Q. How many fish do you need to feed an island?
A. Lots of little fish and the occasional whopper!
We often get asked how do we square our commitment to small group, responsible travel while providing tours for cruise ships?
It’s a fair question and one we’ve asked ourselves plenty of times. Part of the answer is that here on a remote island in Mozambique, relying entirely on independent travellers can be a precarious way to earn a living, a hand-to-mouth existence that can't guarantee local workers the job security they deserve. Yes little fish are the sweetest but without the whopping economic impact that a big fish cruise ship can deliver we would struggle to be sustainable. So we strike a balance between everyday bike and boat tours for individuals, families and friends and the occasional big ship with all the contradictions that it throws up.
But we do this knowing that we stay true to our values and make sure that the benefits we bring to this paradise home and exciting travel destination far outweigh the negatives. And we continually check what we are doing with our local partners, every step of the way.
Ilha Blue has always been a responsible tourism operator, we work with the local community to create meaningful work and learning opportunities to grow tourism in a way that works best for the people who live here and the spectacular marine environment that surrounds the island. Our commitment is well known and has been recognised with international Responsible Tourism awards
So what are the benefits?
Jobs and business opportunities are the obvious ones. For example: the recent expedition ship the Coral Geographer allowed us to employ an enormous number of local people:
22 Guides (9 male 13 female)
5 dive guides
30 Marinheiros sailing 12 traditional dhows
11 Tofo dancers and 3 percussionists
4 Kaxaka dancers and 3 percussionists.
7 community leaders
14 Beach cleaners
3 traditional family homes (complete with family)
Plus all our regular staff and lots of guards, extra helpers, cleaners, runners, transporters, etc.
The local businesses that benefited the most included Sara’s famous Barraca which catered in magnificent style for 132 people at the sunset event, and we contracted the same group of local women we always use to cook lunch for all the workers listed above. Attractions like the museum and Fortaleza did well as did arts and craft stalls, the silversmiths in particular. The women’s collective Axinine practically sold out its entire stock of hand dyed and embroidered fabrics.
Other benefits include lots of fun and excitement not just for the kids but for everyone. A cruise ship call is an event that people look forward to, it gives a boost to community pride and helps to build the capacity to hosts other events and festivals in the future. Plus there's promotion of the island to the world as a spectacular, safe and well managed destination for an exotic escape.
And the negatives
This is where it gets tricky because there really are no negatives, at least not locally. The few ships that come here every year are not enough to attract or create the social problems one associates with busy cruise ship destinations. And because Ilha Blue manages the whole operation there’s definitely no exploitation of workers or dodgy environmental practices.
The negatives are real but distant to the location; being a part of an industry that is universally seen as being bad for the planet is a negative. Knowing that there’s the ever-present danger of being overwhelmed by greedy business interests and losing local control is another negative, and there are more. But what should we do? Let the opportunity slip away when local people are desperate?
So, the answer as you might expect is complicated. Yes we grasp the opportunity cruise ships represent but we remain true to our values and focused on our core business of providing immersive experiences for small group and independant travellers. We try to guard against the worst impacts of cruise tourism by doing everything we can to empower local people; mainly by provided access to employment and learning opportunities and supporting individuals to gain more agency at every level. That's what we are doing, we are doing it together and if you ask anyone on the island I think they will tell you that its working very well.