ST. GEORGE’S, GRENADA-International delegates visiting the Grenada for the 3rd Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism had the opportunity to visit La Sagesse Nature Center, the island”s first sustainable tourism project.
La Sagesse Nature Center features a boutique hotel with 12 rooms, a restaurant and a beach bar. The property also has nature trails, thick mangroves, a salt-pond bird sanctuary and a palm-tree lined beach. The group of delegates met with manager Jerry Rappaport, a native New Yorker who has lived on the island for the last 15 years. He gave an overview of the center, the sustainable practices used at the property and the challenges faced in trying to maintain those practices since it’s opening in 1987.
“When they (Mike & Nancy Meranski) first started La Sagesse, all tourism on the island existed on down by Grand Anse, Lance Aux Epines and True Blue,” said Rappaport. “There was no tourism up in this part of the island. Everybody thought that Mike and Nancy were crazy.” Despite the criticisms, Mike and Nancy went ahead with their plans and were successful. They started by cleaning up the beach and planted trees including coconut palms and sea almonds. From there they started out with just two rooms and eventually grew to the 12-room boutique hotel that guests enjoy today.
From the beginning La Sagesse made conscious efforts to be part of and support the surrounding community. They hire all their staff from the local community and buy fish and produce from local fisherman and famers. “The way we fit in, in the community besides hiring everybody from the area is we buy local, I mean we have an organic farm up in the mountains now, but we still continue to buy a fair amount of produce from local farmers,” Rappaport said.
Other ways La Sagesse supports the local community include providing water and ice for people in the community who come down to the beach to cook food and “lime” (hangout) and featuring the work of local artists like Maureen St. Clair in the restaurant. According to Rappaport, St. Clair’s art sales at La Sagesse have been so successful that she was able to build a new home for her family.
La Sagesse prides itself on community involvement and having a low environmental impact. “We are constantly working to lower our environmental impact at La Sagesse,” Rappaport said. “We are presently working on an energy project that will include a grid assisted solar system and the transition to LED lights”. In addition, low flow faucets, showerheads and toilets will be installed throughout the property.
The nature center also works to protect endangered species like the leatherback turtle, but on a small island where more than 30 percent of people are unemployed, “it’s hard to convince someone that something is endangered when they feel their family is endangered”. What La Sagesse does is provide money in exchange for the agreement to release endangered species like the leatherback turtle back into the sea.
La Sagesse’s involvement in the community is something that delegates like Judy Karwacki, President of Small Planet, a sustainable tourism development consulting company, really appreciates and feels is a great example for others in the region to follow. “ La Sagesse is absolutely a gem and really a model for sustainable tourism in Grenada and really in the region,” Karwacki said. “It really shows how a resort can be part of the community and fit in and also be more than that.” She added that the importance of coastal tourism and innovation cannot be understated in the region. She said a concerted effort should be made to attend these kind of conferences and to take action after them.
Rappaport says he gets a lot of satisfaction everyday from what he does and as a foreigner living on the island it is important that he gives back to the place where he makes a living. “People don’t get up and say I want to go to the Spice Island. Instead they say I want to go somewhere beautiful with sun and sand or they want to go somewhere that has something else to offer. We have to market it that way”!