Bertrand Lafrance, Founder and President, Discover and Aid Nature (DECAN) Wildlife Reserve: Interview

Bertrand Lafrance, Founder and President, Discover and Aid Nature (DECAN) Wildlife Reserve

Interview: Bertrand Lafrance

What can be done to further the development of ecotourism in Djibouti?

BERTRAND LAFRANCE: When talking about tourism in Djibouti, it is important to make the distinction between regular tourism and ecotourism. In ecotourism the core thinking behind these efforts is to use the revenues made from attracting visitors to reinvest locally in protection of the country’s nature. The challenge is that regular tourism business operators - characterized by large-scale investments, do not take into consideration the importance of protecting the environment in their development strategies. To expand the Djiboutian ecotourism sector and prevent the extinction of animals and plants, which has happened at an alarming speed over the past decades, more efforts have to be made to stop the fragmentation of wildlife living areas. It is now important to create protected areas and parks, and connect these to each other in order to allow for wildlife to move freely. This implies more cooperation within the COMESA framework to establish wildlife corridors between countries. In order to further develop ecotourism, two eco-camps have recently been created in the south of Djibouti, which will be soon be able to host around 25 people per camp. Close to 700 people have already made use of the first of these camps. As most tourism facilities have been created in the north, the focus should now be on developing the infrastructure in the southern areas of the country and the coast.

How can education play a constructive role in protecting the environment?

LAFRANCE: Along with the government, we have stopped all forms of animal trafficking in order to guarantee the survival of wildlife that would otherwise be extinct such as the cheetah, and we now aim to educate current generations in the country about the importance of wildlife preservation. Young Djiboutians should be aware of the natural richness of this country and how to best maintain it. Our wildlife reserves welcome between 2000 and 5000 pupils a year as part of their educational programme at primary and secondary school. By informing future generations of how the country has developed in terms of wildlife and what is necessary to protect it, Djiboutians will become more familiar with the natural history of their country. We protect better what we know and what we care for. Also in terms of practical education, it is important to strengthen cooperation with the biology department of the University of Djibouti in order to train ecological experts who can play a leading role in safeguarding environmental standards. These same Djiboutians must fight against any form of pollution that threatens the expansion of the tourism industry, but also for reasons related to public health and a respect for the country’s nature.

What can be done to attract further investment in the tourism sector?

LAFRANCE: Air transport costs should be lowered in order to make Djibouti a destination that is accessible for travellers from across the world. There is a potential for more investment in the sector once more visibility of the country abroad has been created. Djibouti is one of the few places where, only a stone’s throw away from the capital, one can feel completely disconnected from city life. It is therefore a destination that can combine different types of leisure.

Sites of national importance should be much better protected in order to fully optimise their touristic potential, and should be monitored by a national inspection board. Luxury is increasingly being defined as solitude and the experience of staying in an untouched environment – Djibouti should capitalise on this. The challenge for the Djiboutian tourism sector is to become a stable source of revenue, while at the same time attracting responsible investment that is sustainable and also respects the environment.

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Bertrand Lafrance

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The Report: Djibouti 2016

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