Sustainability and Shikoku Tours
Sustainability and Shikoku Tours
Sustainability means different things to different people, depending on the situation they find themselves in. Currently in Japan, much noise is being made about SDGs – Social Development Goals, focusing on issues like carbon footprints and women in the workforce. Here in Shikoku however, there are more pressing, more visceral issues, such as whether the society and culture will even survive.
Shikoku Tours got started in the rural outskirts of Matsuyama in the home of the founder, who built his house with sustainability in mind. Heavily insulated and solar powered, there was provision for composting kitchen waste in the garden and beds for growing vegetables. The house was surrounded by well-tended citrus groves. However, a decade later, the farmers who tended the citrus groves have all given up with old age or died. What was until recently prime agricultural land is now forest inhabited by wild boar. The collapsing houses of the deceased farmers are home to palm civets. Even monkeys are occasionally seen on the edges of the neighbourhood. All of these furry friends encroach on what remains of the agriculture. This situation applies all over Shikoku. The few elderly hunters left can’t keep up with the growing non-human population.
During Covid, the human population of Shikoku got by somehow, mainly by drawing down their business activities. Now that visitors are retuning, reviving these activities is a serious challenge. Nevertheless, everyone with a pulse wants to do whatever they can to restore some semblance of normality.
Shikoku Tours was founded with the intention of conserving the culture of the island by giving it tangible value – the value of visitors from overseas paying to come and experience it. This includes not only the main tourist sights, which will be looked after anyway. The idea was to help conserve some of the less celebrated but nevertheless valuable things – the old farmhouses and townhouses, the wooden street furniture, the enamelled advertisements from last century. In our little way, we’re succeeding in our intention. As we expected, visitors are enchanted by these things, and the fact that we’re attracting visitors to the island gives us a voice in calling for better conservation of Shikoku’s unique beauty.
Sometimes when we have business meetings with overseas travel agents, they ask us, “How many female directors do you have?”, “What environmental standards do you require of hotels and other suppliers?”, “What sustainability certification do you have?”. The answer to these and other similar questions is “None”. If we had the money to spend on sustainability certification, we’d spend it on buying and refurbishing a beautiful old building. Or we’d spend it on training a young guide who, chances are, would be female. These are the pressing issues of Shikoku, not expensive certifications. Nevertheless, Shikoku Tours is working towards meeting the certification criteria of Travelife, the leading training, management and certification initiative for tourism companies committed to reaching sustainability.
There are many genuine issues relating to the sustainability of Shikoku that we face in our business. Here are just some of them, and what Shikoku Tours is doing to address them.
- There’s a dire shortage of accommodation in Shikoku, but what accommodation there is isn’t configured for sustainability. We’re always looking for opportunities to discuss with the owners how to reduce heating and cooling of rooms. Although much of the food in accommodation is sourced locally, typically too much is provided, and we encourage owners to reduce food loss.
- The public transport network in Shikoku is inconvenient, so for practical reasons, we generally use motor vehicles. But we always consider how to achieve maximum efficiency in our operations, and we ask drivers to stop idling and other deleterious practices.
- Many people see a bright future for themselves in tourism, but they lack the full skill set required to find employment immediately. Shikoku Tours understands that these candidates need some help to gain the necessary experience, and we seek to provide a path that will enable them to achieve professional status as guides or coordinators while they manage their other commitments.
- We receive enquiries from people who are interested in different models of travel such as immersive, long stays, and we constantly seek to develop solutions for them, because we’re sure that meeting their needs will benefit the people of Shikoku too.
For Shikoku Tours, dealing with the issues right under our noses is the key to sustainability, at least for Shikoku.