Traveling to Madagascar might seem a little daunting. After all, it’s the 4th largest island in the world. With sustainable tourism still in its infancy there, it’s always good to have professional help. That’s why we talked to Jacky Jayat, the founder of Festiv’, an incoming agency, and Flockeo member, who shared with us his love of the Red Island… and the whales of Sainte-Marie.
Jacky wasn’t meant to work in the travel business. His father was a printmaker and owned his own business. Since school wasn’t for him, Jacky started to work in the family business. This job opened him to the world. In a time where everything was printed, from a furniture shop’s catalogue to a travel agency folder, he gained a solid general knowledge.
After a time, he decided to leave the printing world to create his own publishing house and then became an event organizer. That’s where he made most of his careers until… he discovered Madagascar during an ATV raid with friends. He discovered a beautiful raw country and fell in love.
“I knew this where I wanted to live.”
And so, Jacky remained in Madagascar and created a company organizing off-road car and buggy raids. He started to invite friends and the word got out. Soon enough, his company became an incoming travel agency.
Jacky really fell in love with Madagascar and his passion for the Red Island is contagious. He loves his adopted country and loves to show it off to his customers (and talk about it to those who don’t know it yet, believe us, after this conversation, we were ready to go). He loves being on the road with his guests and sharing their adventures.
“Everybody laughs when I tell my customers: the circuit you’re going to do will be the best trip you’ll make in your life. And when the trip is over, they tell me: ’Jacky, it was the best trip of my life, what we experienced was exceptional and I’ll be back’. And 100% are back within 2 years.”
The advantage of being accompanied is that as Jacky would say “Madagascar is not exact science”. You might get stuck because the rain makes the road too muddy to drive, or a hotel has closed unexpectedly. There’s always a B-Plan or a C-plan but that comes with the knowledge of a professional. On the paradox of Festiv’ offering ATV circuits and being sustainable, Jacky explains that there are only a few roads in Madagascar and offroad vehicles are necessary if you want to bring food and water to villages. They are above all work tools.
Festiv’ is based in Sainte-Marie, an island in the north-east of Madagascar. A true “pirate’s lair”, its coast is mostly made of small bays but the channel between the island and the main island of Madagascar is a place for humpback whales to calve, grow their young and reproduce before they make their way to Antarctica. Because the channel is not deep enough for predators such as orcas, whales are left undisturbed. It’s also a place for courtship as male whales will try to woo a female by “singing”.
“So, when you’re sitting in your office and you see a whale jumping out or when you’re awakened at night by the noise of a caudal or pectoral fin striking the water, after some time, you get into it. Whales command our respect. They are the largest animals in the world and when they rise up and look at you, you’re already drawn into the world of sustainability and ecology because you want to protect them. Even though it’s rather them protecting you than you protecting them. And from that, several associations were born amongst them Cetamada which aims to protect marine mammals and their environment. On their initiative, a charter of sustainable tourism was drawn with the Ministry of tourism and it’s available to all tourism providers who want to sign it.”
With Cetamada and local actors, whale watching tourism has developed.in the last 15 years.
“When you come to Sainte-Marie, and you take the boat and go in the middle of the channel where you don’t move and then the whales come and see you out of curiosity and look at you and then roll over and try to avoid you because they don’t want to hurt you, you just fall in love. Whale tourism is something to develop further and we’re working on it.”
Sainte-Marie or Nosy Boraha in Malagasy, is one of the most beautiful humpback whale watching spots in the world, offers its festival-goers ” ready-made ” tourist programs that introduce them to these marine mammals and their environment through conferences and film screenings in a festive atmosphere including sporting activities, parade, evening concerts and the opportunity to discover this authentic Malagasy island. In 2021, it will take place on 15-18 July.
Why is Madagascar a good candidate for sustainable tourism? According to Jacky, it naturally exists in Madagascar. Most waste is organic.
Madagascar’s size is also an advantage. It is more suited to what Jacky says is “surgical-strike tourism”. Mauritius, the nearby tourism hotspot, welcomes 4 million tourists and is the size of a French department. Madagascar only has 290.000 tourists a year so, it’s easy to be away from the crowds. Also, most of those who are behind the hospitality infrastructures are driven by passion rather than mere business. A lot of them found a place where they wanted to settle and opened a hotel or restaurant to earn a living but they want to share that with their customers.
Of course, Madagascar is a large island (with many other small islands) so the opportunities for water-based activities are countless and the highlands in the middle of the country with their gentle green mountains, its red earth and covered with forest or crops is a sight to behold. There is also a diversity of climates. Apart from the hurricanes season in January-February, the rest of the time, the weather is pleasant all around. If you ask Jacky, he would tell you that Madagascar’s advantages are:
“It could be inconvenient for those who like to go to an all-inclusive resort. The fact that there are not that many tourists means we don’t have those kinds of establishments.”
To cut a long story short, Madagascar has the flaws of its qualities: the lack of infrastructure is probably the big drawback.
For Jacky, local tourism actors are the best ambassadors of sustainable tourism. They have to be involved and educate travelers. Many of them already know what to do and what to not do.
This is a question that Jacky gets asked often: is Madagascar safe for tourists? His answer is yes. Madagascar is no more dangerous than some area in France. “None of my customers has ever felt unsafe.” That does not mean that nothing happens. There are crimes that would figure in the “Miscellaneous news” column of a newspaper but there are no targeted attacks on tourists.
Jacky and the Festiv’ team are waiting for you when tourism in Madagascar re-opens. For more information, visit Festiv’ Madagascars page on Flockeo !
The FESTIV group is specialized in event tourism in Madagascar….
What does this mean?
It means that we create and organize public events, in direct relation with all that Madagascar has to offer in its biodiversity. A beautiful fauna and flora, rugged and playful terrains but also water spots for the most beautiful adventures enhanced by exceptional landscapes hosting warm and welcoming residents areas. All our events are in line with sustainable tourism, respect for the environment and the population. They are dedicated to the creation of discoveries by proposing activities, animations, new itineraries, competitions.
What traditional receptive agencies do not do…. We build it in this spirit….