5 minutes with: Chole Mjini
Welcome to our new blog series. Every week we will be highlighting the unsung heroes of the responsible travel world. These companies and charities all have one thing common, they put in a great deal of effort to make our world a better place. Whether it’s protecting the environment, supporting the local community or helping animals in danger of being exploited, they all have remarkable missions we want to share with you.
For our first interview we could not have chosen a better example of a place partaking in responsible tourism. Chole Mjini is a hotel on a small island called Chole which is part of the Mafia Archipelago (honest) in the Indian Ocean.
To get a sense of what it’s about all you have to read is this quote: “One of Africa’s most remarkable hotels. The acme of responsible tourism. Treehouses with Tarzan and Jane beds. Overgrown ruins. Pure Lost City jungle stuff” – Mark Ottaway, Sunday Times
1. Congratulations on winning a World Responsible Tourism Award. What was your reaction when you won?
We were of course very grateful to receive an award from an organization we believe to be impartial and which has credibility in our eyes. After years of swimming upstream one gets quite exhausted and self-doubt creeps in and we have to admit that it came as a huge relief to get some positive feedback and recognition. It’s a “hey, you are not crazy” award. It sounds a bit conceited but we also have to wonder why it had taken so long for the industry to acknowledge what we are doing. We keep a low profile because we don’t want people to think responsible tourism practices are just a marketing ploy, so it is our fault we’ve stayed below the radar but still, twenty years?
2. What inspired you to start your business?
We never intended to get into tourism but Anne and I have moved around a lot and we really wanted to settle down and we wanted to spend time on Chole island while our kids were growing up. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people; a simple, wholesome place and there are not so many places like that left anywhere on earth. Once we decided to stop there for a while the rest followed.
3. Why did you choose to go down the responsible travel route?
We didn’t. We had never heard of responsible tourism. We dabbled briefly with the eco-tourism label but soon realized that that label meant too many different things and as a result we have tried not to label ourselves. Responsible tourism has stuck to us because of what we do and how. Anne and I really don’t like how some hotels have ruined some beautiful places and the people living there, so we can say that this negative notion was our starting point. We just wanted to build something that didn’t harm Chole Island so that we could be proud of what we had done and also we thought about what we would have liked to have found when we first arrived on Chole Island. As a result we re-invented the wheel, somewhat in isolation, back in 1993. Our late friend and partner Emerson Skeens, Anne and I had many a drunken dinner party discussing what he wanted to build and we just tried to foresee and define the likely problems and come up with some guidelines that would help to mitigate the obvious pitfalls.
4. What is your one tip for someone who wants to travel more responsibly?
Ask questions, especially about cost. Is what you are doing benefitting anyone and if so, who is benefitting? If it’s cheap, can it really be helping people or is it exploiting them? At least try not to be a part of the cycle of exploitation/poverty/
5. What has been your most rewarding outcome from choosing to practice responsible travel?
Looking back and seeing the difference that our humble little lodge has made to the island has been all the reward we need. The empowerment of poor youth and women and the diversification of the economy away from natural resource exploitation on the island is something to be proud of. Some of the kids who played with our children and once wore rags over their huge, wormy, malnourished bellies are now handsome, healthy, educated, employed, well-dressed with smart phones, laptops and big dreams. Women, once considered chattel, are now political leaders and will never be stuffed back into that bottle. The beach is no longer a place to dry shark fin and sea cucumbers. Most people are too busy for the trade in these dubious commodities. Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not all love and roses. As agents of social change we have made enemies among the previously advantaged and we have become political targets but as I say to Anne every time she feels low, “if people want to hate on us because we’ve helped educate poor kids and emancipate woman, I can sleep with that”.
What inspiring people and what an amazing place. If you are ever in Tanzania or even anywhere in Africa for that matter, make a stop off at Chole Island and stay at this wonderful place. I know we will be. You can book by clicking here: Chole Mjini
Do you know of a responsible tourism business or charity that deserves be highlighted on our 5 minute series? Let us know by sending an e-mail to [email protected]
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*All photos by Chole Mjini