by Matt Hampton, The Telegraph, April 16, 2019
All holidays arguably fit one of two moulds: those that feed the soul, or those that gratify the senses. From worthy tours of cultural ruins to week-long benders on the costas, they are extensions of ourselves.
Both are enormously enjoyable, but does either have any real benefit for the wider world, beyond expanding either our minds or our waistlines?
Certainly, the travel industry keeps a great many people in work. But in the age of mass tourism, there is a more corrosive side to it. From the very real issue of CO2 emissions – from planes and other modes of transport, hotel heating, air conditioning, food production and waste – to the more recent hot button of “overtourism”, holidays are loaded with moral concerns.
It is easy to dismiss the residents of Barcelona or Palma, overrun by hordes of visitors, as ungrateful recipients of a booming tourism economy, but at least they prompt the question anew: is travel sustainable?
Tui, Britain’s largest tour operator, is working hard to convince us that it is. The Tui Care Foundation, its charitable arm, supports 38 projects in 25 destinations worldwide.
Recent successes have included a tourism education programme for 150 young people in the Dominican Republic, a scheme to help small producers in Crete sell products to hoteliers, and training for young women in Morocco to lead cycling excursions for tourists.
Cape Verde is a more recent focus of attention. Described as “the new Canaries”, this Atlantic archipelago of 10 volcanic islands 400 miles off Senegal has been independent from Portugal since 1975 and is at heart African.
It also has economic, social and environmental problems: jobs are scarce, housing is in short supply, waste management is frustrated by a lack of recycling facilities, and prices are high as food has to be imported and all water is desalinated.
The imbalance in trade is made more acute by the fact there is little to export, apart from tuna. Into this scenario step half a million tourists a year, drawn in by unspoilt sandy beaches and year-round sun – the number is forecast to grow to 700,000 by 2025.
Cape Verde’s challenge is to make them an asset instead of a drain on resources – not easy when visitors consume five times more water than locals and account for 51 per cent of the country’s energy use.
In 2013, the Tui Care Foundation teamed up with another charity, the Travel Foundation, to set up a “destination council” for the islands. Funded by both charities together with private partners, one of its early successes was the Greener Hotels initiative: a plan to monitor and improve energy, waste and water management in the archipelago. Hotels on Sal and Boa Vista – the most developed islands – account for 42 per cent of the total volume of waste sent to landfill. So far, 16 out of a target of 20 hotels have signed up. Quick wins include ditching plastic straws and installing low-energy light bulbs and low-flow shower heads; the long-term plan is to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill by 20 per cent.
But it is in the training of local people that the project is most likely to make a lasting difference. Tourist excursions support about 1,700 jobs on Sal and Boa Vista, with 40 per cent of visitors taking at least one tour during their stay.
To date, the destination council has provided training and certification for 75 guides offering nature-based tours. Trainees are typically young men who might have been working as beach vendors, or selling tours without accreditation. Training delivers a code of conduct that can in turn help protect the islands’ wildlife habitats.
After Florida and Oman, Cape Verde is the world’s third-largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles, but also one of the most at risk. Poaching has been illegal there since January last year, but with turtle meat fetching up to £7/lb, it is understandably hard to stop.
This is the goal of Project Biodiversity, another local charity supported by the care foundation, which protects vulnerable nesting sites and releases hatchlings into the ocean. Thanks to guided nightly tours, poaching is down as much as 90 per cent on some beaches – no mean feat when the profit from a loggerhead could feed a family for six weeks.
A visit to the Ponta Preta hatchery, on the beach in Santa Maria, confirms the enthusiasm visitors and volunteers have for the project. On the night I was there (see box below), a moonlit guided walk provided a chance encounter with one of these endearing creatures.
Our final stop in Santa Maria gave even more cause for optimism. There, Castlelos do Sal is an after-school club Tui also helps to fund. It provides about 70 children a day with a hot meal, plus a chance to play or do homework under supervision.
Education is a great source of local pride: primary schools (but not secondary) are free, the literacy rate is 89 per cent and there are seven universities across the 10 islands – but many children still miss out. With few social services available, an after-school club is a lifeline for working parents.
The brightly painted building is ramshackle but clean, and on our afternoon visit there were two classrooms full of children. A long shelf packed with toothbrushes and donated toothpaste hinted at the benefit of being next door to a popular resort – as did the plentiful supply of pens, many of which came from hotel guests.
Travelling responsibly means allowing the real world to intrude on your holiday – arguably the very opposite of what a holiday should be.
But if you choose Cape Verde this year, instead of those crowded Med hotspots, you could be making a positive difference somewhere that needs it. The beaches are indeed magnificent, and the people welcoming. Bringing some school supplies – and taking some plastic home – really will help everyone.
How to do it
Matt Hampton travelled as a guest of Tui (tui.co.uk), which offers a seven-night all-inclusive stay at Tui Sensimar Cabo Verde on Sal from £985 per person. The price includes return flights departing Gatwick on May 23, or from £944 departing from Manchester on May 22.