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The Family of Man

July 7, 2008 By: Mark Rogers


During a recent visit to Fiji, an intriguing new concept in tourism kept coming up in conversation as I traveled around the islands. It was called Tribewanted and, as far as I could make out, it was a unique blend of volunteer tourism and retro-Club Med. I did a little research and learned that Tribewanted was enticing international travelers to come live on a remote Fijian island as part of a genuine tribe. Tribewanted is based in the local community on the Island of Vorovoro. Guests can really sink into village life, doing such things as gardening, cooking, fishing and helping with building projects. If they prefer to flake out on the beach, they can do that, too. I don’t think a concept like this could work just anywhere, but during my trip to Fiji I found the people to be among the friendliest in the world. When I’d drive by in a car, total strangers– a high percentage of them– would wave to me and shout, “Bula!”

When I got back to the States I contacted Giles Dawnay, Tribewanted project director, and dug a little deeper. I asked him if it was fair to characterize Tribewanted as a hip, counterculture timeshare program.


“This island is whatever you want it to be, and everyone takes away their own experience,” says Giles. "If you want hands-on culture, to learn to challenge your thinking about how you live your life in the 'real world,' meet a lot of interesting people from around the world, take some time out from a hectic, relentless lifestyle or even just live the basic island dream, then you'll enjoy this place.”

Giles says that the concept and idea for Tribewanted came first and the hunt for an island second. The island of Vorovoro actually came up through a search engine.

“What's been so interesting about this project is that we've brought together two cultures that couldn't be any more different,” says Giles. “There's us from the fast-paced, 'efficient' west who place a lot of value in material and possession, and then the Fijians who are mainly people- and community-based. As the project has gone on, we've understood their culture better and better and adapted ourselves to it.”


I asked Giles about the adjustment period guests go through when they arrive. “As part of the orientation speech, we tell people that it takes about 24 hours to find their feet,” he says. “There are so many names and faces to take in, not to mention culture, tradition and Fiji time!” Not everyone takes the same amount of time to adjust. Giles tells the story of one couple who, within 30 minutes of being on the island, decided to stay for another three weeks. Giles advises newly arrived guests to relax and be patient—that it will all make sense eventually.

During their time on the island, guests have the option to help out in the local junior and senior schools and attend events in the local villages in the community. “All this is left up to the guests to decide if they want to go or not,” says Giles. “Sometimes a guest who really gets out there ends up getting invited to some of the local Fijians homes for meals or even staying a few nights.”

There’s a maximum of 30 guests staying on the island at one time, so availability is limited. “The reason we are limited to 30 is because the online tribe voted to keep it like that,” says Giles. “If we have too many people, then it could really dilute the overall experience for everyone involved.” He adds that this decision can be frustrating on a business level. “We've had to turn people away recently, but from an experiential one it keeps things just right.”


I asked Giles, should Tribewanted becomes a success, if there are plans to introduce the concept to other destinations.

“The Tribewanted model is one we feel could potentially work anywhere,” says Giles. “It just needs the necessary cultural tweakings to do so. If you're looking at going really tribal, then Africa would probably be pretty mind blowing. For now we're concentrating on giving everything to this project in Fiji and trying to make it reach as close to its potential as possible.”

The price is a very reasonable $600 for seven nights. This includes airport pickups, five meals a day and accommodation in shared local bures and vales on the island. Tribewanted pays agents 10 percent commission. Giles Dawnay can be reached at [email protected].

What do you think of this $type?

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