West Africa Discovery website

Please visit the West Africa Discovery website to learn more about West Africa and our selection of sustainable tourism tours, accommodations and voluteer projects.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Is education the key to reducing ‘irresponsible' tourism?

Having read a recent article in the Associated Press about the lack of knowledge that travellers between 18 to 30 have about the World, I asked myself: is this ‘responsible’? Shouldn’t they know about the destinations they are going to visit? In my view, education before departure nurtures a sense of respect and responsibility towards a countries people and heritage and can have a substantial effect on minimising the negative effects of tourism.

There are many reasons why young people want to travel; to escape from their daily routine, flee from their household to acquire independence or to take a break to decide whether they want to go to university or to work; but do they consider their impact on local populations in destinations? I am sure a lot of them do, but there are also a lot who definitely don’t.

I would like to illustrate a simple example of ‘irresponsible tourism’ from when I was in Banjul, the Gambia. I remember, whilst travelling through the country from Northern Senegal to Casamance in the South, being at a beach bar on the tourist stretch near Banjul and hearing a group of young British people shouting abuse at the waiters in a very derogatory way. This really offended me and also made me embarrassed of being of the same nationality as these ‘irresponsible tourists’.

The negative impacts of tourism are very present and are much easier to quantify than the positive ones due to the sheer number of cases and the rapidity of negative influence, however, the positive effects of tourism are very possible. As a result of the increased focus on ethical consumerism, specifically that of sustainable and responsible tourism, more and more stories are surfacing on the benefits tourism can have on local communities in impoverished rural areas of the world, if managed efficiently.

For example, in the Gambia, a movement of sustainable and responsible tourism projects has been increasing for the past 10 years and, as a result, an organisation called the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism (ASSET – Gambia) has been created to efficiently manage a network of community-based tourism activities which allows the money spent by the tourist to be distributed amongst the local communities in the area. Benefits such as a boosted local economy, sustainable community development schemes, environmental protection initiatives, empowerment of local individuals, entrepreneurship opportunities, cultural pride and historical preservation, amongst others, are starting to be felt by the local communities in the areas operated in such as Kartong and Gunjur.

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) has been successful over the past 10 years in creating a buzz around the term ‘Responsible Tourism’. They have organised events such as the Cape Town (2002), Kerala (2008) and Belize (2009) International Responsible Tourism Conferences which resulted in the drafting of declarations outlining policies and guidelines for the development and management of Responsible Tourism in destinations. These events have inspired many governments around the world to change their tourism policies to implement more ‘responsible and sustainable’ practices.

Now, slowly but surely, tourism practices which not only focus on providing an unforgettable and unique experiences for tourists, but also emphasise on maximising benefits for local communities and environments whilst minimising the negative effects of tourism, are being implemented by tour operators and other tourism projects all around the world. The best part about this is that most of these are small to medium and locally based companies who have a link to the local communities in the destination, therefore focussing on a solely locally produced product, developed by, managed by and involving local people.

Obviously, there are stories of ‘green-washing’ and ‘false-advertising’ using the ethical terminology to attract tourists, however there are also those genuine projects that do work towards these positive outcomes.

For these positive outcomes to be felt, not only do travellers who decide to undertake a ‘journey of a lifetime’ need to consider reading up more on the destinations they plan to visit, but government bodies, tourism professionals, local organisations and communities also need to realise that tourism can be much more beneficial to their country if managed in an efficient and sustainable way. Not only would sustained local economies be created in communities in rural areas, providing these with sustainable development opportunities, but they would also attract more tourists thanks to unique experiences coupled with the promise of an ethically managed holiday.

For more information on the ‘Responsible Tourism’ concept and suggested practices, click here.

You can also contact us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

West Africa festivals: move aside Glastonbury!

Music has always been part of the commonly shared culture found in the geographical region of west Africa, and the region has produced, in my view, some of the most talented and influential artists of music history. For millennia, the likes of the Jembe, Kora and Balafon musical instruments have influenced much of the music that we hear today on our radios.

For example, blues music has always been linked to the deep south of the United States, but have you ever wondered where the origins of blues lie? Look no further than West Africa. During the 400 plus years of slavery, the populations who were forcefully kidnapped from their homelands strived to hold on to their cultural roots, and through that, traditional music lived on. Various research projects into the musical origins of blues trace the chords back to traditional instruments such as the ‘Kora’, played by a professional caste of praise singers, called griots or jails, for the rich and aristocracy, and the ‘Akonting’, a folk lute of the Jola tribe of Senegambia, a clear predecessor to the American banjo in its playing style.

As a result of findings in musical research and a renewed interest in the rich local heritage found in West Africa, this style of music has become more and more popular in the West and the names of Amadou & Mariam, Tinariwen, Toumani Diabaté and Vieux Farka Touré are rivalling the most famous of musicians to have set foot on the stages of the big festivals in the UK. Classed as ‘World Music’, a term which I personally find derogative because I feel that it detracts from the real origins of the music and throws all music which is not 'Western' into one basket, this West African genre has found its way in to the line-ups for Glastonbury, WOMAD, the Big Chill and the Isle of Wight festival to mention but a few. This, in turn, has increased media attention and provided marketing opportunities for lesser known festivals in these musicians own countries.

Move over Glastonbury! Make way for the likes of ‘Festival in the desert’ near Essakane and the fabled city of Timbuktu, or ‘Ségou festival’ celebrated on the banks of the Niger River, probably the longest river in the whole of Africa. What better way to experience the ancient melodies of West African blues than to be in the Sahara desert listening to Tinariwen, sipping traditional tea with a group of Tuareg herders who have travelled over the Sahara desert to perform their music with others.

Roberto, a regular to the ‘Festival au Desert’ (the French term is commonly used as Mali is partly French speaking) or ‘Essakane music festival’, recounts some of the unforgettable moments from his last trip: “I remember Amadou & Mariam, who are now world-renowned, sitting at 3 am beside the stage with their sun glasses on waiting for their turn to play. They were like two kids waiting for their exam.”

The atmosphere of conviviality also marked him, as he recounts: “Beside our tent, Swedish girls were singing Swedish songs accompanied by local Tuareg drummers. That set the scene for the theme of this festival: playing together, no matter what nationality, to produce quality music.”

But these festivals, even though the most well know, are not the only ones in the whole of West Africa. In nearly every country, for nearly every season, festivals exist to celebrate a multitude of events. From the St. Louis Jazz Festival in Senegal to the Voodoo rites festivals in Togo and Benin, from the Ashanti Royal Ekisadiwae festival in Ghana to the Dogons Sirius Star celebration in Southern Mali, your thirst for new and unique experiences could never be quenched, and you would need a life-time to discover all of them.

However, every life-changing journey starts with the first step, and there are a variety of tour operators who do offer travel options to experience these exotic and awe-inspiring events. You can find a few examples of tours on the West Africa Discovery web portal. Not only do these give you the opportunity to experience the festivals first hand and in the most genuine way possible, but they also work towards providing economic benefits to local communities in the destinations whilst advocating the use of ‘Responsible Tourism Practices’ to minimise the negative effects of tourism on the local cultural, historical and natural heritage.

If you would like more information on specific festivals in the west African geographical region, or other information concerning local cultural, historical or natural heritage and holiday ideas which can give you the opportunity to experience these first hand, email mail us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk.

You can also keep up to date with news touching on West Africa by joining us on twitter or Facebook. We look forward to welcoming you!

Until then, enjoy this great video showing behind-the-scenes at the ‘Festival du Desert’.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Sports Tourism Big in Africa this Summer

It is set to be a year of massive sporting events, 2010 kicked off with the Winter Olympics in Whistler, and the whole world is anticipating the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer. There are many economic and social benefits to hosting international events. Whistler attracted 250,000 visitors to the area and $10 billion in revenues. Along with the financial injection, a host city will see development to infrastructure, increased jobs, and a continued development model of growth even after the event has been and gone.

The World Cup Finals in South Africa this June are on an even bigger scale and could contribute 50 billion rand to the economy, while tourism could generate a further 15 billion rand, with 3.5 million fans expected to attend the tournament. Not only will this be a great boost to the continued development of South Africa but surely for the continent as a whole.

Going to South Africa to watch your team play this summer is no cheap holiday. Once you have bought your flight, paid for a hotel and calculated spending money, the costs can run into the thousands. For those who want to see the Finals in Africa this summer there is another region that is equally amazing, but tourism there is less often on the media map. On the westernmost region of the African continent, West Africa is on the flight route from Europe and America to Cape Town and will be a great destination to visit during the World Cup.

The concept of sports tourism in West Africa is nowhere near the same level as South Africa, but that could be changing with the opening of new facilities such as the Right to Dream academy in Ghana.

Football is the biggest sport in West Africa. Watched and followed everywhere, kids and adults alike pretend to be in their role-models shoes by playing the ‘perfect game’ in every condition, sometimes only with a ball made from rags. Famous footballers such as Didier Drogba and Craig Bellamy are using football as a tool for community development and education through the setting up football and education centres for children in West Africa. It would be great to start channelling more money from sports tourism into communities in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone where it is needed most.

In June, West Africa will be alive with passion as their football heroes battle it out on the global stage. Bars and hotels across West Africa will be showing the games, and the local people will be more than happy to welcome and share a drink with a football fan. As well as going for the African football vibe, a holiday here is sure to give an experience of Africa quite different from the roaring stadiums and hustle bustle of crowds in the South African capital. There are four West African teams in the World Cup finals this year; Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria. These are four very different West African countries with equally amazing possibilities for rich fulfilling natural and cultural holidays.

Cameroon, for example, is home of Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o. Also dubbed 'Africa in miniature' due to the diversity of its terrain, biodiversity and cultures, Cameroon is one of the most exciting and unexplored countries in West Africa. From lush rainforest hiding waterfalls to pristine beaches, this country has a wealth of resources which can provide tourists with the most unique and unforgettable experiences. Click here for some ideas about holidays in Cameroon.

Another football role-model, Chelsea star Michael Essien, hails from Ghana, the country whose name means ‘Warrior King’. Often considered as the friendliest country in West Africa, this country was the seat of the Royal Court of the once powerful Ashanti Empire, whose vestiges are still visible today in the Ghanaian culture. Festivals, ceremonies and social values are a testimony to the prosperous past of this amazing country. Click here to discover the opportunities for travellers seeking adventure and exploration.

For anyone looking for a different and unique experience of watching the World Cup this summer, West Africa is well worth checking out. It is a culturally rich and diverse region, full of surprises and life changing experiences. There are a wide selection of tour operators whose holidays respect the environment and support the economies of local communities. By choosing responsible tours travellers can discover the beauty of West Africa safe in the knowledge that their trip is making a difference and that money from tourism is going to communities that will really benefit from it.