MEDA support helps Ecolodge provide employment for Bedouin community
5 minute read
Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan —
Making a living in southern Jordan’s remote desert is not an easy task.
The Feynan Ecolodge, an environmentally-friendly tourist destination in a nature reserve, makes that a lot easier for people who live here.
At least 80 families, a total of 400 people, benefit directly or indirectly from the off-the-grid EcoLodge, whose 26 rooms can accommodate 60 guests.
Staff and suppliers, full or part-time, are members of the local community.
Lodge employees, 40 drivers who provide shuttle transportation, Bedouin tour guides, bakers and suppliers of food and other goods are among those benefiting from Feynan’s operation. Most food purchases, vegetarian in keeping with the local diet, come from within 18.6 miles (30 km) of the lodge, to try and keep benefits as local as possible.
There is a candle workshop onsite where local women produce candles that are used to supply light at the lodge, and a leather workshop. The lodge is working to develop economic projects predominantly focused on women, who live in a traditional, patriarchal society.
The lodge was started to sustain the community “but it’s the community that sustains this place,” says Nabil Tarazi, founder and managing director of the EcoHotels firm that operates Feynan.
Visitors keep “coming here for the experience, and that’s what the community gives. A very rich, authentic experience that you can only have at Feynan.”
People who are fortunate enough to enjoy Feynan hospitality plan ahead. Getting to the Ecolodge involves a three-hour bus ride from the capital, Amman, a transfer of luggage to pickup trucks, and another 35 minutes or so bouncing along winding, rocky paths. While the lodge is less than 19 miles from the world-renowned Petra heritage site as the crow flies, arriving by roads requires travelling twice the distance.
The lodge was opened in 2005 by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).
Jordan’s approach to conservation is unique. In most countries, conservation is conducted by a government agency. In Jordan, this is done by the RCSN, a non-governmental organization.
The RSCN was founded by hunters, who realized in 1966 that there was nothing left to hunt. Named the royal society because of the Jordanian King’s patronage, it got the mandate to run nature reserves and has grown to 320 employees. It currently oversees 10 protected nature reserves throughout the country, with another six proposed.
RSCN started developing tourism ventures in its protected areas in 1994. “Helping nature, helping people” is the RSCN tagline.
The organization adopted eco-tourism as a tool for conservation. Income generated from tourism goes to conservation work and economic opportunities for the surrounding communities, largely impoverished areas.
A few years after the RCSN launched Feynan, Nabil Tarazi started his EcoHotels company and partnered with RSCN to run the ecolodge.
He recognized that since the lodge had few activities, visitors were unlikely to stay more than one night. So, he worked to change the site from a hotel to a destination with things for people to do once they arrived (see story, pg. 14)
“We’re not a charity, we’re a business,” he said. “But we’re a social business that cares about the environment.”
The lodge aims to show that eco-tourism is a viable alternative to mining.
Roughly half of revenue paid by guests stays in the local community, not including amounts that go back to RSCN for its conservation work.
UM Khalid, a 29-year-old Bedouin mother of six who lives a 10-minute walk from the lodge, runs a bakery business out of her goatherd tent.
She has supplied bread to the lodge since 2005, earning a profit of between 300 and 400 or 500 Jordanian dinar a month ($424, $565, or $706 USD) by working three hours a day, depending on the season. That is well above the Jordanian minimum wage of about 210 JD a month for a full-time job.
Supplying the lodge has changed her life, she said. That income has helped her to put photo-voltaic cells on her goat herd tent. Those panels provide electricity for a washing machine, a machine that assists in making butter, and light for her children to study at night.
Solar power helps her family enjoy modern comforts while still living in the rural area rather than moving to the city.
With her additional income, she has also switched to propane gas for making bread, which is cleaner than the wood-burning stove she previously used.
MEDA’s Jordan Valley Links project, which is funded by the Government of Canada, provided Feynan with a grant to install a larger solar system at the ecolodge. Limited cooling and refrigeration during hot summer months meant few visitors and little work for the community up to five months of the year.
Each summer, a desert site 1,148 feet (350 metres) above sea level gets extremely hot and uncomfortable. Tarazi was forced to post warnings to that effect on the Feynan website, depressing lodge occupancy to single-digit levels.
Feynan previously had a solar system that would generate 18-20 KwH of energy a day, enough to power only lightbulbs in bathrooms and two small refrigerators. A new system that went live last August is six times the size. It can generate 120KWh of energy daily, powering fans in each guest room and six additional fridges and freezers. Water for showers is also solar heated.
Feynan is now getting tour bookings for the month of June, which never ever happened before, Tarazi said. “We’re open for business in the summer.”
MEDA’s assistance will allow Feynan to increase employment, support the development of more micro-businesses targeting women and youth, and increase environmental awareness and education, he said.
That could lead Tarazi to add another eight or nine full-time employees to the current 22 staff.
The larger impact will be in developing the ecosystem of micro-businesses that provide services to the lodge and its guests, he said. ◆