A central component in Chole’s development is the Chole Mjini Conservation & Development Company, which operates the Chole Mjini Tourist Lodge on as sustainable a basis as possible, without for example mains electricity or running water, and is the biggest employer on the island. The brainchild of Anne and Jean de Villiers, the Lodge was constructed almost entirely out of local materials, working with local Cholean artisans. The founding objective of the company was to "bring direct benefits to our local community and to support wildlife conservation". Much of the remarkable progress on Chole is a testament to the foundations laid down in 1994 at inception in the agreement between the Village and the Company, which continues to this day.
The Lodge has seven rooms, with a capacity of just 14 tourists. All but one of the rooms are treehouses built up baobab trees. The Lodge assists the development programme by levying a fee of US$10 per person per night which is applied to village projects and is also a source of expertise and focus for donor funding, which allowed development of the Health Centre and the primary school, through the building of additional classrooms and teacher’s houses.
The Lodge operates sustainably - for example, meals are usually sea food, caught non industrially in the local seas, and it strives for a low carbon footprint in all aspects of its management. A vital by-product of responsible tourism is that a healthy, sustainable environment acquires an economic value, because visitors value it and are willing to pay to enjoy it.
Jean and Anne de Villiers, with their recently established 'Responsible Marine Encounters' business and internship programme Kitukiblu, are again leading by example in helping Mafia to develop whaleshark tourism. Together with fellow concerned Mafians they are founders of the Mafia Whaleshark Conservation Society, which has supported the Mafia District Council in levying fees on whaleshark tourism and is in a constant dialogue for whaleshark protection.
In November 2014 Anne and Jean de Villiers' achievement was recognised when Chole Mjini Lodge won the World Responsible Tourism Award at the World Travel Awards. To read the complete citation for the award please click here.