Geertje is Challenge Coordinator of the Sustainable Tourism Challenge, SEVEN SENSES certified Participatory Action Researcher and PAR-trainer. She studied International Sustainable Development Cooperation at HAN University of Applied Sciences and International Tourism Management and Consultancy at the NHTV Breda. During her field work and traveling experiences, she discovered the potential of improving the intercultural exchange between tourists and locals and its impact on the livelihoods of the locals, as well as on local flora and fauna.
“Visitors are often unaware of the social consequences of their visit and communication with locals. When intercultural communication between tourists and locals is based on mutual understanding and respect, this will have a huge impact on sustainable tourism and local livelihoods!”
From when I was a teenager I’ve been interested in social behavior, group dynamics and community initiatives. I started getting involved in these projects and actively supporting them. Next to that I started on getting a taste of traveling and I loved it, getting connected to new people, looking into other points of view, and curious about different ways of live and new contexts. I’ve challenged myself since then in experiencing different ways of living all over the world, in western as well as developing countries, to learn from these experiences and explore personal growth. That is my path on how I came to study International Tourism Management & Consultancy at first and after this my degree in Social Studies: Art therapy with a Minor in International Sustainable Development Cooperation.
I experienced myself the negative influence that growing tourism can have on a local community in a developing country. In 2010 I travelled to Zambia to work and live in a small and rural town called Mpongwe. I experienced a community, which had a power within them to tackle their local problems. There was a harmony and a connection within the community that was new to me and I’d never experienced before a strength which felt very powerful. This experience made me go back to Zambia some years later as I was hoping to experience the power of that connected community life again. Only this time I went to work in a different small and rural town called Mfuwe. Not yet knowing I would encounter a total different situation. This time it felt more like a disrupted town, a place that was out of balance, with many influences from outside harming the community life and disturbing that inner strength and local identity I experienced before. The big difference with this local town is that it’s situated at the main gate of one of the biggest tourist attractions of Zambia.
My focus always lies on trying to improve people’s lives by supporting them through sharing or connecting new points of view. It can be something small, but there is always something you can learn from each other and in it there is a learning, growing or healing factor! That’s what I do as a Social Worker with troubled teenagers in my daily work, truly listen, give attention, focus and empower them, help them find their own way forward. And that is helping them in gaining new insights and towards new possibilities. And exactly the same is what I am going to do with my team and the Sustainable Tourism Challenge in Zambia! Give attention, listen, connect & bring the community together through Participatory Action Research. Coach and empower them to find new ways in working together with all the stakeholders; the community, tourists and tourism professionals, on new solutions or possibilities to develop more positive tourism outcomes!