Eco - Tourism - Our Philosophy

“Nihiwatu does not pay lip service to responsible tourism; we are leading the way for others to follow.”

For far too long tourism has primarily benefited travelers and the developers of the tourist destinations they went to. Given its destructive nature, in many places, the environment and the people often suffered or saw little benefit from this generally accepted model of destination tourism. For us building a purely for profit tourism venture did not make sense at all. In 1988 we set out on a journey to find a site at which we could develop an environmentally and socially friendly business, one that would be a valuable tool for conserving bio-diversity and culture in a responsible and sustainable manner, a venture that would strive to give more than it takes.

At that time we did not have all of the answers but we did know that at Nihiwatu there would be two priorities, the environment and, more importantly, the people.

To address these goals it has been our philosophy to:

  • Do all we can to ease the oppressive impacts of poverty for our neighbors.
  • Strive to provide our neighbors with at least the basic needs everyone everywhere deserves to have, clean water, functioning health facilities and opportunities for at least a basic education.
  • Be a supportive force for peace in the community.
  • Ensure that Nihiwatu is the vehicle that improves the quality of our Sumbanese neighbors’ lives.
  • Make it priority that that at least 95% of our staff must be from the island.
  • Create income opportunities that benefit all of our Sumbanese neighbors, not just those fortunate enough to be able to work at Nihiwatu.
  • Be the stewards of the land and oceans nearby Nihiwatu and to educate and encourage the local people to join us in preserving their many environmental gifts before they are lost.
  • Prove by example that tourism can be an important component in the global war on poverty.

In the early years of the Nihiwatu development the owners tried as best as they could to help their neighbors in the villages but the scale of need in the area was overwhelming. Frustrated by not being able to make any real impact towards solving the problems of the community they sought help from the few hotel guests they had at the time. Many were willing to help but it was clear that much more was needed. In 1997 he idea of establishing a foundation, one that could deal with providing water and health care in the area, was set out by the owners in a formal community development plan that could be shown to interested guests.

Three years later one of their surfing guest, Sean Downs, read the 10 page plan and offered to help. Together they co-founded The Sumba Foundation as a separate entity from Nihiwatu, one that would dedicate itself to lessening the consequences of poverty on the island of Sumba.

Since then many foreigners vacationing at Nihiwatu have been eager to help fund and get involved in the Foundations community development projects. An overwhelming majority of them have been touched by the Sumbanese people and are compelled to help. At the same time, in America, the Foundations fundraising efforts have benefited Nihiwatu as well. Many of those donors want to see the results of the projects they funded and come to stay at the resort. Many return year after year to follow the results of their donation to the local community.

Nihiwatu is an engine for change in the local community and provides a measure of sustainability to the Foundation and its humanitarian goals. We hope to be a leading example of how business and non-profit organizations can benefit each other to achieve common goals, to create positive and lasting change for underprivileged people everywhere. For more on The Sumba Foundation visit


Nihiwatu is now a major employer of villagers on Sumba. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for its Sumbanese neighbors through its version of responsible tourism. Over the years the local villagers working at the resort have been taught English language and the construction and hotel trades needed to build and operate an upmarket resort. The owners of Nihiwatu initiated community development projects and eventually co-founded The Sumba Foundation to take the projects to a higher level. A large amount of funding for these projects has come from guests vacationing at Nihiwatu. An overwhelming majority of them have been touched by the Sumbanese people and are compelled to help. Many return year after year to see the results of their donation to the local community.

There are now more than 20,000 people living in 400 villages within a 120 square kilometer area that have clean water from wells, medical clinics, schools, economic opportunities and much more thanks to this small tourism venture. For its dedication to making life better for its neighbors Nihiwatu has won nearly every major international responsible and environmental tourism awards since 2005 and is now known as a leader of eco-tourism. Through Nihiwatu Resort, The Sumba Foundation has created a self-sustaining engine for humanitarian aid and is a leading example of how business and humanitarian goals can work as one to create positive and lasting change for underprivileged people everywhere. For more on The Sumba Foundation please visit

What is Ecotourism?

Ecotourism (also known as ecological tourism) is responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strives to be low impact and (often) small scale. It purports to educate the traveler; provide funds for conservation; directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities; and foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Ecotourism is held as important by those who participate in it so that future generations may experience aspects of the environment relatively untouched by human intervention.

Responsible ecotourism includes programs that minimize the negative aspects of conventional tourism on the environment and enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Therefore, in addition to evaluating environmental and cultural factors, an integral part of ecotourism is the promotion of recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, and creation of economic opportunities for local communities.

According to the definition and principles of ecotourism established by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, ecotourism is "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."

The seven characteristics of ecotourism, which are:

  • Involves travel to natural destinations.
  • Minimizes impact and
  • Builds environmental awareness.
  • Provides direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
  • Respects local culture.
  • Supports human rights and democratic movements.

Ideally, ecotourism should satisfy several criteria, such as:

  • conservation of biological diversity and cultural diversity
  • promotion of sustainable use of biodiversity, by providing jobs to local populations
  • sharing of socio-economic benefits with local communities and indigenous peoples by having their informed consent and participation in the management of ecotourism enterprises
  • tourism to unspoiled natural resources, with minimal impact on the environment being a primary concern.
  • minimization of tourism's own environmental impact
  • affordability and lack of waste in the form of luxury
  • local culture, flora and fauna being the main attractions

The concept of ecotourism is widely misunderstood and in practice is often used as a marketing tool to promote tourism that is related to nature. Critics claim that these green washing practices, carried out in the name of ecotourism, often consist of placing a hotel in a splendid landscape, to the detriment of the ecosystem. According to them, ecotourism must above all sensitize people to the beauty and the fragility of nature. They condemn some operators using the labels of ‘eco-tourism”, "green" and "eco-friendly”, while behaving in environmentally and socially irresponsible ways. Their actual objective is, in fact, increased profit.

Awards & recognition

  • 2009 - A founding member of “Global Ecosphere Retreats2008 Finalists at the “Asia Spa Awards”, In recognition of exceptional innovation in Asia’s spa industry
  • 2008 "Grand Award for Environmental Tourism”, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Awards
  • 2008 “Best Responsible Hotel Development”, Asia Pacific Hotel Investors Conference (HICAP)
  • 2007 “Blue Award” for ocean and beach conservation, Islands Magazine, As one of five organizations recognized for outstanding leadership in responsible tourism
  • 2007 Winner of the “British Travel Award for Responsible Tourism”
  • 2007 - Winner of the “Tourism for Tomorrow Award”, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), The Oscar of International Tourism Awards
  • 2006 - Chosen as one of “Five Best Eco-Hotels in the World” by Tatler Travel Guide UK

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