Let your thoughts drift away and picture island dreamscapes that hold the promise of an enthralling exile.
A unifying concept
Patches of unspoilt nature, bright-feathered birds singing their heart out from the tops of tropical trees, white-powdered beaches as far as the eye can see, mighty mountains and growling volcanoes… Indian Ocean islands stand as paragons thereof. The Comoros, a piece of heaven in the Mozambique Channel; Madagascar, home to one of the richest faunae in the world; Mauritius, a tropical paradise; Reunion, the accessible magic; Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands. And let’s not forget Mayotte, Rodrigues, Nosy Be and Sainte Marie.
The concept of Vanilla Islands was launched in 2010 by representatives of the Tourist Offices and tourist authorities of the region, to allow visitors to experience the beauty of the Indian Ocean’s flagship islands and feel their pulse under the twist of the tides and the south-east trade winds. Created to bring both the common assets and the inherent specificities of each island to the fore, this joint partnership aims at dealing with the growing influx of tourists and meeting the expectations of new customers (BRICS). Vanilla has been aptly chosen as the emblem for the islands’ natural, gastronomic and touristic wealth and for the launch of the regional brand under a common banner.
Ecotourism: the future of the Vanilla Islands
Often cited in the tales of seamen travelling to India, Indian Ocean islands have fuelled many colourful stories about edenic far lands, where the islanders’ hedonist lifestyle and vibrant accents sounded like an ode to pleasure and diversity… Today, the fantastic tales have been shaded by another story: that of a fragile biodiversity in the face of global warming. Since ecotourism has become a fast-growing trend over the world, market operators, who have come together under the “Vanilla Islands” brand, can now build up on a green approach to boost their attractiveness.
What started as a marketing concept for the development of inter-island tourism is now a well-established mechanism that pools the resources and expertise of each island nation, while supporting the integration of sustainable development strategies. With the combination of destinations, visiting several islands on a single trip is encouraged, as it unmistakably contributes to reduce the environmental impact. As the Indian Ocean Commission emphasized,
Tourism remains one of the most important pillars of our islands’ economy
Therefore, with the support of partners such as the European Union and the French Development Agency, we are setting up programs for the conservation and valorisation of local biodiversity and coastal ecosystems. The environment and culture of Indianoceania lie at the heart of the regional tourism offer.
In order to provide visitors with close access to fascinating landscapes while raising their awareness on the preservation of such vulnerable ecosystems, Vanilla islands foster integration to local life. This is indeed the best way to discover the endemic wildlife, the intangible heritage and the mixed local population, which compose a unique palette. Such heritage could no longer be shared, had the degradation or total depletion of natural resources and treasures taken its course.
This has certainly led to the commitment to cultivate such assets, but in a sustainable and pleasurable way: through the enjoyment of nature’s generous gifts, the choice to avoid pollution and the desire to mingle with the local population. With one accord, the Vanilla islands offer holiday packages for all tastes, be it a nature trip including accommodation in ecolodges or country lodges for the most adventurous, an all-inclusive family getaway including scenic excursions, or a honeymoon in a luxury beach resort coupled with a sensational cruise. Every traveller will find his dream vacation with the possibility to combine at least two island destinations.
There are also a great variety of ecotourism activities. Marine turtle sighting, where visitors can observe the egg laying and the migration of baby turtles to the sea, or mangrove restoration with a local organisation in Morondava (Madagascar) as a form of solidarity tourism are some examples. In a similar vein, events are organised under the Vanilla Islands brand, bringing forward each country’s cultural capital with a touch of conviviality: the International Tourism Fair (ITM) in Madagascar, the Kreol festival in Mauritius, the Seychelles Carnival, the Liberté Métisse Festival in Reunion, the Heritage and Culture festival in the Comoros and the Mayotte Lagoon Festival.
A popular song by Reunionese songstress Jacqueline Farreyrol spontaneously comes to our minds: “Ça sent la banane, la vanille et le cumin, le sucre de canne, la mangue et le tamarin*…” That’s how life on our islands feels like, whether on land or at sea, and it definitely has the taste of vanilla.
*Lit. “Smells like banana, vanilla and cumin, cane sugar, mango and tamarind”.
By Brinda Venkaya Reichert (original version in French)