Mission impossible for BBC’s Amazing Hotel?

The stark, modern lines of the Fogo Island Inn (fogoislandinn.ca) butting up against the wild weather and remote environment in Newfoundland have created many a dramatic image across the pages of glossy magazines, but the BBC’s Amazing Hotels programme revealed Fogo Island’s mission ‘Beyond the Lobby’ is urgent.

Flirtatious wag Giles Coren and former Masterchef Professionals presenter and chef Monica Galetti shone an unexpected light onto the issue of how a dwindling rural community is pinning its hope for survival on a new visionary tourism project.

In the last three decades, Fogo Island’s population has dropped by half to 3,000 and self-made millionaire Zita Cobb has created a 29 room luxury boutique hotel – a beacon of style that blends local furnishings, fresh food picked from the island and fish plucked from the sea with world-class design.

The community once thrived on a lucrative fishing industry, but overfishing created economic emigration, and despite fish stocks recovering, few wanted to return to a harsh environment where hurricane strength winds are a norm, winter temperatures average out at about minus 7°C and the career prospects restricted to fish. That’s not even mentioning the frankly limited gene pool.

But the Fogo tale strikes a familiar tone, and is one of the most recent examples where a visionary (sometimes a self-made millionaire returning to much-loved roots) aims to shore up a dying community with a ‘Grand Design’ tourism project, the profits from which will benefit the local economy, attract outside talent and persuade the younger generation to stay.

Whether Zita will complete her mission remains to be seen, but she should take comfort in the fact that other projects across the globe have enjoyed success.

‘Captain Vassilis’ Constantakopoulos, shipowner and entrepreneur, who set up one of the world’s biggest shipping companies, returned to Messinia in the southwest of the Peloponnese in Greece to build Costa Navarino (costanavarino.com), a high-end sustainable resort that would allow guests from all over the world to explore the natural beauty, history and traditions of the area, while at the same time creating jobs that would enable Messinians to stay in their homeland or even return. Costa Navarino has attracted global plaudits, not only for its beauty, but for its success in delivering a high-quality five star, sustainable product in a stunning environment.

Similarly, one of the first Travel Foundation projects – the Cyprus Village Routes excursions project - implemented by First Choice, Thomas Cook and Thomson/TUI – was created to support rural inland villages, where young people had been attracted to the developments of the coast. SAVE – or ‘Support Abandoned Villages and Their Environment’ went from strength to strength triggering the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (http://csti-cyprus.org/?page_id=63), which today continues the development of the village routes for car rental tourists wanting to explore the real Cyprus.

To those who live in hectic, crowded urban environments, full of traffic and noise, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to leave those beautiful ‘untouched’ environments, but scratch the surface, and it’s not difficult to understand that life in these areas not so long ago, was hard, impoverished and boring. New investment by creative visionaries, in the form of exciting, tourism projects are not only examples of good practice in sustainable terms, but vitally important lifelines.

Good luck Zita Cobb and Fogo Island Inn!

Images from left to right:

1. Abriendo Mentes, Costa Rica, Copyright KateHood.com
2. Nuevas Esperanzas, Nicaragua 
3. Vidarte Space, Brazil