How tourism is transforming lives in Mozambique

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Meet the woman using the tourism industry to relieve poverty while providing travellers with a very special beachside break.

The seed of an idea around social entrepreneurship was planted in 18-year-old Amy Carter-James’ mind while working on a humpback whale research boat off Exmouth.

Feeding it with unbridled enthusiasm and motivation to right the world’s wrongs and with the naivety of the young, Amy grew that tiny grain into a beach lodge and charity in Mozambique that has helped to relieve poverty and empower 26,000 people in the local community.

Now at the ripe old age of 37, Amy not only manages Guludo Beach Lodge and charity Nema, but also travels the world with her young family demonstrating the impact tourism can have on relieving poverty.

Back in 1998, 18-year-old Amy jumped on a plane from her home city of London for WA, where she found work on the research boat.

“What was so inspiring was that it was tourism that funded a lot of their conservation work,” Amy says.

After studying marine biology at university, she taught in a rural primary school in Kenya. “I saw poverty for the first time ... seeing all these kids that had to battle and battle to get an education whereas I was so privileged to have had mine. So I thought, ‘Right, I am going to do something’.

“I was already thinking about tourism for conservation, so why not use it for development too? So that was the eureka moment.”

Amy’s now-husband Neal shared her passion.

“It was literally on the train back from my final exam that Neal said ‘Why don’t we just do it?’

“We were so utterly naive: we wrote this list with the for and against, and there was nothing on the against list. We literally had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for.”

At 22, Amy set off for Mozambique — a county with amazing tourism potential but extreme poverty. 

“The poverty there is incredible,” she says. “Life expectancy is 37 years old, one in three children don’t make it to their fifth birthday, there’s no access to safe drinking water, very few kids went to school because there were such food shortages. We felt it was an area where we could really have a lot of benefit.” 

Amy and Neal set up a commercial business in Guludo Beach Lodge along with the charity Nema.

“Every single element of the lodge, we try and think about ways we can maximise local benefit.” 

They started off with the lodge’s design and build. 

“There was one little old lady that could make pots and she was the only one who knew how to do this ... so we talked to her and she got a whole lot of young girls she wanted to teach those skills to. So they used those skills to make floor tiles for the whole place.

“You could almost stand on the roof, throw a stone, and that’s about as far as all the materials have come.”

Creating the lodge has been a tough road. When Amy arrived, the local education level was so low it took a long time to train local management. Now there are only two expatriates working at the lodge.

Guludo Beach Lodge is in the middle of a 12km-long bay with nine bandas (villas), a restaurant, an activity centre and bar.

Guests can spend their time scuba diving or snorkelling on pristine reefs, enjoying a picnic on a deserted island, viewing humpback whales and dolphins, and admiring the resident elephants.

Community interaction, such as craft workshops or playing soccer in the local village, is also a big component.

“Guests can have the most amazing experience on the reef in this beautiful location but so often what affects them the most and what they take away is the contact with the local community,” Amy says.

“It is an unstaged, unsanitised cultural experience that is so natural.”

Guests are encouraged to go to the local village and walk around, attend ceremonies or pop into the local schools.

“Plus people know just by staying at Guludo they are making a positive contribution,” she says.

That contribution extends to the 5 per cent of the lodge’s revenue that is funnelled into Nema, which works in 16 local communities to address some of the challenges they face.

Its projects have provided safe drinking water for 21,000 people, increased school attendance thanks to a school feeding program, built five new primary schools, provided 250 children with secondary school or vocational scholarships, and have also funded many health education workshops. 

“There is no better industry than tourism to be able to have such a great impact in the local community,” Amy says.

“If everyone in the tourism industry did just a small fraction of what we have done on a small property in Mozambique, then boom, all those local actions are going to have a global impact.”

So how do travellers factor responsible tourism into their travels? There are hundreds of accreditation systems that make it difficult to choose but Amy says the best way is do your research and follow your instincts.

“We need to know to where we are spending our money, especially when it comes to tourism, and more so if you are going somewhere with serious issues.

“You need to read between the lines on websites to see if they have a sustainability policy or if they have a page about community engagement. Have a look, see if it sounds authentic, and if it looks and feels like green-washing it probably is.

“Definitely have a shop around and see if there is somewhere else that seems a little bit more inspiring.”

While working on a whale research boat off Exmouth in her late teens, Amy Carter-James was inspired by the potential of tourism to create positive change. Duration: 04m 48s Seven West Travel Club

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