When Davina Garnette goes on a holiday trip, her family knows the drill: pack the husband, pack the 3-year-old, throw some gear in the car, and hit the road.
After more than a decade in the tourism industry, it’s still the thrill of the unknown that excites Garnette — and the 30-year-old from the island nation of Mauritius wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love experiences. I love to see new places and visit different kinds of people and learn how they do things. This is how I see myself and how I am raising my son,” said Garnette, a senior project manager at Hanuman Land.
“After all, life’s too short for bad vibes.”
Garnette studied tourism in Mauritius, where beautiful beaches are the big thing. The trouble, to her mind, was that some of the best beaches were private, exclusive or owned by big resorts. This went against her philosophy about travel, tourism and hospitality.
“I started out as a tour guide and I loved it. Tour guiding is the sharing of knowledge with other people. They know the culture and the stories behind all the sites,” she said.
Garnette was lucky: her career trajectory paralleled the spectacular rise of ecotourism. The new travel trend appealed to her with its endless options, freedom to explore, and closeness to nature. In 2018, she ended up in Mondulkiri, one of the most exotic and unexplored areas of Southeast Asia.
“I prefer Mondulkiri to Phnom Penh. It’s an easy life, everybody talks to you. People don’t worry too much. There are no big malls,” she said. “Instead we go do things. Take the car and go camping, or grab a backpack and go hiking or biking to a waterfall.
“In Mondulkiri, you engage with nature. You participate in the environment.”
Luxury and Coffee
These are among the principles Garnette keeps close as she leads Hanuman Land’s latest venture: a luxury ecolodge and coffee plantation in the deep forest some 40km outside of Sen Monorom. From her experience, a successful eco-project needs several things to make it work, starting with a unique and stunning location.
“Beautiful scenery is very important, but you also need to see where the development will be in five to 10 years. You must make sure it evolves and is sustainable, especially protecting wildlife and the environment and bringing cultural benefits to local communities,” she said.
In Garnette’s words, a truly great eco-resort offers options and world-class amenities. Even the most Indian Jones-minded tourist still wants a little luxury at the end of a long, adventurous day.
Yet putting all those aspects of ecotourism into place is no easy task.
“This is a big challenge for me and for Hanuman. Right now there aren’t even electricity poles, and getting there is still complicated,” Garnette said.
“It’s a big challenge but it’s not impossible. We’ll get there soon enough and build something amazing.”