An Ecolodge in Dominica Uses Homestays to Further Benefit Its Community
International Ecolodges interview with Jem Winston from 3 Rivers & Rosalie Forest Ecolodge Community Village Homestay Program
Q. When did you start the Community Village Homestay program and why?
A. The 3 Rivers & Rosalie Forest Eco Lodge community home stay program began in 2006. Having already developed our community life activities project we wanted to involve the community even more in life at the lodge in order to further help the local economy. This would both give our guests a more authentic experience and provide more activities as requested by them. Additionally, our local community has treated our visitors with unparalleled warmth, kindness and generosity from day one. Often locals meet guests and offer fruits, vegetables and kindness, for no money. Guests would often say they were happy to pay, but that their new local friend did not want any money. The lodge’s community involvement is meant, in part, to reward locals for their efforts.
Having had the idea simultaneously, a student from Miami University in Ohio, Chris Thompson, wanted to come and do his thesis at the lodge, so he came, and helped introduce the program. Village meetings were held, houses visited, photos taken, webpages developed for each family, and the project was under way.
Q. How has the Community Village Homestay program further enhanced the overall eco-experience of 3 Rivers & Rosalie Forest Ecolodge?
A. The home stay program was just another step, continuing the eco path of the lodge since inception in 2002. One of our most fundamental aims is to live in harmony with, and have as little harmful impact on our surroundings as possible, whilst recognizing that our business has an important role to play in protecting and enhancing the environment for guests and the residents of the local community. An important aspect of this policy is to involve the local community.
Apart from the obvious financial benefits for the lodge through a small commission, we are always seeking new ways to become leaders in the ecotourism world. We use this money for marketing purposes to attract true eco tourists to the lodge. And the more eco activities on offer, the more clients can be attracted, and can benefit from the great experiences. The fact that the local community derives many benefits from the lodge, also ensures that our guests are treated fantastically when they roam the local area.
Q. How big or small are these communities that these families live in? Are they in a rural/city setting? What are their backgrounds?
A. 3 Rivers & Rosalie Forest eco Lodge is set in the heart of the Rosalie Forest surrounded by rivers and natural beauty, in the unspoiled south east of Dominica. Our nearest village or community is Grand Fond, a village of approximately 1000 inhabitants. When we first opened just over 10 years ago we were the first and only hotel establishment in the southeast part of the island, so people were not accustomed to many tourists passing through the village, which is also a dead end road with no passing traffic.
Most people are farmers, with some taking the one hour bus ride to the capital every day for office or other types of work. Unemployment is high, and most people do not have much spare cash. Despite this economic hardship, the land is rich in every other way; everyone has an abundance of fresh food and clean water. Dominica was voted in the top 5 happy nations in the happy index; if you visit you will know it is true.
The families in the program live in a range of homes, from small wooden cabins, to modern concrete homes with all the amenities. Anyone can join, and their webpage shows their home as is, so the guest can choose the type of experience they would like to have.
Q. In what ways does the Homestay program benefit the families or local community?
A. The primary benefit to the host families is cash payment from the visitor, but this is not the only reason they have joined the project. Dominicans are famously warm and friendly, and simply enjoy meeting new people, sharing experiences, and learning about other parts of the world and other lifestyles. They also enjoy sharing, and seeing people enjoy new, local experiences. Most guests and hosts tell me they have made new lifetime friends as a result of their experience.
Q. What has been the overall reaction from those (eco-tourist & homestay families) who have participated in the program?
A. Honestly and truly, the feedback from both sides has been 100% positive.
Q. What challenges have you faced thus far with the program? What challenges might guest or the families face?
A. The first challenge was to keep the experience authentic. In some cases the hosts were trying almost too hard; changing things to suit what they though the guests would like. So we did a few community meetings and explained that they did not need to change anything, just live their day-to-day lives, so the guest had a totally authentic experience. This also means that the cost of implementation for the host family is almost zero; so everyone can participate.
Today, in developing Dominica, new challenges are arising. The program has been so successful, that I am proud to say it is being replicated around the island. As the nation follows its path of development, however, more and more rules and regulations are being introduced, and families may soon be required to have special insurance and other documents which could sadly mean some of the neediest families may not be able to afford to stay in the program. We hope this will not be the case. If it is, then we will seek ways to assist our hosts to get the necessary documentation.
Q. In what ways do guests participate with the families? Do they help around the house?
A. Before the guest even chooses the host family, they can browse the website and see not only the house, but also a bit about the family’s lifestyle, so they get the chance to pick a family living in a way that is of interest to them. While staying with the family, they can participate in daily life, whether it be on the farm, in the kitchen, or going to the church or the bar. We find that most guests like to get involved in whatever the family is doing at the time. Mealtimes are included and offer a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about each other’s ways of life.
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