LOOKING AT GEO-TOURISM THROUGH THE LENS OF A LOCAL

2020: The year nobody could predict.

Despite the large-scale havoc the coronavirus has left in its wake and continues to wreak as second and third waves of infection rise up around the globe, it has given humanity a rare opportunity for communal reflection.

Domestic travel

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on most pockets and tourism just like any other industry has seen new trends emerging; virtual tours, intergenerational travel, wellness tourism etc. The good old-fashioned road trip and more mini-breaks closer to home over weekends has gained quite momentum in the past few months. Travellers have now become impulsive, remember how you could book and plan holidays well in advance – that’s no more. A general feeling of not really knowing what nasty surprises a month from now could hold – let alone a year – has led to a much more compressed booking and planning.

How about Geo-tourism?

National Geographic defines Geo-tourism as tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place – its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents. But I’d like to think it’s about telling a story only you can tell. Have you ever looked outside the window while traveling or just moving from one place to another, and felt a sudden calmness and serenity as you see the sun slowly descend behind a hill, casting its warm orange light on the landscape as if saying goodnight?

Speaking in Nairobi during the launch of a survey on travelers’ readiness to travel in the post COVID-19, Najib Balala the cabinet secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife in Kenya, said that restoring confidence of local and international travelers is key to building a more resilient and sustainable tourism sector.

I find geotourism to be a more holistic form of tourism as it begins with an understanding of the non-living (abiotic) environment to build a greater awareness of the living (biotic) environment of plants and animals as well as the cultural environment of people, past and present.

While visiting Diani – one of the coastal towns in Kenya, the memories I made whilst there have stuck with me ever since – and they can only be fond ones. The warm emerald blue waters of the Indian Ocean that surround the soft white sands that is Diani beach, make it a breathtaking place to visit. I would make the most out of clichéd moments and watch the sun set on my balcony, while sipping on a glass of wine. The breeze that would come rattle my hair was so kind, it reminded me of the locals – who would direct you, try to sell you one thing or another as if requesting for something themselves. Most were soft spoken, bore the warmest of smiles and only frowned when someone dared to disrespect the beautiful scenery. The food, ayayay the food. As a foodie, it was heaven for me – Seafood and Al fresco dining was the norm and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The innate joy of the locals, in sharing their stories and their passion for place spoke for itself. There was no need for the jargon as much as we would try and “Do as the Romans do as we were in Rome”. Boarding the tuktuks to go everywhere and anywhere, reminded me of the excitement I used to have as a kid, whenever I saw something like a cartoon section in our local newspapers. Using any excuse I could think of to drink madafu – which is basically unripe coconut (you should try it), made me such a nuisance but the locals greeted it with such enthusiasm.

Being there, instilled such a great appreciation for nature and I was quietly screaming for more. I wanted to conserve what was there. I wanted to protect it. Everything from the landscape, soils to the heritage of the communities present and how they interact with the environment. Learning the history of the place as they gave examples of Fort Jesus the stories from the locals, gives you a sense of understanding and conservation of a culture you’re not integrated into.

In light of this, an area’s ‘sense of place’ and application of geo-tourism principles is what you encompasses sustainable tourism development. It can be viewed as a form of tourism as well as an approach to it. How a place makes you feel and get to learn about its surrounding, everything from its geology and climate, to the animals and plants and human components – is the essence of geo-tourism. And I think, most of us, if not all, have all experienced this at least once or twice while visiting a certain place whether locally or internationally.

Sustainable tourism is like Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” – undeniably soulful. Thus travellers nowadays, even with the slow reopening of countries, want to immerse themselves in real life experiences and celebrate cultural exchange and not look for “Insta-hits”. I’m sure you do too.

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