Richard Evanson, owner and managing director, Turtle Island, Fiji, on transforming his private island into a sustainable tourist destination.
What Is the Vision Behind Turtle Island?
I dreamt of owning an island since I was a student in Hawaii. I never forgot the dream. After my purchase, I hired local Fijians to help clear brush, plant gardens and trees and build my first house, which cost only $100. That house is still standing. I built more cottages for when friends and family visited. When the movie Blue Lagoon was filmed here in 1979, the film crew rented the cottages; I realized I enjoyed having guests and decided to open up the island to travelers. After the movie finished, I traveled with Columbia Pictures, promoting the film and my island, which I named Turtle Island.
What Can Guests Expect From Their Turtle Island Experience?
I never thought this would be a honeymoon spot; I never thought the island was romantic. Now, 40 percent of our visitors are honeymooners. They expect romance, and we deliver. The location is amazing - accommodations are secluded, and guests can enjoy everything, from picnics on a private beach to dining with other guests and sharing experiences. Most guests are down-to-earth with a sense of romance and adventure. We have weddings on the island, which are great bonding experiences. When everyone respects each other, I know we are going to have a good time.
Tell Our Readers About the Green Initiatives at Turtle Island.
We are one of the world's leading sustainable tourist destinations. I have always been sensitive to the Earth's needs - I grew up environmentally conscious and was taught to preserve. I wanted to be self-sufficient and resourceful on the island. The same buildings are standing from over 30 years ago; rather than tearing them down and replacing them, we remodeled them to meet standards.
What Led You to Turtle Island?
I arrived in Fiji in 1972 to spend a few days, but I fell in love with Fiji and its people, and those few days turned into many years. When I inquired about purchasing an island, I was told, No islands for sale, rent or lease. In a stroke of good luck I met a guy at the Mocambo Bar in Nadi who had an option on an island. I was leaving the next afternoon, but before I left we flew to the island. When we landed I immediately said, I'll take it. I went back to America that afternoon and then took a trip to Norway with my family, thinking about my island the whole time. I didn't know what to bring with me, so I packed what I thought I would need and headed back. I pitched a tent and started clearing brush. Two hours later, a Fijian named Joe came by, asking if I needed help. I replied, Yes, I need about 20 guys just like you. We've got a lot of work to do.