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The International Ecotourism Society

National Geographic's Sustainable Tourism Center

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Other Useful Links:

FijiBure.com
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!

Island-Search.com
Island-Search.com is a search guide and directory to some of the best web sites for islands on the Internet.

Kayak Kauai
Offering half day, full day and multi day guided tours over the entire island of Kauai, from the mountain highlands of Kokee to the coastal shores of the Na Pali coast.

Lodging4Vacations Fiji
Fiji Islands vacation rental bungalows on Viti Levu at Pacific Harbour. Two charming, affordable rentals available for weekly or daily accommodation.

Moon Handbooks Fiji
This is the original travel guidebook to the Fiji Islands, first published in 1985 and now in its 7th edition.

New Zealand Sea Kayak Adventures
18 years of experience offering adventurous 3, 6 and 10-day sea kayaking trips in the Bay of Islands and outer coastal areas.

RLROUSE.com
Great articles and hundreds of interesting and useful articles on almost every topic including travel and tourism.

Travel Directory - Fiji Adventure Travel
Adventure Travel Tour and Vacation listings.

Travelnet Travel Directory
Comprehensive directory for travel related web sites. Destination guides, travel news and travelogues. Book cheap airfares, discount hotels and car hire.

Travel Tips 'n' Tales
An online travel magazine published by Lorry Patton offering useful travel tips, descriptive destination tales, and information on holiday packages, travel events and travel news.

Ecotourism

Fiji Ecotourism and Rivers Fiji

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:

  1. Minimize negative environmental impact;

  2. Minimize impact on the social-cultural environment;
  3. Include education and interpretation to assist in increasing visitors’ understanding and environmental and cultural awareness;
  4. Are nature-based, with the primary motivation for traveling to the areas to experience the natural environment and culture;
  5. Contribute to the conservation of the natural environment in the rural highlands and coastal areas of Fiji;
  6. Include local participation in the decision-making process regarding all of our programs and other activities affecting them;
  7. Directly contribute to the well-being of local people through job creation, education and training, lease payments, and environmental protection of natural resources;
  8. Participate and support local and international ecotourism initiatives;

In setting up Rivers Fiji, we worked from the following primary objectives:

  1. To establish an operation which directly and comprehensively contributes to the conservation of Fiji's natural resources
  2. To bring socio-economic benefits directly to the people in areas where we operate through employment and supporting existing locally owned and operated businesses
  3. To maintain the highest standards of operation through internationally recognized training and state-of-the-art equipment

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:

  1. Establishment of a legal lease for conservation for 50 years
  2. We hold regular meetings and conduct trips for the Mataqali (landowning groups) to discuss river management, protection of the UNCA guidelines and practices in the canyon
  3. Rivers Fiji holds regular village meetings to address conservation issues and village concerns

  4. Rivers Fiji worked with scientists to establish the UNCA as a Ramsar site
  5. Rivers Fiji keeps our group sizes small; a guide/passenger ratio of 1:4

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:

  1. Created full-time employment positions: Operations Manager, Office Manager/receptionist, Assistant Operations Manager, Head Driver. Guiding priority is given to those who actually live in communities where we operate
  2. The area in which we operate - the UNCA and access road - are leased by Rivers Fiji. Monies from the leases are distributed to the Mataqali (landowning groups). A portion of the price a person pays to participate in a Rivers Fiji program is also paid directly to the Mataqali and villages on each trip
  3. Organizations within villages in need of fundraising raise money for their purposes with Rivers Fiji work projects, rugby jerseys and kava sales—with all proceeds going directly back to the corresponding organization
  4. We utilize local businesses in all support services, including supplies, drivers, mechanics, raft and kayak construction and parts
  5. Rivers Fiji also supports their local tourism association to promote Pacific Harbour, The Fijian and International Ecotourism Associations
  6. Rivers Fiji continually provides a range of employment opportunities: guides, punt drivers, porterage, road and trail building, special event crews for multi-day trips, village cooks to prepare meals, and office management
  7. We believe in providing our employees with the best possible international training programs including 3-month guide school, swift water rescue, first-aid and CPR

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:

  1. Mataqali are responsible for: approving lease/operational management plan for the UNCA; development of employee hiring process utilizing traditional selection systems
  2. With local communities, Rivers Fiji plans educational river trips for children, as a way of gaining long-term support for the UNCA
  3. We conduct regular meetings with the Mataqali to discuss projects, benefits, UNCA management. The Mataqali are also in charge of decisions relating to the hiring process for guides and natural resource management work in the field
  4. Rivers Fiji works with Tourism Fiji to establish workshops regarding conservation and to ensure its protection. We participated in establishing environmental awareness campaigns and organization of international events/projects (e.g., IMAX film, Eco-Challenge).

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:

  1. Meetings are held with villages to discuss their ideas and concerns with Rivers Fiji operations. Information gathered from meetings is used to make key cultural/environment-related decisions (i.e., rules for guests, days of operation, decision-making processes, traditional uses of land, respect for sacred burial grounds)
  2. Rivers Fiji utilizes traditional means for selecting guides from Mataqali. All decisions with cultural and environmental implications are brought to the guides and Mataqali for input before proceeding with any action

  3. One Mataqali member has been selected to serve as "liaison officer", participating in meetings regarding the UNCA and operations

Rivers Fiji also encourages their guides in continuing their education through the following:

  1. Guides complete a 3-month comprehensive training program and are encouraged to share what aspects they feel are important of their local customs and traditions, and environment with guests. Guides also assist in developing interpretive materials
  2. Rivers Fiji encourages and financially supports guides and Mataqali to attend conferences on ecotourism and land related issues
  3. Sea kayak guides attend interpretive training programs; and Rivers Fiji developed interpretation materials for Namosi Valley and sea kayak programs

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:

  • Rivers Fiji created the first lease for conservation, setting a precedent that others like the National Trust of Fiji are trying to follow
  • We have developed strict management guidelines for all trip environments
  • Set precedent for utilizing international river safety standards. In addition, Rivers Fiji uses quality equipment in all programs (boats made in Fiji)
  • Most Rivers Fiji equipment is now made locally, including boats
  • We provide extensive guide training programs; hiring locally is a priority
  • Environmental education remains a priority for staff; we offer staff opportunities to participate in courses and conferences in ecotourism
  • We also encourage local students to further develop interpretive materials utilized by our guides/guests
  • We run orientation trips (Mataqali, village Elders, National Trust of Fiji, Dept. of Environment, Green Peace, WWF, FVB, Lands, Forestry, NLTB) to visit the UNCA and to review the management plan. Organizations are utilizing their experiences to assist others interested in establishing similar projects
  • Rivers Fiji led the Native Land Trust Board in establishing the River Management Plan for the UNCA, and techniques for minimizing impacts in the corridor
  • We also assisted in the organization of local, regional and international ecotourism conferences
  • We research and conduct case studies which are then presented and published at ecotourism related forums: wrote case for WTO Sustainable Tourism Case Studies 2000 and published Rivers Fiji case as a book chapter (see link below for a full presentation); presented at the International Adventure Travel Show-02, National Recreation Park Association symposium; International Social Sciences and Resource Management; WTO-UNEP Regional Conference on Ecotourism-South Pacific, April 2002.

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.