FijiBure.com offers an inexpensive option to travelers wanting to experience the full gambit of ecotourism in Fiji. Our village hosts at Namuamua (on the Navua River), Korovisilou (not far from Pacific Harbour) and Naiseuseu (on Beqa Island) will add some wonderful memories to your adventure on the water, while the village of Nadrau is the gateway for some great walking treks across Viti Levu!
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By Dr. Kelly Bricker
Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people." Rivers Fiji embraces ecotourism by adhering to principles that assist in promoting sustainable tourism and responsible travel around the globe. In addition to creating a vision for the company, we believe that protecting the very environment that some have referred to as the "natural capital" of Fiji in partnership with local communities, ensures that a range of choices will be available to future generations with respect to their economy, quality of life, and environment. We believe that the partnership we have established with landowners and families of the rural highlands is built on the following principles and is essential to the long-term viability of Rivers Fiji programs:
In setting up Rivers Fiji, we worked from the following primary objectives:
How are we directly contributing to the conservation of the rivers we utilize? With the help of several landowning groups, a logging company, and the Native Land Trust Board, we established the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA). This is a 17 kilometer conservation corridor that will not be threatened from future logging or gravel extraction, maintaining the pristine nature of the canyon, and natural capital for the indigenous landowning groups that border the area. In return for that lease, Rivers Fiji compensates NLTB and landowners through lease payments, user fees, and employment opportunities, leading ultimately to formal protection of the UNCA.
To further protect and manage the UNCA, we developed a Conservation Area Management Plan that guides Rivers Fiji, the landowners and NLTB in sustainable tourism. In addition to the establishment of the UNCA, all Guides receive "leave no trace" training including conservation briefings related to our programs and the continued health of their ecosystem. Information is communicated to guests via pre-trip briefings and impromptu discussions throughout the trip.
Other activities that directly contribute to the protection of nature in the areas we operate include:
Rivers Fiji believes that it is the cooperation with local communities that will make the programs we operate successful. As a result, we have implemented the following practices into the daily operations of the company:
Rivers Fiji has also set up several mechanisms for local participation in not only the day to day operations, but the long-term sustainability of the company:
Rivers Fiji holds the opinions and decisions of the local communities in the highest regard. To that end, we have implemented several strategies to incorporate the wishes and concerns of the local people into the overall operation. We have incorporated the following processes so far, and are continually looking and listening for improved approaches:
Rivers Fiji also encourages their guides in continuing their education through the following:
As a result, we believe that the overall response from Communities concerning Rivers Fiji operations is very positive. They support the ideal that conservation of the river corridor brings prosperity. In fact, infractions by the logging company and plans for road development through UNCA were thwarted due to Mataqali bringing the information to Rivers Fiji and authorities. Mataqali support the UNCA and expressed this by way of an extended lease program and full acceptance of the UNCA River Management Plan proposed by Rivers Fiji.
Rivers Fiji guides work hard to educate tourists about local environmental assets and threats, cultural traditions and modern impacts, heritage sites, and local preservation issues. Guides raise topics regarding environmental impacts (i.e., proposed logging and mining operations). We also provide all guests with an overview of potentially damaging projects, information on the conservation area, and a comprehensive review of their land, people, and heritage.
Guides also share ‘Leave No Trace’ and minimum impact techniques with guests to help protect both the environment and experience. We discuss our philosophy to hire locally and provide benefits to the Fijian people. We also attract university courses in ecotourism and are asked to provide our philosophy and field practices to students and guests alike and share case studies at conferences. It is our hope through participation in Rivers Fiji programs, guests leave with a greater appreciation for the role tourists can play in conservation of culture and environment. Rivers Fiji believes this heightened awareness to the fragility of our planet is utilized in the critique and evaluation of other activities our guests choose in the future. We know that in part this is being achieved when participants have written back to offer assistance in conservation in Fiji.
To help our guests understand the indigenous culture of Fiji, our guides provide a briefing for guests visiting villages or cultural situations that require particular protocol, including dress and behavior. Briefings on kava ceremonies are held prior to guests' involvement. Guides also share aspects of village life as guests float past rural communities. Guides are from the areas we travel, thereby providing first-hand knowledge of traditions and lifestyle. This exchange has provided guests with a special window on rural Fiji and culture. The experience is not "staged" and what is seen on our programs is the daily life of the rural highlands Fijian people.
How is Rivers Fiji guests provided with opportunities to contribute to the welfare of the destination? The answer is through multiple means--money, goods, services, or professional help from back home. Guides encourage guests not to distribute contributions directly to villagers individually to avoid creating disproportionate shares of goods/materials and expectations. Rather, guests contribute through monetary, educational, and health oriented donations. Schoolbooks/materials have been donated to the local schools and community groups. Guests are advised that profits from rugby shirts sold in the Rivers Fiji store are donated to the village rugby team, which in turn supports community needs and events. Kava from the village is sold through Rivers Fiji and profits are in turn donated back to the village.
Historically Fiji's tourism development has been focused on the coast--with Fiji's interior populations receiving little benefit from tourism. Rivers Fiji's projects provide economic alternatives to people whose previous development options were limited to logging. We believe we have broadened Fiji's overall perspective of the economic value of conservation as it relates to its people and have provided a new dimension in the rural highlands for Fiji tourism. For example:
Finally, after establishing the first model for tourism contributing to conservation, the National Trust of Fiji is presently working on securing leases for conservation, using the Rivers Fiji model completed October, 2000.