwa Village Tour’. This involved a morning of being shown around the village, including the school, local hospital and the ongoing water project. We were invited into the villagers’ homes and shown how they made the local crafts. It was undoubtedly a slightly surreal experience; however, the locals were very welcoming and friendly, and our guide Shara very helpful. It gave us such an insight into their daily lives and the struggles they face, but also the ways in which they were working to improve things. We were able to speak to some of the medical staff in the hospital about the particular challenges they face and achievements they’ve made – this was obviously interesting to us as trainee doctors! To finish off we ate some traditional food together, which was delicious. All this for $20. As you might expect for a developing local business, the organisation was a little interesting, and it all felt quite informal; but this just added to our experience!
This was my first experience of ‘ecotourism’. The aim of ecotourism, or ‘sustainable tourism’, is broadly to support local communities, and protect the natural and cultural heritage of a destination. Experts believe this type of responsible travel is becoming increasingly popular with this generation of travellers, and you can read more about it here.
I would encourage anyone who is planning a trip to a developing country to undertake some research into finding tour operators like these; you will learn more, support the community, and leave feeling that you were more of a mindful traveller than simply an ignorant tourist.
(Please note this was written in retrospect so some of my experiences are a pretty outdated! However Kendwa Community Tours are still operating and I would recommend to anyone who is visiting the area.)