Responsible Tourism in Madagascar

I’m sure most of you have heard of the island of Madagascar, particularly since the release of the Madagascar animated films, and know that the country is home to numerous animal species that cannot be found anywhere Madagascarelse on earth.  10,000 of the islands 12,000 plant species, for example, are endemic, as are half of the breeding birds and hundreds of species and subspecies of lemurs.  The island also contains several different regions, from beaches along the Indian Ocean to rainforests to grassy plains, and so with all that biodiversity it is no surprise that the tourist industry has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades.

Though Madagascar has a lot to offer as a tourist destination, the picture is far from rosy.  The country’s population has more than doubled in the last 30 years, but the economy has declined since 2009, leaving much of the population impoverished.  Tourism could certainly help rebuild the economy, as it offers many opportunities for local inhabitants, such as leading tours or running guesthouses, but increasing tourism comes with risks for the environment.  As I’ve discussed several times in the past, destination tourism often has a negative impact on the very destination that draws the visitors, as the increase in traffic can destroy delicate ecosystems if steps are not taken to preserve them.

Unfortunately, Madagascar is already facing serious environmental degradation even without an increase in tourist traffic.  All but nine of the 103 species of lemur, for example, are currently in serious danger of extinction as Madagascar2a result of decades of mining, logging, and slash-and-burn farming that have destroyed 90% of Madagascar’s forests.  With the majority of the island’s population living below the poverty line, it’s not exactly surprising that many locals have turned to illegal woodcutting and gold digging to get by, though even legal farming activities can be damaging to the environment.

Additionally, there is a child sex tourism problem in several coastal cities, as well as in the capital.  Child sex tourism has increased since 2009, the same year the political turmoil that lead to the economy collapse began, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children to issue a report encouraging the government of Madagascar to take steps to improve the situation.  Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Rapporteur, also emphasized the need for a responsible, ethical tourism industry in order to stem the flow of child sex trafficking and help reduce poverty.

It does seem that the government is attempting to encourage responsible tourism.  The Madagascar tourism website contains a list of a dozen or so ecotourism programs that visitors can participate in, from staying in villages and participating in daily activities with the locals to visits to conservation sites that demonstrate sustainable fishing and farming practices.  When tourists visit national parks they must hire local tour guides to show them around and point out the different varieties of flora and fauna, another way to bring in tourist dollars. International organizations like Conservation International have also been working to develop environmentally friendly sustainable tourism programs that will help preserve the environment while also reaching out to local communities–and setting up protections against illegal logging and hunting.

All things considered, it seems that Madagascar has a hard road ahead of it.  The island may be home to a rich variety of plant and animal species and prime tourist destinations, but poverty and political turmoil make it difficult Madagascar3to harness these resources and bring in a much-needed infusion of cash.  Sustainable tourism may be the country’s only hope.  Unless something is done to bring in more foreign visitors, it is possible that the farming, logging, and mining activities (legal and otherwise) many depend on to scrape by will destroy the unique flora and animals that have the potential to draw tourists–not to mention the loss it would be for the world if so many species were to be driven to extinction.  Increased tourism has the potential to destroy the environment as well, however, so the country must walk a very fine line between increasing tourism revenues and protecting the environment.  Hopefully, though, more eco-tourism would reduce the number of sex tourists coming to the island, thus reducing the number of children trafficked to the coastal tourist hotspots for sex work.

What do you think the best course of action is for the country?  Is tourism enough to get the economy rolling again, or should more efforts be focused on farming, logging, and mining?



  1. Thanks Michelle, excellent work, and still very up to date 5 years later.

    One great way to support Madagascar in its sustainable tourism efforts is to book your hotels via B’n’Tree ( For every bed you book, B’n’Tree plants one tree – at absolutely no cost to you.

    The beauty: Planting trees not only helps to reforest the country and create habitat for its endangered endemic animals, it also fights climate change.

    Last but not least, planting trees creates jobs for the local community. Workers receive a stable income, and can hence send their children to school, reducing the above-mentioned problem of sex trafficking.

    Since it is completely free of costs for the user, B’n’Tree is the easiest solution to contribute your part to support Madagascar when you travel. All it takes is one single click of your mouse! Try it! Simply visit, select the partner of your choice and place your booking. B’n’Tree takes care of everything else.

    (By the way: You can of course use B’n’Tree for any of your travels, not just those to Madagascar…)

    • George Tomsett on 6 December, 2014 at 6:14 pm
    • Reply

    Tourism is a tricky issue to get around when it comes to a country that is not particularly rich and has a fragile environment. I have studied places in a similar situation such as St. Lucia and Brazil. I found your article when looking for holiday packages. It is very informative and also eye opening. Madagascar shouod focus on educating the younger generation of the importance of sustainable tourism, and also trying to conserve their resources, because once trees go, everything else follows – just look at the Easter Islands, they chopped down all their trees and everyone and everything on those islands died within a year, that was 100s of years ago but you can see my point. Teaching locals their responsibility willhelp things for the future but in the meantime, governments need to stress the significance of conservation and stopping deforestation, and package holiday companies need to pay more of their profits to the country, as many hotels and resorts simply just suck money out of the area and pay little to their staff and the locals for their crops. It’s really worrying, things are only going to get worse for places like Madagascar unless things turn around soon.

    • Lorraine Marchant on 1 November, 2014 at 2:57 pm
    • Reply

    I feel that responsible tourism must be developed alongside efforts focusing on farming, logging and mining. Education is also of key importance in bringing nations out of poverty. I have just visited 2 game parks in South Africa and was charged a Conservation Fee at both places, as a responsible tourist who benefits from great enjoyment of the natural environment I was only too willing to pay. I feel that this is a mechanism that could be employed to generate vital income for the development of responsible tourism and safe-guards against child sex tourism in Madagascar. It could also contribute to the vital education needed to lay the foundation for sustainability.
    A conservation fee could be levied on various types of tourist not just those who pass through airports.e.g. the growing fleets of yachtsmen who visit to enjoy the country and its pristine marine environment for recreational purposes as they travel from Asia to South Africa and onwards.
    Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry and Madagascar needs to be part of it. The introduction of eco-conservation fees could help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.