This piece was written by PERC intern Johanna, who was featured in the Winter 2020 edition of the PEN, while staying with family in Guadeloupe.
Guadeloupe is a tropical oasis located within the Caribbean Sea. It is shaped like a butterfly and attracts tourists for its tropical climate, beaches and culture. The primary industry is tourism: it is amazing to look around and see all the local entrepreneurs connecting with there passion and unique forms of creativity and then sharing them with the world whether renting accommodations, selling food or products at markets or offering experiences for tourists. There is an abundance of authentic creativity and exchanges between tourists and locals and it is nice to learn about the livelihood and passions of those who are providing the experience.
Here we can dive deeper into a relatively new conversation within the tourism industry and traveler community that is arising: “responsible’” or “sustainable” travel. What does this actually mean? Essentially, responsible travel comes down to participating in tourist activities in a way that minimizes the negative impact on the local economy, environment and culture. This means removing oneself from the traditional traveler mentality of being away from home and in a state of being catered to without responsibilities, to engaging in activities that are mutually beneficial in all senses between the guest and the local people and environment. The objective is to promote, empower and sustain the well being of the place and people while visiting, and be as conscious on vacation as you normally are at home.
Many tourist destinations have gained immense success through the exploitation of land, resources and local people. This long standing tradition of tourism established a culture of travel based on elitism, luxury, exclusivity, and the all-inclusive experience most commonly seen through resort style travel. The consequences of this has been the unfolding of a tourism industry that is divide between the local and the mainstream. The mainstream markets have out-competed and outsourced local economies through appropriation and commodification of what locals and the environment have to offer and this has negative impacts on the local economy, livelihood and environment.
As nice as that has been for many tourists to escape to remote tropical islands and be treated like royalty enclosed inside a barrier, ignoring all social justice, human, and environmental issues of their destination. Tourists are beginning to devalue that type of experience as they understand that it is artificial and it is an experience happening at the expense of someone else’s home and culture – an artificial ideal of paradise. Tourists are beginning to ask questions and seek what has been kept behind closed doors and walls, and beginning to wonder what better relationships and adventures are possible through engaging with local people, place and culture first hand and fully. There is an emerging understanding that paradise can not be constructed based on a set itinerary. Fluidity and engagement in a place allows self discovery, self-fulfillment, connection and genuine appreciation and joy.
Most locals depend on tourism and tourists for livelihood, and so really appreciate visitors and are fed up with being blocked by mainstream travel operations. Below are some local entrepreneurs who showcase the authentic magic the island of Guadeloupe has to offer behind the scenes of mainstream travel. They are the ones who provide products and services that connect you to place, to experience, to growth and to authentic travel.
Fabrice is a local artisan who has been living off selling his artisan work for the past twenty years and it is his greatest passion. He creates jewelry using 100% organic and local materials and his stock of materials change depending on the season. He finds and cultivates delicate and vibrant colored dried grains, coco, Zanzibar and raffia. Each creation of his is unique and nearly impossible to replicate. He customizes pieces for clients and makes adjustments to pieces on site if needed. He runs a small casual business and is not interested in scaling-up his work: he wants consumers to buy his pieces out of his hands. The pieces he creates are a way for people to represent Guadeloupe on their journeys and share a story of human connection and good energy.
Marceau (Johanna’s dad) works mornings at the fish market cleaning and skinning a wide variety of fish, octopus, stingrays, and edible mollusks that come in on local fishing boats. His livelihood depends on preparing and selling fresh ocean products, he loves his job and being part of the local friendly atmosphere of the fish market. One of his favorite things is to share his knowledge with market visitors on the different types of fish, how to prepare and eat them, and give some background on where they’ve been caught by which fisherman. The market welcomes guests to the island, is a great place to get fresh seafood while showcasing as an important cultural and culinary element of the island. ( Editor’s Note: This sort of sea-to-plate supply chain is the opposite of the unsustainable fisheries practices that lead to seafood fraud around the world – see this report by Oceana Canada for more on that issue!)
Gwenaëlle is a local health and wellness coach who creates homemade organic oils, creams and ointments for hair and skin using products from the land, as well as designing clothing to facilitate personal well-being. The products that she sells invite people to share her energy of self-care and further connect with her other well-being services including massage, meditation, art and nutrition therapy. She sells her products throughout the week at a variety of markets around the island and offers retreats, workshops and classes.
Fred is a freestyle tour guide who loves adventure and spontaneity. His passion is back country exploring and excursions in the tropical mountains of Guadeloupe. He guides hikes that are personalized to the individual or group based on their location and desired experience. The islands natural beauty and diversity allows for a wide range of different tours that can include hikes through tropical jungle, cascades or rivers, mountains, along ocean and/ or through plantations, up volcanoes and much more. What he enjoys most is to offer a fulfilling, exhilarating, unique and refreshing experience for each tourist.
Hubert is a local gardener with a life long array of food and medicine knowledge. He has a parcel of land where he grows a variety of fruits. He plants according to the phases of the moon organically without any pesticides or contaminants. Planting and harvesting are all coordinated with moon cycles. He enjoys gardening and sharing his knowledge on medicinal and edible properties of the local plants in Guadeloupe. His passion is growing food and he has created meaningful and intentional work for himself that he is happy to wake up to each morning. He works at the farmers market once a week and also sells direct from his farm land.
When you step behind the scenes, responsible and sustainable travel is possible wherever you go. This way you get what you actually travel to discover genuine experiences with land culture people. People who have created a livelihood based on what we all desire being content and satisfied with what we do. All of the entrepreneurs model merging a life of culture, creativity and joy that they would like to share with guest. The next step is the tourist responsibility to search methods of connection to local economy and experiences.
Rifflet Travel is a local travel agency that works to match responsible travelers to local land, culture and people of Guadeloupe for a mutually beneficial shared experience. Their mission is to bridge the gap between tourists and locals and allow tourist to experience travelling as a guest rather than an outsider. Rifflet Travel targets Canadian tourists from the Ottawa and Montreal area, where direct flights to Guadeloupe depart from. For more information visit rifflettravel.com.
Extra Resources about sustainable travel:
- Sustainable travel: A guide to understanding your impact on the environment and how to reduce it: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article-sustainable-travel-a-guide-to-understanding-your-impact-on-the/
- Eight ways to be a better tourist this summer: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/article-eight-ways-to-be-a-better-tourist-this-summer/