The United Nations agency on science, education and culture (UNESCO), has a number of tourism destinations that it considers to be sites that are important in terms of heritage in the world. For a tourism destination to be considered as one such site, then there are guiding criteria. Among the most important of these, is its most critical value for the rest of the globe. Apart from this, it also has to be in line with a minimum of one in the other ten criteria that are given by guidelines for the implementation of this initiative. This forms the basic rule of realizing this noble cause. The criteria are usually mutate with time to keep up with the definition the words World Heritage (UNESCO, 2013b).
It is a Swahili town and has maintained its purposes it served in the olden days. The material that has been used in most buildings, in the town is majorly mangrove poles available locally. Coral stones have also been utilized in buildings. Many of the buildings in this town are very simple by modern standards. Their outstanding features are verandas and doors that feature carvings on them. The town has played host to a number of religious festivals by Muslims. In the recent past, it has acted as a place where Islam is taken as a way of life and the lifestyle of the Swahili (UNESCO, 2013a).
Ecotourism can be described as the tourism that also has the intention of preserving and maintaining the type of attraction found in a place. It mainly seeks to use the returns that are from tourism for the purposes of making the people living around these places aware and responsible for the maintainance of these causes (Mekong Tourism, 2010). Lamu can be described as the only settlemnt in the region that has been kept mainly in tis original form.
There are some tenets on the best practices in relation to ecotourism they include the following; the tourist attraction should have some link with nature, and the tourists should demonstrate that they also value this attraction together with the original culture that exists in such an area. The tourist attractions should offer new knowledge to the visitors through what they observe.
Tourists should also view the attractions in smaller numbers in many of the cases so that they can minimize the likely damage to the environment (Mekong Tourism, 2010). Finally, the tourism should contribute to the economy by availing jobs for the local people and creating education to all the stakeholders including visitors on why the preservation of such attractions is important.
Lamu town, which is an island and a UNESCO World heritage site, has strived to achieve this, in a bid to sustain itself as a world recognized tourist attraction in the area (UNESCO, 2013b). Many of the ancient urban centers along the Kenyan coast that are the same age as this town no longer exist and are without any inhabitants. The town has maintained the cultural integrity that it had in those early days. Its input in terms of culture, religion and aspects that are technical in nature are not to be overlooked. The local people that are found in the Island have continued to remain close to each other just as they did ages earlier. To stress how great this achievement is, we should look at the age of this town which is about seven centuries old.
It is considered as one that is unique since, over this long time, many races such as Persians, Arabs and Indians have lived around the island and left a mark to it (UNESCO, 2013a). This is evident in the type of architecture that is dominant in this island. The locals have maintained it, fending off other forms of architecture that are alien to the archipelago.
To give an insight into this traditional form of architecture, the following should be mentioned. Many if not all of the buildings are designed in a manner that resembles arcades that also feature verandah. They give an impression of being much closer together than is the case when going to the island from the sea.
The materials that have been utilized in decorating these settlements are still the traditional ones that were used many years ago. For example, porcelain from China and also the design of the ceilings that are painted. The maintenance of these buildings is impressive since they still look strong and can last for much longer which contributes positively towards their sustainability as an attraction. The building technology used still makes use of such materials as coral and poles that are from the mangrove poles around Lamu (UNESCO, 2013a).
What has been as billed as the greatest success story of eco tourism in East Africa is the preservation of the architecture and culture in the island. This can be seen as a reflection of the influence Lamu has had from the many visitors from around the globe who have visited it. The different influence from Europe and India to mention some have been utilized in collaboration with the traditional building technologies of the local people who are the Swahili (UNESCO, 2013a). The island has the unique if not the only Swahili character in architecture that is spatially designed, and also boasts of streets that are narrow in width and also wind. Such a form of architectural design can be traced to Arabia.
What becomes apparent after some investigation is the grouping of houses to form wards that locally are referred to as mitaa in the Swahili language. In such a grouping, it is not rare to find people who have a common patriarch living together. Lamu is today recognized as the birth place of the civilized Swahili and is an important center for religion and culture for this group of people. The ability of the Lamu people to preserve it from any form of erosion by any other culture has brought about a sense of unity among these people (UNESCO, 2013a).
These efforts to conserve the Swahili culture and architecture in Lamu deserve some praise as they agree with the best practices of ecotourism which is to promote sustainability. However, this is not to say that the ecotourism efforts in this town do not have their own shortcomings there are a number. The first among them is the availability an important material that is used in the construction of houses in this island. The material in question here is the mangrove tree, which we can say, is being exploited at a rate that is not sustainable. What makes this worse is that apart from the policy about forestry by the government nothing that is very particular has been done about this tree specie.
If sizeable mangroves are to diminish totally, then it would not be practical to build traditional type houses that last. The impact of this on the sustainability of tourism in Lamu would be immense and disastrous (UNESCO, 2013a). The other is the availability of traditional utensil designs made from porcelain and that are Chinese in origin.
As the world changes and other modern designs come into the markets, people would stop keeping the traditional utensils. The breaking of these utensils will slowly cause them to disappear. The local community comes up with ways of passing across the knowledge on making of these traditional utensils even if in small scale to enhance sustainability.
Finally, the town of Lamu needs to embrace environmental sustainability, even as it seeks to continue as a hub for tourism in the region (UNESCO, 2013a). The old and inefficient sewer system needs to be modernized to protect some of the marine life are also tourist attractions. Recycling is an important aspect that has to be examined for suitability. The power generation in the town is done using oil; solar energy can be incorporated to save the island from the potential pollution by the oil while it is in transit from the mainland.
It is critical that the sustainability of its attractions is encouraged. In this sense, a proper conservation plan should be made specifically for the mangroves that form an important part of the ecosystem in Lamu. This will insure effectiveness in sustaining a critical portion of the traditional materials used in building houses in the island.