NGOs in Asian countries, all these years, have commonly depended on funding from donor agencies, charitable institutions, and government ministries for their own administration and for conducting programs related to their local context. In the past, these donor/NGO relationships generally worked well for nonprofit, non-governmental organizations. However, in recent years, NGOs have been witnessing a marked decrease in available grants and other funding from both overseas and local donors, and when the support ends, the projects comes to a halt.
In the above context, discussions were held in Emmaus Asia Regional meetings since 2008 regarding how Emmaus Associations in Asia could move towards self sustainability. The Board of Emmaus Asia was of the opinion that if available resources with Asian groups be utilized productively, it will greatly help to generate income, eventually leading the groups to develop the future projects independent of any external support, and thus free them from their present state of dependence on uncertain sources of funding.
With the times and the support from Emmaus International, the concept of Eco Tourism emerged, which has gradually developed as an alternative source of income generation programme for the groups. It aims to educate visitors on the alternatives established by Asian groups in the field of education, water, sustainable agriculture, health, women empowerment, ethical finance, recycling & alternative energy, and also on the importance of the protecting natural resources as well as local cultural and artistic practices. There is also a growing interest in visiting tropical forest, mangrove forest, bird sanctuaries and wild life sanctuaries among the tourists.
Asian groups wanted to utilize this opportunity of the growing shift in interest among tourists from visit to urban cities, & from historical places to development projects, and make them understand the impact of development initiatives established by them in the last 25 years. Thus the idea of developing Eco tourism program emerged as part of income generation programme.
o Infrastructure facilities in Asian groups have been developed & well equipped, for the visitors & tourists to have a comfortable stay.
o Eco tourism program has been publicized through known networks and through digital media.
o Staff members have been given training on receiving guests, and in accompanying them during their visits.
o Villagers & local community were trained and made aware to host the visitors.
o School and colleges students were made aware about the concept of Eco Tourism.
o Various new places were explored to organize the tours for international as well as national visitors.
o Development alternatives established by group have been documented.
o Groups in Asia have developed more leaflets & brochures explaining the infrastructure & other facilities available in their groups, and the development alternatives established by them.
o A common Regional Eco tourism brochure has been developed in 3 languages.
Staff members of Emmaus groups in Asia, and volunteers & students associated with the groups.
Asian groups work in contact with the Tourism department & with neighbouring NGO’s in their country, and also with their known networks at local, national & international level to attract more visitors, tourists & companions to their communities.
Almost all the Emmaus groups in Asia have more than 15 years of experience in providing hospitality and facilitating Eco tourism and Developmental tourism. 90% of the tourists who visit the member organizations in Asia come mainly from France, Finland, Sweden and UK. The facilities that have been developed to provide food, accommodation and local transport to the visiting guests haves been developed and maintained with the contribution from the guests, visitors & tourists.
With the support received from Emmaus International since 2009 and from Emmaus Montbeliard from 2012 to 2015, member groups in Asia have now well improved their facilities & infrastructures for the guests to have a comfortable stay.
In 2014, a Regional Eco tourism brochure has been developed in French, English & Spanish versions with details of the member group hosting the tour, the tourist destinations, visit to community projects, activities guest could be involved during their stay, skills expected from volunteers during their stay with the group, and other practical information like food and accommodation tariffs.
In 2015, Emmaus Asia has given a call to Emmaus groups worldwide calling for guests to visit the Eco tourist spots and developmental alternatives in Asia, and explore that another world is possible. Now, tourists, students, volunteers and companions from Emmaus groups in Europe & UK have started visiting & staying with Asian groups under Eco tourism program, and are expecting more visitors in coming years.
Attaining self sufficiency is a long term vision. The programme like Eco tourism is one of the tools to achieve that vision. Now Asian groups are more involved in working towards self sustainability, and are planning to further develop their existing available infrastructure & transport facilities by installing solar panels in their guesthouse, & by purchasing vehicles for the use of guests who visit the groups under Eco Tourism Programme.
Creating viable alternatives and models is important to share with Eco tourists. Establishing the chain of “Emmaus Eco tourism centers” in Asia Regional level is a long term vision.
The visitors to the groups under Eco tourism programme has increased, but not considerably. At the moment and in the past, the number of guests that each member group in Asia received annually is between 30 to 50 guests. However there is a potential to receive more than 20 guests every month, and annually could receive 200 guests in the spread over period of 9 months, when the weather in Asia is very conducive.
This process of making an attempt of increasing the number of guests by another 50% would contribute in enhancing the income of the member organization and the local communities, and could also share with the people in Europe associated with Emmaus, the impact of Emmaus solidarity initiatives.
Further this Eco tourism program also gives opportunity for people in other side of the world to know the life style and ground realities of the people in Asia, and also makes it possible to learn the culture from both sides.
People visiting Asian groups have also mobilized small grants for some of their projects, and they also share with people in Europe when they are back, to go and visit Emmaus communities in Asia, thereby bringing more visitors. Also it has given opportunity for groups in Asia to sell some of their products to Emmaus groups in Europe & UK.
ECO TOURISM programme is important for Asia for following reasons – Volunteers, companions and people associated with Emmaus in other continents when they visit Asian groups, it creates opportunity for them to stay and learn the grassroot level issues & alternatives established by Asian groups, thereby deepens their insights on the impact of Emmaus Solidarity support. This would also in turn contribute in increasing the voluntary participation of Emmaus supporters when they return back to their respective countries.
Secondly, their contribution towards food, accommodation & local transport enhances the income of the member organizations in Asia.
Finally, it also provides livelihood opportunities for the local communities involved in the Program.
We're looking for new partners to enhance the Eco tourism programme, and to bring more visitors in future.