Castara Retreats’ sustainable principles on Tobago
The purpose of this section is to inform our guests seeking a beach holiday in Tobago about our commitment to an ethical and healthy form of tourism that adds value to the local economy and is purposely designed to ensure as many local people as possible have a stake in the successful story that is Castara Retreats. This includes information on some of the issues that need attention to ensure that a visit to Castara Retreats has a positive impact on the local environment, community, and economy.
Tobago has recently been voted as one of the top ten destinations for eco-tourism! “A world away from the all-inclusive resorts, feel the rhythm of the real Caribbean in Tobago. And nowhere else in the Caribbean offers such a diversity of wildlife and habitats in such a compact area.”
Responsible Travel, 2014.
Our intention is to provide information that we hope will enable you to make informed decisions about the impact of your holidays in Tobago. We have worked steadily in creating Castara Retreats as a worthwhile example of sustainable tourism where the value of sharing opportunities with others underpins so much of what we do and how we go about things with our immediate partners who are involved on site as well as the wider community that provides services and goods. As we explain below, we feel we have good reason to describe ourselves as a Tobago Eco Resort based on our commitment to involve local people at all levels in our tourist enterprise and we hope that anyone seeking a holiday centre based such sustainable approaches will make their way to our door.
Where did this journey start?
When we first started on this venture of creating quality accommodations in Tobago, we were simply working from instinct rather than from any clear idea of sustainable tourism or eco accommodation in Tobago. We met Porridge and his friend Sherwin through buying fish from them on the beach and we became friends. So when Porridge found us a plot of land and he and Sherwin asked to build the house, our first promise was that we would not let the business aspect of this get in the way of our friendship. We were also conscious that Castara Retreats would adjoin and overlook the village and we did not want it to be ostentatious or out of scale with the feel of the village. So we opted for a simple wooden structure and a green roof. Then we started to think about who was going to support the needs of our guests, and we asked Porridge and his wife Jeanell to manage the property and support our guests. And that is how Porridge started his daily routine of knocking on the door each day and asking guests if there was anything he can help with.
Local people and services
We were surprised that guests found their way to us so quickly, and before long, a neighbour was cooking meals for their arrival. In the months that followed many more services evolved from local people, including barbeques on request, boat trips, home cooking services, rainforest walks, and fishing. And in return our guests found that when they went to the village, that they were warmly received and we knew then that this was a good approach, where what we do at Castara Retreats is linked to people in the village. It was also apparent that many guests valued this approach, and they in turn offered support by telling their friends
Guests were patient when things went wrong and measured us against something other than what they would expect in a typical hotel. They saw what we saw, which is that Castara and its people are special and we need to walk gently to help ensure that the local culture remains intact and healthy.
From those early beginnings we have continued to feel inspired by Castara and privileged to be welcomed by the community. Castara Retreats guests seem to feel similarly and they say so over and over again in internet based forums, in our visitors’ books and in emails. And this has caused us to think more deeply about what we are involved in, and to take steps to ensure that Castara Retreats plays its part in protecting and enhancing what we found. In this sense we have become more conscious of what sustainable tourism and eco accommodation in Tobago actually involves, and we are increasingly committed to evolving as a Caribbean eco resort that takes a responsible approach to the development and management of our enterprise. This is our way of acknowledging the wholesome way that the people of Castara have impacted on us and many of our guests: the work/leisure balance that they achieve is one that Westerners would do well to emulate. Our policy follows:
- Our aim is to design and construct accommodation that “lives in the landscape” and is in harmony with the surrounding rainforest and the village. We opted for simple wooden eco structures with green roofs.
- We committed to working with local people, mainly from Castara, to build the accommodation. Whilst the style of the lodges is unique and not found elsewhere in Tobago, we ensured that the construction process was local and derived from local custom and practice. Some 30 to 40 people from the village have helped build the lodges and to install plumbing and electrics.
- We are committed to ensuring that there is a benefit to the local economy. Porridge and Jeanell are our partners and we offer long term employment to gardeners and a team of ladies who clean and prepare the rooms.
- We have supported local people, who work with us and many who do not, to set up their own satellite tourist services that create livelihoods for them that are independent of ourselves. We have given advice and support including loans and gifts to several local people who have wanted to start a tourist related business to make a living.
- In response to feedback from guests, we have opened a bar and restaurant in partnership with local people, creating an improved income for them and employment for additional staff. This ensures that the economic benefits of visitors are shared around even within the confines of Castara Retreats. We have noticed that the level of poverty has visibly decreased in the village in the past 10 years.
- Everyone working at Castara Retreats is involved in discussions on the importance of protecting the environment, and on our philosophy of sharing the opportunities with others.
- The vast bulk of services and products required at Castara Retreats are purchased locally. All the in situ staff are local and all maintenance and repairs are carried out by local tradesmen.
- We donate to the local school and chapels and have sponsored the football team. We work with our neighbour, Dorn and her son Taharka, who live on the beach, to create better awareness of the need of sustainable tourism in Tobago and how to protect the rainforest, the reefs, and the related plants, insects, fish, birds and animals. For instance, turtles regularly lay eggs on the beach and Dorn and Taharka now help to protect them, and alert our clients to such visits.
- Most importantly, it is our policy to continue this journey and to work with others within our team, the village and the island, to share ideas and to collaborate on how best to protect and sustain things for future generations.