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Fiji Island Eco-Project Recruits Online "Tribe"

Date: 01-Jun-06
Country: US
Author: Claudia Parsons

Tribewanted.com -- a new spin on the concept of timeshare vacations -- is the brainchild of two British entrepreneurs who are seeking 5,000 people to join an online community to oversee the sustainable development of a 200-acre (81-hectare) Pacific island.

For a fee ranging from US$220 to US$660, members can join the "tribe" for one to three years and buy the right to visit the island of Vorovoro in Fiji for between one and three weeks.

The three-year project will be filmed for a documentary and weekly videos will be available online, but organizers say a key principle is: "This is not reality TV -- it's real life."

"Unlike reality television, this isn't about the game," co-founder Ben Keene said on Tuesday. "There is no winner, there's no voting people off."

"This is about real people coming together with a real purpose, to work in partnership with a real tribal community," he told Reuters in New York during a recruitment trip.

Around 500 people have signed up so far, ranging in age from 18 to 67. "We've got people from about 18 different countries already, so this idea of creating a United Nations tribe is really coming together," Keene said.

The ecological aspect is fundamental to the project, which has a budget of 1 million pounds (US$1.9 million).

'VERY SIMPLE SUSTAINABLE VILLAGE'

"It may not sound like a lot, but we're looking at a very simple sustainable village, not big concrete structures," Keene said. "As much as this is an adventure for everyone involved, we're also trying to raise awareness about ecological living."

Tribe members will design the infrastructure of the island, from solar power systems to nonpolluting toilet facilities.

Experts will work with the local tribal chief, Tui Mali, to make key decisions along with the tribe members who will vote online for what they want.

"At any one time you've got the 4,900 people in the online community and 100 on the island," Keene said.

Keene, who has been running an alternative travel Web site, said co-founder Mark James proposed the idea as a way to use online communities for something tangible in the real world.

"Instead of just sharing music or chatting or whatever, we can say we've got a purpose, we want to create a sustainable, ecological village that we can then go visit," Keene said.

"We went online and we went island hunting, posing as millionaire businessmen to all these brokers around the world," Keene said, adding that they considered islands from Central America to the Philippines before settling on Fiji.

Vorovoro currently has four inhabitants -- Tui Mali and his brother and their wives, all from the neighboring island of Mali. "It's the head chief's privilege to live on Vorovoro," Keene said. "He wants to open up this space to bring money into the community, to support education and the local fishermen."

Tribewanted.com has a three-year lease, after which it will revert to the local community.

Transportation to Fiji is not included in the membership fee.

When members visit, starting in September, they can choose to help build facilities, go fishing or just read a book on the beach. Carpenters and others with useful skills are encouraged to join, but Keene said anyone with a sense of adventure was welcome.

"We're looking for people who have ideas for how they'd like to pass on their skills, whether they're yoga instructors or sports teachers or maybe artists," he said.

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Reuters
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