Holidays packaged to help local communities are changing lives in Mozambique. Inspiring initiative Bespoke Experience is down to Amy Carter-James, who runs the successful social enterprise with her husband Neal.
They offer top-of-the-range tourism lodges which attract British tourists — and enable villages to work their way out of extreme poverty.
Instead of lining the pockets of foreign travel operators, Bespoke Experience invests all profits directly into the community and takes away tourist's guilt about not investing in the country they're visiting.Each lodge is run to maximise the benefits to the local host region as well giving a growing percentage of its revenues to a sister charity, the Nema Foundation, which operates using Fairtrade principles.
Award-winning Guludo Beach Lodge has architecture based on local techniques and a style which is environmentally sound. The holiday complex was built using a 100 per cent local workforce, including a local women's co-operative. Training was provided on-site in everything from running a restaurant to carpentry — giving important new skills to over 60 local people. And, thanks to the growing influx of UK visitors in the past five years, there has been an astonishing turnaround in the region's fortunes.
This includes everything from clean water for 15,000 people and the distribution of mosquito nets to tackle malaria, a very serious problem in Mozambique.Thanks to the initiative, over 40 children have also had access to proper schooling and better food has been distributed to local villages.
Amy, 27, who studied marine zoology at Bangor University, has been awarded the "Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2006" award as well as being a finalist for the "Women in Ethical Business Awards 2007". She got the idea for the project shortly before going to college and the environment has always been one of her major concerns. "I had an amazing gap year as a volunteer in Kenya, and that's where the idea started to grow. Straight after leaving University I went into tourism management to learn the basics. Neal and I came then up with a business plan which luckily has proved to be commercially successful and also have a great benefit to the area."
Amy currently spends most of the year in Mozambique but acknowledges that will have to change if the enterprise is to grow. In the months to come, she will be spending a lot more time in England making valuable contacts and drawing up new strategies to grow the business . She admits it's been a real learning curve — with some inevitable mistakes along the way.
"For example, we learned that building lodges with posts made of coconut husks was not a good idea because they get eaten! "We also had to learn Portuguese and there is an awful lot of bureaucracy. There is also unfortunately some corruption in the way business is done in Mozambique, but we've always made it clear we're not open to bribery and we now have a reputation for being absolutely honest in what we do, which is a major asset for us."
Amy's core market is largely "empty nesters" in their forties who are looking for a unique holiday experience which is eco-friendly and also ethically sound. It's not a cheap option by any means. The cost of staying in the lodges is 255 dollars per person per night but it seems there is no shortage of takers for these "Fairtrade holidays".
And no shortage of people interested in finding out how they operate Amy spoke at a seminar on Enterprise and the Environment at the recent Voice ‘08 event in Liverpool — an experience she says she thoroughly enjoyed. In the future, she is hoping to formalise links with the Co-operative Movement and build on the links made with other social enterprises.
In the coming months, Amy and her husband will be developing their marketing strategy in a bid to grow the business. The immediate tasks include consulting with tour operators, drawing up marketing strategies and coming up with innovative ideas like a carbon offsetting scheme which will enable guests to chip in and protect vulnerable forests.
There are plans in progress for a new safari lodge out in the wild and photography "tree houses". Five years after launching the initiative, Amy's enthusiasm is absolutely clear.
"When I go into a project which is just starting and see local kids with bright eyes knowing they have a brighter future that makes it all worthwhile. It is pretty challenging but I enjoy every minute of it."
• Visit: www.bespokeexperience.com for more details.