May 27, 2009

The wow factor - Fiji Times Online

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SEVEN years ago, two poms and a yankee gave up their career and took a chance on Matava, a little known resort on Kadavu.

The friendship forged 20 years prior was for the long haul so trust was never an issue when the trio decided to combine their zeal with business in a distant island home.

Richard Akhtar, (left) Adrian Watt and Jeanie Mailliard are now major players in dive tourism - their position solidified this year by a recent acquisition - a major environmental award from PADI, the world's largest international scuba certification agency, last month.

And at a dive expo last week, the resort bordered by the Great Astrolabe Reef, was easily identified as one of the best dive spots in Fiji.

"We are so proud of this achievement because it is the only one given in the region and Fiji has never won before," Fiji Islands Hotel Association executive Michael Wong said.

Mr Akhtar, who met fellow Englishman Adrian in London, said contrary to belief, dive tourism had a great potential to enhance and promote the marine ecosystem.

"The award means a lot because it is a recognition of the work we and the community have out in over the past five years," he said as he explained he first came to Fiji ten years ago as a conservationist. He met Jeanie, an American, while on a tour of South Africa.

"Ours is a partnership that started as friends 25 years ago. We looked at a number of options and saw Matava, that was already in operation, as a good opportunity."

Mr Akhtar said diving was a niche market that had a great potential to grow if efforts to protect the reef continued.

"There is a huge gap for this kind of tourism and we try to keep it all natural, that is the cornerstone of everything we do, the natural beauty is still there and it will always be a draw for us," he added, referring to the industry as a whole.

The PADI Asia Pacific Member Awards 2009 was in the category Project Aware marine environment award.

The awards were developed to better recognize the achievements of those PADI dive centers and resorts which have made significant contributions to the growth and development of diving.

Last year a major resort upgrade saw the addition of new high-tech solar power plant. Working in conjunction with our neighboring village of Kadavu Koro, the resort has also established a marine reserve from the boundary of the Matava foreshore extending out to encompass the opposite Waya island.

"This area is protected from any sort of fishing, shell collecting and reef walking. Our focus at Matava is eco-tourism. We promote the natural environment, both marine and terrestrial and have adopted programmes to avoid damaging our environment," Mr Akhtar siad.

"These include conservation awareness, and waste management (recycling) programmes at the resort and with local villages. There are no power generators at Matava - our lighting is primarily solar, with additional kerosene lanterns if required. All rubbish is also sorted, food waste is fed to local pigs and we compost as much waste as possible." "Plastic and glass bottles are recycled."

Ecologically conscious yet adventure driven, the three directors who operate this intimate getaway where 22 guests can stay at a time, have proven they were born to blend in our natural environment - offering our visitors a whole new breed of holiday experience.

The wow factor - Fiji Times Online