This summer, Jember Limited’s General Manager Guy Levene and the Ethiopia Wildlife Conservation Authority’s (EWCA) Director General Dr. Kifle Argaw signed a concession agreement for the construction of an eco-lodge in the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP). This momentous occasion - only the third concession agreement ever signed by EWCA -represented the culmination of several years of work for Solimar International within the USAID-funded Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Alliance (ESTA) project.
The process began in mid-2009, when Solimar began conducting extensive market research and visits to numerous Ethiopian destinations to determine which site was most promising for eco-lodge investment. The clear winner was the 850-square mile BMNP, which contains stunning Afro-Alpine landscapes and numerous endemic mammal and bird species. Despite its great potential, tourism numbers to the park had been low due to difficult access and a lack of quality accommodations. Although a paved road from Addis Ababa was under construction (it has recently been completed), it was clear that efforts to develop tourism that could incorporate local communities would have limited impact until the destination had an anchor property.
Once the destination was chosen, Solimar’s goal was then to attract an investor who shared our values in terms of environmental conservation and community participation. To be able to make a strong case to potential investors, we undertook a feasibility analysis and created both a detailed business plan and investment prospectus. We disseminated this information to select investors and presented at various tourism and business conferences in the U.S. and Ethiopia.
After pursuing several strong leads, we ultimately decided to endorse the UK-based private investment group led by Guy Levene because of its strong commitment to building a high-quality lodge that will have minimal impact on the environment and bring significant benefits to neighboring communities. The endorsement was followed by support that included facilitation of an Environmental Impact Assessment and assistance through the concession negotiation process.
The groundbreaking for Bale Mountain Lodge took place in November. The eco-lodge, to be built in a stunning location within the Harena Forest, will have a total of 15 units including several tree-houses. Among several innovative approaches that Jember will take to reduce its footprint will be a hybrid micro-hydro and solar energy system. Jember’s initial investment for the lodge will be $1.2 million. The lodge is slated to soft open this spring, and be fully functional by October 2013.
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Photo courtesy Martin Harvey.
Sierra de la Giganta is one of the last remaining wild stretches of Baja California Sur’s coastline, but it is increasingly coming under the pressure of developers who are eager to replicate Mexico’s other tourism mega-destinations. It is also one of Mexico's poorest regions, with existing economic options limited to fishing, mining, and other resource extractive activities. With the support of the Resources Legacy Fund, Solimar and our local partner, RED Sustainable Travel, are working to identify the opportunities to link tourism, conservation, and rural development in this region.
In order to ensure the long-term protection of Sierra de la Giganta's natural and cultural resources, solutions must address the region’s conservation goals while also providing real economic opportunities for the local population. These goals present a perfect opportunity for sustainable tourism, as it is an economic activity that depends upon the preservation of natural and cultural resources rather than its extraction.
Solimar and RED's initial tourism assessment revealed a number of interesting potential tourism models for the Sierra de la Giganta region, concepts that will be developed and documented in business plans that can then be used to attract donors and investors to the region.
The first potential model focuses on marine tourism. Establishing a network of coastal community tourism service providers would allow locals to benefit from the marine tourism activities already taking place in the region in the form of kayaking tours, sailboat rentals, and private yacht owners. Local communities could provide complimentary experiences such as mule trekking tours, salt-water fly fishing guide services, and restaurant/food services.
Secondly, a private reserve eco lodge could boost the current tourism offerings. A local conservation organization that established a private coastal reserve is considering the development of a small-scale ecolodge that would enable visitors to not only spend a night in the reserve, but also to participate in the organization's terrestrial and marine monitoring and research activities. From checking bighorn sheep motion cameras to conducting fish counts in the Sea of Cortez, the lodge would give visitors a chance to be "biologists for a day". Such a lodge would also create needed jobs and revenue for local communities, as well as begin to better integrate those communities into the reserve's conservation activities.
With the assessment complete, we look forward to further developing these business plans into a shared vision of sustainable tourism for this unique region.
El Pardito fishing community inhabits a tiny island in the Sea of Cortez, surrounded by ocean and soaring desert mountains.
Part of the cultural attraction of Sierra la Giganta is the continuation of traditional economic activities like fishing. The goal of sustainable tourism is not to replace those activities entirely, but rather introduce additional economic alternatives to reduce the pressure on the region’s natural resources.
Local artisans show off their handiwork in El Pardito.
Solimar & RED team members assess new tourism opportunities in Sierra de la Giganta.