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The Holistic Approach to Sustainability

  • Senda and Gerard Oude Hergelink
  • 3 March 2009

Shenda and Gerard own and operate Titcotour, a local travel operator for Marmaris and the Datça Peninsula of Turkey.

Our approach to sustainability in tourism is a holistic one. We don’t believe that you can develop one thing and neglect others. For example, you can’t create a beach paradise with a two-month-long tourism season and forget the lives of the original year-round inhabitants. We think such projects destroy historic, human and natural resources. As ‘holistics’ we do not concentrate only on accommodation, restaurants or transportation services; we place first emphasis on socio-economic features, looking at the local economic activities of the past, present and future.

We have noticed that on the Datça Peninsula, most people have lost important sources of income over the last 40 years without recourse to alternatives. This has resulted in (more) depression and alcoholism, especially among men, who, to afford pills and booze, have started selling land to foreigners and real-estate brokers. The effect will be the departure of the original people and their replacement by foreigners.

In our eyes this is negative, uneven development, the kind in which we do not want to participate. We have seen this type of ‘development’ at mass-tourist places all around the world. 
By contrast, a more holistic approach includes the local people in their historical habitat and incorporates all features that are beautiful and interesting for travellers.

Big tourism-developers could have practiced the holistic approach for many decades, but simply ignored it. Their notion of ‘looking forward’ was limited to the direction of the sea. Today, their tour buses arrive at beach resorts more often than not through a sprawl of slum dwellings, where everything natural has been destroyed. The resorts, areas once home to the colourful fishing boats of the original community, are now where white tourists on yellow beaches try to get red as quickly as possible.

Let’s get rid of these destructive mass-tourism practices. It’s high time to make tourism projects in the holistic and sustainable way. We owe it to the original people, the rightful owners of the land, and to our children!

A Responsible Approach

The following is one example of our approach – and the chain reaction of projects it has prompted.

Travellers attracted by sustainable tourism also tend to like ecological food and drinks, so we decided to motivate the farmers of the Datça Peninsula with their organic agriculture and even to encourage cooperative efforts to obtain the eco-certifications that are currently too expensive for single peasants (self-sufficient farmers). We have also observed local customs on the brink of vanishing, like the baking of typical round homemade bread. We therefore motivate local women to bake for restaurants and accommodations in the region. We do this through our ‘Village Bread Baking Project’.

Participating travellers spend one day with a peasant family, gathering firewood from the forest, preparing dough, talking with their hands and feet, exchanging pictures, maybe buying almonds and olive oil from the village women (earning them valuable income). The visitors pay for this project: one part of the money goes to the peasant family, another into the cash holdings of the village elder to be used for restoration of the house ovens.

This easy project demonstrates many things: preservation of local custom (bread baking) by turning a peasant product into a marketable one; income-generating opportunities for women; tourism-motivated production and consumption of a healthy product from the region. The beneficial results are also many: the improved wellbeing of the villagers; the survival of the villages themselves; satisfying opportunities for eco-travellers and peasants alike; and, of course, the preservation and revival of typical traditional practices.

As another example, we think that in our destination wine culture and cattle herding should be revived. Local wine production creates jobs, and better and cheaper wine than locals buy now. Plus, travellers love this local nectar with their dinner. Herding and cattle were very important sources of income until 2000, when something happened that still needs to be studied. We hope herdsmen and their families will return to the beautiful hills of Cnidos, because cattle breeding has advantages for the locals, for nature and for the traveller. Cattle generate dairy, meat and jobs, and help with the natural balance between land and those who live off it, including increasing biodiversity by keeping the maquis at bay. We also think almost everybody loves the romantic picture of herdsmen with their flocks in the hills. Travellers might even wish to sleep in the herdsmen cottages, experiencing a traditional life of homemade furniture, blankets, tablecloths, rugs, oil lamps, sickles and so on. This would motivate the farmers to continue to make these items, which tourists can purchase.

No matter what we look at, we see opportunities. In transport, why not encourage travellers to walk or bike the land or surf along its coasts. Why not design B&Bs for them or overnight stops in a tent camp, a pension or a village home? We’d like to see travellers hiking with donkeys along the old patikas (footpaths) from village to village, hoping for a sighting of the last jackal, wildcat or mountain goat. Believe it or not, we also like to drive cars or motorcycles through the exciting winding roads of ‘our’ peninsula. And sometimes we want to jet-ski over the high waves of the Turkish Côte d’Azur. That’s OK! But why not pay for the pollution with a ‘tree tax’ that helps reforest areas where once forest fires raged?

Just as we have discovered here on the Datça Peninsula, we believe that every destination has sustainable options through which the local people can combine tourism activities with their traditional economy. By thinking in a ‘holistic’ way, you also will find chains of sustainable projects.

To put it simply: Every house can be an accommodation and, by extending the vegetable garden, every family can feed its guests. Services built and run by the local community will increase regional income and keep people from leaving their homes.

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Asia, ecotours, food & drink, homelessness, local knowledge, opinion, personal experience, poverty, responsible travel, Turkey, Western Asia,

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