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Our last newsletter was entitled “NAVIGATING WITHOUT STARS” but we believe we will all see more clearly where we are going if – and as we stated in that letter – we adopt a modest “business as usual” approach and we all agree the best way forward is to secure our staff and their local community here in Mafia, put some safety nets in place for them and their families and emergency response mechanisms, and move forward with our plans, training and preparation of boats, vehicles and other facilities, as we always do at this time of the year. So now we want to avoid icebergs and that involves asking you – our readers – for feedback and suggestions…. How can we help you ? We don’t think nor believe in the drastic changes and dire consequences that so many writers are conjuring from very little evidence… we do not think people are so easily “altered”…

In reflecting on all the gloom I would like to share a thought from Mick Jagger: “Don’t look at the clouds of tomorrow through the sunshine of today…” And another from Leonard Cohen: ……… if you have to come up with a philosophical ground, that is “Ring the bells that still can ring.” It’s no excuse… the dismal situation…. and the future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them. “Forget your perfect offering”, that is the hang-up, that you’re gonna work this thing out. Because we confuse this idea and we’ve forgotten the central myth of our culture which is the expulsion from the garden of Eden. This situation does not admit of solution or perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect. And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together, physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.”

We can’t see much sunshine through all this rain we are getting in Mafia, but we know it will be there soon… these are our wet season months – and they have been very wet – so we sand down all our wooden furniture and re-varnish, repair buildings, scrape and paint walls, renew soft furnishings, replace all sorts of things like chair covers, and so on… it’s a very long list. And, of course, cut grass and weed garden beds, prune and shape and trim and manure…..it’s a 2ha garden.

The “Palau Effect”

The Pacific island(s) nation of Palau has become a sustainability trend-setter, the first country to ban certain types of sunscreen, for example. It is now a sincere low-volume, minimal impact destination by design and management and has taken a bold step in a new direction towards conservation: requiring every incoming visitor to sign a pledge, stamped in their passports, to be good environmental stewards for the duration of their stay. Palau was heading towards becoming a China-dominated charter tourism hot spot but when the nation’s leader expressed diplomatic support for Taiwan. China retaliated with a travel ban (I guess politics is part of the “environment”). Thus, inadvertently “saved”, Palau is re-inventing itself as a responsible tourism paragon, a soft-footprint destination with sustainability the main course. A portion of the Palau Pledge, which is written as a poem, reads, “I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully” and again “Children of Palau, I take this pledge, as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully”. Here is an article by Nat Geo

To ensure that the Palau Pledge is more than just a superficial effort, there are national policies in place to strengthen the enforcement of environmental protection laws, including increased policing and reporting efforts. Looking back at the close brush with mass tourism government noted that “This shift into mass-market tourism has been driven by vertically integrated package tours, bringing visitors who have prepaid their full itinerary, resulting in lower in-country visitor spending. Additionally, the dominance of a single source market, largely consisting of first-time travellers and the entry of numerous new, inexperienced tour operators into the tourism sector have strained the capacity of regulatory and management bodies to ensure that tourism in Palau is both profitable and sustainable.”

Mafia Island has the opportunity to construct a similar tourism approach and attitude amongst all its people and our visitors and to use this approach “…as a tool to galvanize the local community towards the same vision of conservation—one that transcends generations, village lines, and political agendas” as NatGeo points out.

Our immediate competitor, Zanzibar, reached a tourism number of over 550,000 in 2019 (not including domestic visitors, which would take the total to over 560,000).with an average stay of over a week this volume created 4 million bed-nights. This is “over-tourism” by any measure for the destination and the services and infrastructure are just not coping. Airports, ferry terminals, roads, water supply, electricity, refuse disposal and so on, are all overburdened and not designed nor built for this volume. And tourism competes with citizens for essential resources and services. In addition tourism demand, while bringing revenues, raises market prices for many commodities like fish, fruit and vegetables that local people need too.

This is what we will not have in Mafia because we cannot take international flights so we plan, going forward, to enshrine and enhance the responsible tourism ethic with a sustainable tourism model involving real action, to keep Mafia Archipelago a low volume, high value and total environmental care destination. We have now launched a similar approach in Mafia from the industry side and – with a lot of attention from Government being devoted to ensuring a successful tourism product on Mafia Island under a planned polcy effort – we hope to work with the authorities on the sustainability and eco-tourism principles we espouse.