Tag - sustainable tourism

Towards a New Synergy of Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

Front view of a longtail boat in Thailand with limestone rocks in the background. Photo by

Are Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism Compatible?

Imagine a luxury hotel in the middle of a resource depleted and naturally fragile area. Imagine tourists paying the same amount for a single room night of pampering and wellness as a local villager outisde the hotel gate dreams of making in a year. And imagine tourists sipping imported drinks in swimming pools while the next door family daughter misses school because she has to walk to the nearest well for water.

It doesn’t sound right. In fact, it sounds UGLY.

Luxury as an Opportunity

Should we dismiss luxury as a careless playground for the privileged to show off their success and claim their reward for “working hard”? Of course not. This is not a fair portrayal of luxury tourism. Without a doubt this type of tourism has rightly received criticism for its wastefulness and at times detrimental effects on natural resources and socioeconomic stability. However, luxury tourism is evolving and both luxury travelers and suppliers in the tourism industry are embracing new and more responsible ways of traveling. Here, we want to explore how the evolving luxury market can be utilized to bring about desired changes.

You have a group of consumers willing to pay a premium for high quality and unique experiences. That doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, that sounds like a huge opportunity.

The New Luxury

First, however, let’s look at our understanding of “luxury”. The concept is highly contextual and personal – not a thing we can simply buy as the advertisements would have us believe. After a long winter in the north, I dream of the luxury of a warm and sunny day. After months in the tropics, I dream of the cold fresh air in the north. Luxury can be as simple as a cold shower after a hiking trip. Luxury can be having a computer. Luxury can be not having one. Then again, luxury can be wearing a diamond ring and driving a Ferrari.

Despite the high elasticity of the meaning of luxury, the current understanding of the concept is evolving from being associated with things you can own, to being authentic experiences. This presents opportunities for the travel and hospitality industry.

The Evolution of Luxury and How this presents Opportunities for Sustainable Tourism

Infographic about evolution of luxury and its impact on sustainable tourism development by

In the old paradigm of luxury, a luxury hotel experience is nearly identical whether you are in Boston, Cape Town or Ho Chi Minh City. The amenities, the services, the language, the food, the procedures, and even the morning newspaper will be the same. You will not be confronted with local cultural differences – at least not more than exotic references of the place you are visiting. The experience will be a tourism bubble of comfort, convenience, and familiarity which shields off the surrounding environment.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah the 7-star luxury hotel in Dubai with helicopter landing pad with artificial lake in the foreground. Image by

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah (background), an example of classic hotel luxury.

This form of tourism is in no way dying out. However, luxury tourism providers are increasingly held accountable and questioned about their impacts on natural and social environments. Furthermore, the new luxury segment – a new paradigm of luxury – is quickly emerging. This segment seeks fulfilling experiences in harmony with nature and sociocultural surroundings. And in this paradigm, a wildlife experience in a remote destination while sleeping in a rustic eco-lodge harvests much more social capital and envy from peers than a luxury stay at a Hyatt hotel in the Maldives or even the self-proclaimed 7-star Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai.

Elephant Hills' Jungle Lake Houses on the Chao Larn Lake in Khaosok National Park Thailand. Image by

A new kind of luxury travel: Unique nature, wildlife, and adventure.

A New Synergy between Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism?

With the growth of this new luxury travel segment, sustainability and luxury travel have the potential to prosper together. Here are some of the ways local communities, wildlife, and natural surroundings can benefit from the new luxury travel segment.

Local Economic Boosts and Jobs

New luxury travelers value authenticity and uniqueness of people and place. This means that they want to experience local culture, food, arts, handicrafts, and traditions. This presents opportunities for local community members to become managers, receptionists, guides, drivers, cleaners, sellers, artists and so on inside the tourism industry. Not only will this support the local beneficiaries directly, it will also create a multiplier effect from bringing more economic means and demands for services and supplies into the community.

 Community Development

Sustainable luxury suppliers within tourism commit to educating and training their staff and partners. The training can be in anything from management and service to marketing and language. This means that even people with little formal education can receive skills and experiences that empower them to follow their passions. Additionally, it is common that ecolodges and sustainable tourism providers support various local projects such as local schools and organic farming.

By stressing local produce, food, customs, handicrafts, and artistry, positive heritage awareness and cultural pride can be boosted through the appreciation of visitors. Local youth can thus be encouraged to keep valuable cultural traits alive and connect with their roots.

Improved Infrastructure

A new village well, solar powered electricity, improved roads and transport options, internet connectivity, garbage collecting system, and sanitation. These initiatives can all be positive impacts derived from sustainable tourism. New luxury travelers, although adhering to more natural barefoot luxury experiences, will often demand clean water, efficient waste and garbage management, and other familiar conveniences. If developed and managed sustainably, this can bring the mentioned improvements to the local community as well.

 Wildlife and Environmental Protection

In low-resource countries, wild natural landscapes and wildlife are sometimes worth less than the economic potential of farming, plantations, and even poaching. As a result, these wildlife oases are diminishing while species and plants go extinct. Tourism has the potential to reverse this trend. The new luxury travel market that seeks authentic adventures and wildlife will gladly pay national park fees and extra premiums to experience natural beauty, making environmental protection more economically sound and sustainable than alternative and degrading forms of land use.

As new luxury travelers emphasise healthy living, organic and locally grown food will be in demand, resulting in less pesticides and healthier crop management.

Can Luxury Travel Lead the Way?

If we accept the new paradigm of luxury, luxury travel can lead the way in boosting sustainable tourism. The potential opportunities of tourism to generate positive impacts on people and environment are in no way new. These advantages have been discussed through three decades. What luxury adds to the mix, however, is a stronger economic incentive plus a bigger opportunity to act as a trendsetter for tourism development and tourist experiences in general.

Sustainable travel does not have to be limited to village homestays and primitive bungalows anymore. With the advancement of sustainable technology and refinement of tourist motivations, it is now easier than ever for all stakeholders in tourism to include sustainability as an integrated part of their operations. Indeed, it even makes economic sense to care.

Further Information about Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

This article was inspired by an excellent webinar by called “Could Sustainability be the Future of Luxury”. The webinar explores the synergies between luxury travel and sustainable tourism, and three absolute front runners of sustainable tourism share their wealth of knowledge and experience on this issue.

Guest speakers from the above webinar are Anna Pollock (Conscious Travel), Mikaku Doliveck (Floating Leaf Eco-Luxury Retreat), and Aebe Christian De Boer  Shinta Mani Resort).

BookGreener is an excellent resource for anyone interested in sustainable tourism. You will find a lot of practical solutions drawn from tourism industry leaders, and we encourage you to hear and see their other inspiring podcasts and webinars on tourism sustainability.

Other valuable resources on the topic:
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Guestroom by Michael R. Paneri from Viceroy Hotel Group. On the emergence of “new luxury” and how “new luxury guests” want environmental concern and responsibility to be incorporated in the hotel design.
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Travel Consumer by On how today’s luxury travelers want to engage with their travel destination, combine simplicity and luxury, and at the same time contribute to sustainable development through their travels.

Practical Tips for Sustainable Travel

Homestay experience in Malaysia with tourists eating local Malaysian cuisine with their local homestay hosts. Homestay accommodation is one of many simple tips for sustainable travel.

Have you ever wondered what you can do to travel like a sustainability champion?

Some people mistakingly think that the very act of traveling is incompatible with sustainability because of the carbon footprint from transportation. But sustainability is not some kind of polarized either / or action. There are a great many things you can do (and not do) in order to make your travel more socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Most of them are rather simple, even common sense.

Here is an overview of things you can easily incorporate in your travels. By following these tips you will both limit the negative impacts of traveling and award yourself a more meaningful travel experience.

Practical Tips for Sustainable Travel

Photo of Routeburn Flats, on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.
Image credits: unuk

These simple sustainability tips apply to all kinds of travels whether it be a city break, a 6-months backpacking trip, or a beach holiday.

Common sense should not be left at home

In various forms, travel can be a relief from all the worries and responsibilities at home. Sometimes, tourists take their traveling freedom a bit too far though. Just like at home, there are rules and cultural norms to respect, and there are natural environments to consider. Why would that be any different a thousand miles from home?

It is not uncommon for hotel guests to leave the air-condition on for hours while they are exploring the area. In this way they don’t have to endure the 2 minutes of slightly too warm or too cold a room. Would you do that at home? Hopefully not.

Would you point your camera in a strangers face and snap away without seeking acceptance first? This is as intrusive in other countries as our own. Instead ask politely, strike up a conversation, and you will find that most people will gladly award you with their picture. These are common sense behaviours, but still some travelers seem to leave their brain at home when they travel.

Eat, stay, and buy local

Why not eat locally? You treat yourself to new tastes, new ways of eating, and important cultural insights when you eat locally. Why not stay at a family-run hotel instead of an international chain hotel? Why not buy locally made art, food, and fashion instead of visiting the very same stores you can find in a hundred other countries?

You will minimize tourism leakage by supporting the local community directly. You will interact with your local host or seller, and you will do what traveling should first and foremost be about: Excitement, novelty, surprise, learning new ways, and exploring your own cultural background in comparison.

You might add that travel is mostly about relaxation, pampering, and re-juvenation in today’s world. Even so, it’s simple to inject some sustainability in there. Just follow these simple tips for sustainable travel as presented in the infographic.

Three central resources on sustainable tourism

For more tips on sustainable travel, we suggest you to explore the websites of The International Ecotourism Society (Ties), Sustainable Travel International (STI), and Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA’s) website on tourism sustainability and social responsibility, Here you will find a lot of background information on sustainable tourism along with guides, case studies, and research.

Photo credits (cover photo): Tourism Malaysia

Why Hotel Eco-Labels Don’t Work

Sun umbrella made from natural materials such as wood and straw.
Hotel Eco-Label Schemes

It is no secret that hotels are increasingly becoming aware that following the principles and guidelines of sustainable tourism has positive effects on staff satisfaction, energy and water consumption, brand appreciation, and customer feedback.

There are a number of organizations that provide free or paid sustainability management tools and assist with marketing the hotel as “green” or “responsible”. The extensive amount of sustainable tourism certification schemes can also serve as pointers for travelers to find the hotel they are looking for. This list from DestiNet will give you an excellent overview of the various sustainable tourism certification schemes worldwide and their individual focus. The list is not complete. In fact, according to Green Hotels Association there are currently around 800 eco/green/sustainable hotel certification organizations worldwide ranging from a local-regional scope to a global one.

Challenges of eco-certification of hotels

Here we outline some of the major challenges related to hotel eco-labels and green certification:

Figure showing issues and challenges of hotel eco-labels and hotel sustainability certification schemes

Understanding the Sustainable Hotel Certification Schemes

It gets a little complicated though, when you find out that each provider of these services has its own sustainability definitions, criteria, monitoring, and accreditation methods. One scheme might only consider environmental sustainability, while others include social and economic aspects also. The importance of certain sustainability aspects will vary from setting to setting. For example, supporting wildlife protection is less important in a London hotel compared to a rainforest lodge in the Amazonas. Sustainability schemes give medals, green leaves, palms or sometimes stars. How do you compare them? Additionally, some organizations include third party accreditation where an external expert audits the hotel’s position on formal criteria, while others are merely based on self-monitoring and evaluation according to a checklist.  As the services of the sustainability management organizations wary greatly in scope and focus, so do their fees for participation.

Consequently, if you want to understand how and why a particular hotel is certified, you will have to closely read through the selection criteria and score systems of the organizations that give certifications.

Why some hotels do not want to be certified by sustainability organizations

It is not uncommon to find hotels that don’t want to market themselves as environmentally friendly or be part of a tourism sustainability scheme. This is sometimes because they don’t want their hotel to be associated and grouped with other hotels that don’t match their own standards and efforts on sustainability. In other words, the most dedicated hotels feel they are so far ahead of the pack that they see themselves in another sustainability league. Theses hotels would much rather be featured in The National Geographic or win a green hotel award for their efforts on sustainability, rather than be included in a “weak” group of sustainable hotels where the bar is too low.

I have inspected hotels that score high on certain sustainability schemes, yet with no sign of commitment beyond the standard request of guests to reuse towels and bed-linen. I have also inspected hotels with no accreditation or available information on their sustainability efforts where sustainability was clearly an integral part of the management of the hotel.

Green Hotels Association offers a stark critique of certification schemes, saying that

Certification is very expensive and very time consuming. The certifying entity will want you to recertify every year or at least every other year—again spending thousands of dollars and many long hours.


We believe a much better choice is to use the money you would spend on certification to improve the quality of the stay…

Small hotels don’t have resources to be certified

To be certified by a sustainability organization takes time and it costs money. Not all hotels can spend resources on assessing, monitoring, evaluating, and setting up environmental policies for their property. Even though many of the certification schemes will offer lower participation prices for small hotels, this might not be where a small hotel, lodge, guesthouse, or homestay wants to spend its money. This means that a lot of the smaller hotels will never appear if you search for eco-certified hotels.

This is a shame, since many smaller accommodation providers quite often are much more environmentally and socially sustainable than their bigger counterparts. For example, “leakage” is not a big issue in small family-owned hotels. Compared to big hotels and hotel groups, small accommodation providers are more likely to…

  • be locally owned
  • hire local staff
  • buy local food and goods
  • use less resources in the construction of the hotel
  • generate less waste
  • use less water and electricity

In contrast, an international luxury hotel will put more stress on the local environment due to much higher overall consumption (watering gardens, air-conditons, spas, pools etc.), and it will generally have to import goods and staff to maintain its international standards.

Easier identification and easier booking of eco-hotels

The good news is that more and more 4-5 star hotels and international hotel chains have become aware of their environmental and social impact and now work to implement sustainability into the management and operation of their hotels. The availability of green and responsible hotels is therefore steadily increasing, with or without certification schemes.

New services for finding hotels, reading about their efforts, and giving overviews of their certifications and sustainability awards are already there or in the making. This makes it much easier for travelers to find eco-hotels at any desired destination.

Check in on later, as we return with a guide on how to find a sustainable hotel.

Why is Tourism Sustainability a Contradiction?

Two mountain-bikers in a beautiful rural mountain setting

At a public travel fair in Copenhagen, Denmark the “Tourism Sustainability” booth was like a deserted island.

The two lone sustainability advisers in the booth were killing time inventing games and sharing stories like Crusoe and Friday. The travel fair was packed, but visitors were avoiding the tourism sustainability booth like a bad conscience, and instead diverting their attention to the exotic travel offers from travel agencies and destination organizations.

Crusoe and Friday decided to venture off their deserted island booth and impose themselves on the travel fair visitors instead. The response they got?

“Huh? Sustainability? I’m here to find good travel deals, so that doesn’t really blend.”

“Eeerh yeah… sustainability is important, but I also love to travel…”

So it turned out that people actually find tourism incompatible with sustainability. The tourism sustainability booth was considered misplaced among the inviting holiday dreams served by the travel and tourism trade. The good news, these fair visitors are obviously aware that traveling on flights and cruises have negative impacts on the environment. The bad news, people somehow seem to assume that the battle is lost once you include an airplane in your holiday, and that there is no point in trying to fight a lost cause. There are a couple of wrong assumptions in the two responses above.

Tourism sustainability is more than carbon emissions from air planes

Tourism sustainability is not merely about pollution from your airplane and other means of transportation. In tourism we refer to three aspects of sustainability, and each of these should be taken into consideration: 1) Environmental, 2) Social, and 3) Economic sustainability. Environmental sustainability includes protection of wildlife, natural habitat, water and energy resources, and waste management, both in a global and local perspective. Social sustainability in tourism refers to mutual respect between hosts and guests, and fair involvement of the local population in the benefits of tourism and in the central decisions in tourism development. Economic sustainability is both sustaining a profitable tourism business while offering a fair distribution of the economic benefits and jobs generated by the industry. The three aspects of tourism sustainability are highly inter-related.

Tourism Sustainability figure showing three overlapping aspects of Environmental, Social, and Economic Sustainability

Thus, a travel holiday is so much more than the transporting flight – hopefully. There are the natural surroundings and wildlife of your destination, the local population, culture, economy, the accommodation, the food, the shopping, and the excursions. In all of these aspects there are choices to be made that can be more or less harmful or beneficial to the travel destination from a sustainability point of view. Many of these choices are no different than choices you make every day at home, but in fragile natural environments and low-resource settings these choices most often have bigger implications.

Sustainability is not a question of “either/or”

In the vast majority of cases, transportation in travel has a negative environmental impact. But does that mean that we might as well discard all other measures of sustainability now that we can’t reach perfection? It would be like saying that because you can’t stop eating cookies, you might as well also drink coke, eat hot-dogs, avoid all forms of exercise, and start smoking.

That doesn’t make sense. So instead of thinking sustainability is an “either/or”-question, we should consider sustainability a complex continuum ranging from sustainable to non-sustainable practices and outcomes. Our choices before, during, and after our holiday have an effect on people, economies, natural surroundings, and the environment. And small drops of sustainability is better than none at all, so sustainability and tourism is not a contradiction. They are highly integrated and inter-dependent. In fact, we need to “think and act” tourism sustainability in order to maintain our beautiful travel destinations for generations to come.

Tourism Sustainability will be a recurring theme so be sure to check regularly for updates on the subject on

Discovering Beaches on Nias Island, Indonesia

A fisherman's beach hut on the south side of Wunga Island Lagoon off the west coast of Nias Island, Indonesia

Interview with Sustainable Tourism Advisor, Björn Svensson

Sustainable Tourism Advisor, Björn SvenssonToday we are lucky to be joined by a professional beach surveyor! Björn Svensson has an impressive career as a tourism professional. On his ongoing journey in the world of travel and tourism, so far he has worked as a diving instructor in the Maldives and Thailand; managed dive centers in Egypt and the Maldives; produced visual and textual material for a number of tourism companies; guided walking tours and expeditions in Australia and Antarctica; worked with multi-lingual services for tourists and expats in Spain and the Netherlands, designed new ecotourism products, and done training, planning, and mentoring along the way. With him, Björn carries his Canon camera, and his talents of capturing the moment and craft the best compositions has resulted in countless features in magazines, guide books, and promotional material. We could go on, but you get the picture.

Today, Björn is working with Australian Volunteers International as Sustainable Tourism Advisor at North Nias Tourism Department off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

NIAS ISLAND, Indonesia
Area: 5,121 km² (1,977 sq. mi.)
Location: 125 km (78 mi.) off w. Sumatra
Population: 700,000+ “Nihas”
Language: Li Niha & Bahasa Indonesia
Capital: Gunung Sitoli
Highest Point: 886 m (2,907 ft.)
Weather: Hot and humid
Coastline: From rocky to sandy, big waves on Western shore

 A:  Björn Svensson

 Q:  First of all, thank you for joining us. You are our first featured guest, and we are very excited to have this opportunity to talk to you. Before this interview, you revealed to us that you survey beaches on North Nias – professionally! What does that entail? And do you need any help?

 A:  Thanks for having me! Perhaps I should start with explaining why there was a need for a beach survey in North Nias. Up until a few years ago North Nias was a very undeveloped and inaccessible area, even by Indonesian standards. In March 2005 there was a huge earthquake that apart from killing hundreds of people also completely ruined any existing infrastructure. The earthquake recovery highlighted how undeveloped the area was, and in a few years many organisations jointly managed to rebuilt and modernize the region so that it is now connected and in step with the rest of Indonesia. North Nias is still pretty poor and tourism was identified as a way to create jobs and stimulate the local economy. The local government asked Australia for help, and that’s how me and my wife came to be here.

Before starting to promote and develop North Nias for tourism we needed a basic understanding of what was there, an inventory of places that would be suitable for tourism. Our main priority was to survey the coast, as we figured the beaches and water sports would be the most important drawcard for people coming to Nias. During the earthquake the whole island was uplifted, in some places 2.5 meters. This changed the whole coastline; some beaches disappeared while in other places new ones were created. Because of this it was necessary to visit every part of the coastline to see for ourselves what the current situation was, hence the “Beach Survey”.

Google Earth was a great tool, but it can be deceptive. Beaches that look great on a satellite photo can turn out to be too gravelly or surrounded by a mosquito-infested swamp. It’s also important to visit a place more than once. We found one area of the coast that was stunningly beautiful (in March) but when we returned six months later huge waves were pounding the beaches and it was dangerous to go anywhere near the water. For every beach we filled out a survey sheet with detailed information about the site. Most importantly we gave each beach an assessment where we outlined in what way the location could be suitable for tourism development, or in some cases not suitable at all. Many factors play into this assessment; accessibility, distance from the airport, environment, cleanliness, local community and land ownership to name a few.

Using boat, motorbike and most of all, our own two feet, we covered the whole North Nias coastline. It was a tough job (lots of sand in my shoes), but someone had to do it! I lost all my camera gear once when I was swept off a rock by a huge wave. We also had a number of spills with the motorbike on the many small slippery tracks, but luckily no serious injuries. By the end of the survey I had a pretty good tan, having spent months walking up and down the coastline under the blazing sun.

In total we assessed 52 beaches, and we “found” several new really nice beaches that our office didn’t even know about. We combined the beach surveys with a list of potential natural and cultural tourism sites and compiled it into a report for the local government. Highlights of this report have also been shared with tourism industry stakeholders with an interest in North Nias.
The Survey of North Nias is now completed, but in 2015 we will continue with the rest of the Island. If travelers want to share their photos and information about beaches they’ve visited in Nias this would be most welcome!

Beaches around North Nias

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Photo credits: North Nias Tourism – Björn Svensson

 Q:  I can easily picture riding on small bumpy dirt roads and discovering new beaches appearing from the wilderness. What an amazing and challenging job – certainly not for the frail-hearted! Other than surveying beaches, could you briefly tell us about your current role and concrete tasks in developing tourism on North Nias?

 A:  An important part of my role is capacity building, improving the skills of my colleagues at the local tourism department. Part of that is formal training in things like tourism promotion which includes photography, social media and web stuff. On a more informal level, I spend a lot of time talking about various aspects of tourism. Many locals have never been off the Island and have very little understanding of what tourists would find attractive or interesting on Nias.

Sustainability is another huge thing. I am trying to emphasize the importance of keeping tourism attractions clean. As a part of that effort we have organised beach clean-ups and training for the people who are in charge of this. We engage with the rather few local people who are involved in tourism and try to help them in any way we can. Another part of our job is to assist tourism industry stakeholders who are interested in North Nias, for example by sharing information from the beach survey.

 Q:  You mentioned that many locals might not be aware what actually attracts tourists to Nias. What is exciting, beautiful, and exotic to visitors, is most likely just “normal” to locals. In your opinion, what makes North Nias special – could you give us your 5 best reasons to visit Nias?

 A:  Okay, here we go:

  1. Miles upon miles of undeveloped beaches.
  2. World class surfing and great snorkeling.
  3. Get away from the crowds and go somewhere slightly off the beaten path; experience how places like Phuket and Bali looked like 30 years ago.
  4. The amazing and distinctly unique culture.
  5. The genuinely friendly and welcoming people of Nias.

There are many reasons to visit North Nias!

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Photo credits: North Nias Tourism – Björn Svensson. See more inspiring images here.

 Q:  Sounds like Nias Island has a lot of the things we beachers are looking for in a beach destination. Where is North Nias today in regards to tourism development? Can you give a profile of the “typical” tourist coming to Nias island? What sort of products and experiences does the island currently offer?

 A:  North Nias is probably the part of Nias Island that gets least visitors. I would call it the step just before “pre-emerging destination”. To be honest the facilities are pretty basic up here, and the visitors who come are mostly adventurous surf travelers. People who are prepared to “rough it” just to have a great wave to themselves. But things are changing, there are both local and foreign projects underway, and I believe in the near future there will be some very interesting bungalows and lodge type accommodations up here.

90% of the tourists who come to Nias today are surfers. Most of them are experienced travelers who don’t mind the basic facilities. The lack of WiFi and good Café Lattes is not a problem for them. Many of them are “repeaters” who come back year after year, often staying with the same family. The surfers are great for the people near the surf waves, but they are not doing much for tourism elsewhere on the Island. There are so many things to do and places to see on Nias.

If you visit Nias you could base yourself at one of the surf-destinations. This is where there the guesthouses and tourist bungalows are located. One of the “Must-Do” things on Nias is visiting one of the traditional villages in the south. There are amazing traditional buildings and statues all over the island, but the most accessible and interesting can be found only 20 minutes from Sorake Beach. The largest village is actually nominated for world heritage listing – and deservedly so, it’s stunning! You can also explore the island by motorbike or a hire car. Stop for a swim on a beautiful beach, do some snorkeling or cool off in a waterfall. Many visitors also really enjoy the laid back vibe and rural scenery that can be seen travelling around on Nias. It’s a rare glimpse of remote Indonesia that very few visitors to other places would get to experience. I have heard several visitors compare it to Thailand 30 years ago.

 Q:  Which opportunities do you see in terms of developing North Nias into a successful and sustainable tourism destination? And just as important, what needs to happen in order to fulfill this goal?

 A:  It’s pretty clear that Nias has huge potential as a tourism destination. We have only scratched the surface of things to do and see here. Apart from your normal leisure beach holiday I see lots of opportunities for water sports, ecotourism and adventure activities here. Wellness tourism (yoga, spa, massage) is on the increase worldwide and Nias being a very natural place would be perfect for it.
Nias is very safe and socially stable. A majority of the population are very positive to Western visitors. There would be no issues with foreigners in swimwear having a beer on the beach. Everyone I meet is very positive to tourism development, both government and the community. I see this as an opportunity for Nias, as tourists increasingly consider safety and stability when making travel plans. Why would you go on holiday to a place where people don’t like you?

Because of recent infrastructure development, Nias is not remote anymore. Within two hours flight, you have Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and further afield Bangkok and Jakarta. Apart from overseas tourists there is a growing middle class in Southeast Asia plus a huge number of expats. These groups often travel locally and are always on the lookout for new interesting destinations. They also tend to be quite active, and they wouldn’t go to Nias just to hang out on the beach. With a bit of improvement in accommodation Nias will be perfectly placed for these kind of travelers.
It is one thing to promote a place, and another thing to actually take care of the visitors when they eventually come. The most important thing that has to happen now (2015-2016) is improved accommodation and tourism services. There also needs to be diversification of tourism away from the surf areas. There are many beautiful beaches and islands in the north and on the east-coast which are currently very difficult to visit because there is nowhere to stay there. Everyone involved in tourism must lift their game in terms of service and professionalism. I think the current laid-back attitude works fine with the hard core surfers, but if they want to attract other tourists there needs to be improvement in these areas.

 Q:  It’s difficult to anticipate the long-term impacts of tourism and to satisfy stakeholders with individual priorities and worries. Could you perhaps reveal to us some of the dilemmas, if any, the sustainable tourism development of North Nias is facing?

 A:  Ideally sustainable tourism operations should be owned and managed by people from the local community. In most cases that is just not possible here. This comes down to lack of experience and funds. To put it bluntly very few people on Nias would know how to operate a tourism business. And very few locals would have the financial means to set one up to begin with. Most, but not all, successful tourism operations on Nias have foreigners involved to various extents. But if Nias can attract the right kind of foreign investors this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Well managed foreign owned tourism operations serve as “seed” projects, attracting visitors and investment to Nias. By employing and training local people they will play an important role in the capacity building of Nias tourism workforce.

Nias Island consists of 5 different districts, each with their own tourism department. This is a problem as there is no overreaching plan or tourism authority for the whole Island. More advanced destinations like Bali or Phuket are often managed by a Destination Management Organisation. At the moment there are some serious barriers to tourism development caused by the lack of cooperation between the districts, for example the incomplete ring road around the Island, or the management of the airport. On the upside, this issue is being discussed at the moment and we might have a DMO for Nias in the near future.

Another dilemma is what type of tourism Nias should have. There are many different visions, but which one is the best for Nias? With my background in ecotourism, I am biased towards sustainable low-impact eco resorts evenly spread around the island. Others are talking about conference hotels, casinos and golf-courses. What right do I have as a foreigner to tell a senior government official that this is wrong, especially if these projects would create lots of local jobs? I am here as an advisor, not an activist or a whistle blower. The best thing I can do is to try to keep highlighting the advantages of sustainable tourism development to as many people as possible. I remain positive as most of the projects I have heard about seem really good!

 Q:  In response to critical comments such as “aren’t you afraid that tourism development will ruin Nias?” and “is this not just wealthy countries expanding their playground and exploiting yet another poor destination?”, what will your answer be? Why bring tourism to Nias?

 A:  In Indonesia anyone involved in tourism is always referencing Bali, both for good and bad examples of tourism development. Our goal has never been to turn Nias into another Bali. No one wants Nias to become mass tourism destination where locals are being pushed aside by rampant development.

Around 9% of worldwide GDP and employment is directly linked to tourism. On many island economies it’s much more than that. Currently tourism on Nias employs less than a fraction of a percent (a few hundred people). We think it’s only fair that Nias gets to be part of the global tourism economy. It would make a huge difference for the people of one the poorest regions of Indonesia. If we look at the (both good and bad) experiences from Bali it should be possible to develop Nias into a really great place, both for visitors and locals.

 Q:  What “development critics” sometimes forget is that local residents often welcome tourists and tourism development as this can be one of a few alternatives to farming crops that are highly susceptible to weather and market demands beyond their control.

Let’s change the subject a bit. We hope that this interview will entice readers to see Nias Island for themselves. How do we book? What should interested readers do if they want to go to Nias Island?

 A:  It’s very easy to get to Nias these days. The gateway to Nias is Medan, the capital of North Sumatra and Indonesia’s third largest city. There are 7 daily flights from Medan to Nias. The flight to Nias takes just under an hour. Medan is connected to all the big cities in Southeast Asia. As an example, if you leave Singapore in the morning, you can be on the beach on Nias after lunch. Check out our website for flight details. Once you arrive on Nias there are plenty of drivers waiting for each flight that can take you wherever you want to go. Many visitors who book accommodation also pre-arrange their pick up.

 Q:  Excellent. It sounds easier than could be expected from looking at the location of Nias on the map. How can interested beachers find more inspiration and information about North Nias?

 A:  First stop would be our website We also linked photos of beaches to Google Map, so it is possible to find the exact location of the various beaches. Then there is our Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ pages for which you can find links below.

 pinterest googleplus


 Q:  Thanks you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us, and good luck with the exciting challenges ahead.

 A:  Thanks for your interest in Nias Island. We will keep you posted on developments here on Nias!


If you are hungry for more information about Nias Island, there is now a new, up to date, and all encompassing website covering all about Nias Island. The website is called Be sure to visit it.