8 Oct 2013

Eco-tourism ventures could change lives in Solomon Islands

5:35 pm on 8 October 2013

There is growing enthusiasm for local investment in eco-tourism ventures on Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands.

Guadalcanal Eco-Tourism Development Services says since last year, 40 new local operators have begun work on eco-tourism activities such as building eco-lodges and bush tracking.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

The managing and training director of Guadalcanal Eco-Tourism Development Services, Eddison Saeni, says there are many attractions Guadalcanal has to offer, that can't be found elsewhere in the Pacific.

"EDDISON SAENI: When it comes to Guadalcanal, I see a lot of natural attractions which are so unique that need to be promoted, surfing, diving, where thousands of ships and marine [craft], they [sank] during World War II, and also inland, a lot of war wreckage, waterfall and flora and fauna."

Eddison Saeni says locals are encouraged to raise between US$1,000 and US$5,000 in order to start up their own eco-business, and they are excited to get involved. He says it's is a big opportunity for Guadalcanal in terms of economic development. The owner of an eco-lodge - Conflict Bay Lodge in Marau Sounds - Elijah Maumamura, says the tourist benefits from his lodge get passed on to the rest of the community.

ELIJAH MAUMAMURA: We work like an eco-system here. Other villages provide entertainment, cultural groups, and some of them provided me vegetables, fish, seafood, so everybody, they get benefits. Some guys owns waterfall, guests get there, they should get a few money for the visit to the sites. That's how people here get benefit from the tourist business, as well.

Elijah Maumamura says it was a difficult first year beginning the business because he had no tourism or hospitality training, and it would be beneficial for the government to train people at grass-roots level. He opened Conflict Bay Lodge two years ago, on his family's customary land, built with local material, and the money he makes he uses to operate the business, and pay for his extended family's school fees. Mr Maumamura says people in rural areas already have a head-start in eco-tourism because the scenery is so good.

ELIJAH MAUMAMURA: The natural beauty of the place is there already. The only thing to do is to build houses, build beds, toilets, water and other facilities that people can come and enjoy.

The president of the Guadalcanal Provincial Council of Women, Mary Bollen, says groups and tribes work well together as a result of eco-tourism and it avoids jealousy, as well as stems the urban drift.

MARY BOLLEN: Establishing eco all around Guadalcanal would bring peace, prosperity and change the peoples lifestyle of living, also create jobs for school-leavers, tertiary education students - that's what I've seen.

She says one village had been just about to sign a mining agreement, until they learnt they could make money through eco-tourism instead.

MARY BOLLEN: It helps to see that mining is not really a good thing, it destroys their environment and wildlife and rivers. So they were so grateful. Now they are so excited, and they continue to clean up their village and environment and want to do a homestay.

Mary Bollen says she believes eco-tourism has the power to change the lives of the people of Guadalcanal.