Tourism should empower, not exploit.
Many of the most remarkable, diverse, and stunning communities on earth depend heavily on tourism to support their economy. These are the same communities that are also most vulnerable to exploitation by mass tourism practices that prioritize profits over the integrity of the local environment, culture, and community.
Bridge the Gap Villages will correct this imbalance, connecting indigenous peoples at risk of exploitation by mainstream tourism operations to the tools and education they need to promote their own sustainable community and economic development, cultural pride and preservation, and environmental conservation.
Our first partner community is the Mali tribe on Vorovoro Island, Fiji, a community that we have been closely connected to for over 3 years now and with whom we instigated the development of this joint venture.
Meet Vorovoro Island, Fiji
The tourism industry is among the world's largest and fastest growing sectors and is increasingly steadily despite economic challenges. In Fiji, the tourism industry is also booming - but the more than 60% of tourism earnings in Fiji leak back into foreign-owned companies, and poverty as more than doubled in the last 25 years, despite the increasing number of visitors.
In the rural paradise of Vorovoro Island, Fiji, few job opportunities exist. Most people from the villages live a subsistence-base lifestyle supplemented by income from fishing and farming. It’s an unpredictable and unstable way to make a living, and one that is worsening the already significant damage caused to local marine ecosystems by over-fishing.
Vorovoro Island is located in northern Fiji, far from from the mass tourism hub associated with southern Fiji. This region's pristine, rugged beauty and rich culture make it perfect for eco-tourism development, and the Fijian government is actively working to promote efforts in this direction.
The landowning clan of Vorovoro Island is proud and eager to strengthen their community’s economic situation by sharing their island’s unique lifestyle, beauty and hospitality with visitors from around the world and—but they don't want to compromise the integrity of their culture, land, or way of life to do it.
In addition, the people aspire to be more than wage-earning employees of a tourism operation: they want to acquire the skills needed to take on managerial and ownership responsibilities; they want to learn how to be business owners; and they want to empower others in their community to do the same.
By using a non-exploitative business model that we plan to make open and available to others, Bridge the Gap Villages addresses the common problems that plague most “sustainable” tourism projects, while amplifying the benefit throughout the world.
Bridge the Gap Villages will empower the native Fijian community of Vorovoro Island to harness the power of their international tourism potential in sustainable ways by:
1) Partnering with the Vorovoro community to establish a small-scale, community-based eco-tourism destination that the community will gradually learn to own and operate for themselves.
2) Connecting the Vorovoro community with culturally relevant business education and mentorship opportunities that will support future business development endeavors in their community and beyond.
We will help our Fijian partners become ready to assume ownership of the tourism project by connecting them to business education, training, and mentorship along every step of the way.
And using a dynamic business model that incorporates the employment experience with cultural and vocational apprenticeship, business education, and mentorship, we will help empower the local community to pursue and achieve their goals of generating sustainable income through small business ownership.
We believe in doing more than just inviting communities to a seat at the table of the tourism industry. We help them find their voice, so that they can become part of the driving force in the dialogue.
In 2009, we left the lack luster security of the “American Dream” behind & stepped into creating a life where we supported our family through work that was meaningful & fulfilling. As a springboard, we traveled with our 3 kids to Vorovoro Island, Fiji to participate in an volun-tourism project. Vorovoro soon felt like home to us, and the Fijian family we worked with adopted our family as an extension of their own. We accepted project manager positions for the next year, and Vorovoro became a part of who we are.
Vorovoro Island debuted as a community volun-tourism project through another company in 2006. During the 4 year period during which that project was active, the people of Vorovoro refined a unique and incredibly popular visitor's experience that emphasized community and culture.
When it came time to return to the States in Nov. 2010, we did so with a heavy heart & an earnest promise to the chiefly land-owning family of Vorovoro to return to help them fulfill their vision for Vorovoro & their community: A community based tourism operation that they could own & operate, where they could continue to share their lives & culture with curious international travelers while conserving the traditions & the land they hold most sacred.
After 2 years of hard work developing our plans, we are well on our way to fulfilling our promise. We've forged a formal partnership with the people of Vorovoro and have jointly developed a plan that is rooted in empowering the local community as business owners, utilizing business education and mentorship.
We've begun to put ourselves & our ideas out there in front of people who can help us make it happen. Our business plan & investment deck are solid, our team is motivated & optimistic, and our Fijian partners are ready to get to work.
Why We Will Succeed:
Hands on experience. Thanks to our previous experience of working & living on Vorovoro, our team has a solid understanding of the nuances of the Vorovoro community.
Careful planning. Our plans are well developed, realistic, & based on the actual needs & desires of the Vorovoro community. We have also absorbed the learnings of recent opportunities for improvement on the island.
Perfect timing. Our target markets are stable and expanding quickly alongside responsible travel trends.
Engaged support. Our plans have the full support of the Fijian government, and our partner community is highly motivated and capable.
Guidance. We have a diverse & relevant Advisory Board on whom we can rely for ongoing guidance & support.
Open minds. We realize that the best ideas are often brought to fruition through a willingness to consider other points of view.
Who is Bridge the Gap Villages?
We are a dynamic team of professionals who are united over a shared connection to the community of Vorovoro. We have all spent extensive time living & working there, and believe in their potential to reach their dreams of business ownership. We have pooled our collective professional resources & skills to create BTGV to assist our Fijian friends in creating the most stable future possible for their island and community.
Below is a peek into who we are, but please click HERE to read our full bios. Vinaka!
Jimmy & Jenny Cahill
BTG Villages Founders and Directors
"Our professional experience in business & eco-tourism management enable us to run this program smoothly & effectively. We lived & worked with the Vorovoro community for over a year in 2009-2010. We've developed strong working & personal relationships with the Fijian community & local culture, which enables us to successfully communicate & facilitate within the Fijian community in ways that work well within the local traditions and culture."
Senior Advisor & Social Innovation Strategist
"Initially, I visited Vorovoro to test hands-on ideas about sustainable living. I have returned again & again because of the natural beauty, the vibrant community, and the chance to share lessons across our global village using my expertise in social and digital media and emerging platforms."
"I spent 2 years living on the Vorovoro & managed the on-island project prior to the Cahills. During that time I reached a peak state of happiness and I’m honored to use my professional creative skills and energies to help other people reach a similar experience – the Fijian culture has so much to offer the world."
Web Copywriter & Guest Support
"I am a traveller, a teacher & a writer of books. Vorovoro was meant to be one of many stops I'd make while traveling and writing in the Pacific. Instead it became the one stop that not only defined my travels but changed my life. Now married into the the Fijian family, I care deeply about the future of the island & can't wait to help other travelers to find their way there."