Fogo Island Inn - A Community-Empowered Business

Situated on the rugged and unspoiled shores of Fogo Island, an award-winning inn that follows the purpose of a thriving community & sustainability.

Business follows purpose

Situated on the rugged and unspoiled shores of the Fogo Island, the biggest island off the shores of Newfoundland, Canada, lies an award-winning inn like no other: the Fogo Island Inn.

Business follows purpose

Situated on the rugged and unspoiled shores of the Fogo Island, the biggest island off the shores of Newfoundland, Canada, lies an award-winning inn like no other: the Fogo Island Inn.

Founded and Operated by the Shorefast Foundation, a Canadian charity running multiple social enterprises in the island, the inn has been developed with a clear purpose in mind: helping the local community to thrive, unite and succeed through sustainable economic development and the preservation of the local cultural and natural heritage.

A 100% Social Business

The inn defines itself as a '100% social business'. This is because 100% of the operating surpluses are reinvested in projects aimed to ensure a sustainable future of the local community of Fogo Island.

On top of this, the inn provides employment opportunities for residents, activating the whole economic fabric of the island by triggering local craftsmanship, knowledge and expertise. In this way, the inn becomes an engine that sustains and incentivizes local production and entrepreneurship.

With no external investors or private earning interests involved, the business can entirely focus on its purpose and mission: promoting a better future for the local community through the adoption of a sustainable and inclusive hospitality model.

The Vision: community at the core

With a community of around 2,500 people, Fogo Island is without any doubt a small reality off the north shores of Newfoundland. Originally a fishing-based community, the island suffered an unprecedented crisis after the Canadian government decision to suspend cod fishing in 1992. Due to this decision, the community lost what was its main source of income. Many inhabitants found no choice but to leave the island looking for better opportunities in bigger cities, and only a few decided to stay.

With the island facing an inevitable economic and societal decline, some islanders did not want to give up and tried to work together to build a better future for the island. One of them was Zita Cobb, a local entrepreneur who created the Shorefast Foundation, a social enterprise entirely devoted to developing projects to ensure a better societal and economical future for the island's community. Since its birth in 2006, the foundation has developed multiple projects across the island over the years, with the Fogo Island Inn being the most important of them.

Redefining purpose

Opening its doors in 2013, the Fogo Island Inn has been developed with a long term vision, something they refer to as a 'time horizon of one hundred years': helping the local inhabitants to rediscover their relevance and finding new sustainable economic and employment opportunities, allowing the community to thrive.

Rural communities who have been heavily affected by modernity such as the one of Fogo Island are often not able to hold onto their roots and identity, as they tend to lose their crafts and skills because of the decline of traditional activities due to delocalisation and for example migration.

The Fogo Island Inn wants to bring back to life those skills by re-employing local workforce and reactivating knowledge and heritage, and their motto 'finding new ways with old things' perfectly sums up this concept.

Empowering locals

As the inn is thought to 'belong to the local people' Fogo Island is involving locals at different levels. In fact, the inn employes exclusively local workforce, which is running all the different activities within the business: from the front desk to the kitchen, from housekeeping to guided tours for guests, locals are at the core of the business and, therefore, of the guest experience.

Fogo Islanders are genetically predisposed to exceptional hospitality. - fogoislandinn.ca

The idea is that local people are not only the most 'genuine' hosts, but they are the best possible ambassadors of the place, as they are born there, live and work there, know its traditions, its culture and secrets and can really convey the 'soul' of the place to the inn's guests. Employing 100% local workforce allows the inn to become a true representation of the best the island has to offer.

As if that wasn't enough, the inn is also involving locals in the decisions made about the inn from its original conception to the day-to-day activities. Every new initiative, such as guided tours for guests or exhibitions in the inn's hall and even the restaurant's new menu, is taken collectively and is the result of discussions with employees as well as with local providers.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

The procurement standards of the inn are also extremely localised, as the inn uses almost only local suppliers. For example, all the furniture of the inn is made by local artisans, and the restaurant serves seasonal specialities using the best products from the island provided by local farmers and fishers.

As a result of the highly-localised employment and procurement standards, the inn was able not only to revitalize the local economy with the creation of jobs and business opportunities for suppliers but to provide the local workforce with significant skillsets. With the newly acquired skills and capabilities coming from the revitalisation of tourism on the island, locals are empowered to sustain themselves and can look into the future with a more optimistic perspective.

Redesigning the guest experience: blending modernity with local traditions

Designed by the Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders, the building represents the philosophy promoted by the Shorefast Foundation turned into brick-and-mortar: the inn embodies the Island's traditions and local spirit with a modern design.

The building has been developed to create an 'immersive' experience for the guests, allowing them to live a meaningful stay that could make them 'feel' the natural environment and connect with the 'spirit' of the destination.

I would like everyone who comes at Fogo Island to have an experience that is essentialising, and that they feel it's giving something back - Zita Cobb, President, Shorefast Foundation

The building

The inn lies directly on the coastline and is perched on 'stilts' resembling the traditional building technique of the fishermen's house of the island. The building merges seamlessly with the surroundings with its rough design and sharp angles, blending traditional architecture patterns with a more contemporary style.

All of the 29 guest rooms benefit spectacular views on the ocean, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows and are built with natural materials and equipped with locally-crafted furniture. All furniture is in fact been commissioned to local artisans, which have been involved in the project with the creation of the 'Fogo Island Woodshop', a carpentry workshop employing local woodworkers, which represents another great way to stimulate and preserve local craftmanship and immaterial heritage.

More than just an inn

Despite the name, Fogo Island is much more than just an inn. The building in fact includes a library with historic collections on the region, a 37-seat cinema offered in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada, and even an art gallery showcasing both local and international artists.

Spaces for social gatherings and casual dining play another key role in defining the guest experience. The building features a lounge bar and a restaurant with floor-to-ceiling views on the ocean. Both spaces have been designed to make anyone feel part of the surrounding environment, allowing guests to live an immersive experience.

The redesign of the guest experience does not only happen through the redefinition and re-ideation of spaces but also through the gastronomic offer. In this sense, the seasonal menu offered by the restaurant is just another way to provide guests with an immersive experience into local culinary traditions. The menu features only seasonal products, all sourced by local producers, which are used to develop refined yet genuine dishes.

Storytelling - reinforcing local identity and inspiring visitors

With the local community at the core of every action, initiative and decision, it came naturally for Fogo Island to develop a communication strategy entirely focused on locals. In fact, their lives, stories and values pervade every aspect of the communication, contributing to enrich the guest experience.

As opposed to other direct communication strategies, storytelling uses a narrative to convey a message. The objective is to engage with the audience on a more 'human' level, making them feel something. Often, storytelling implies the adoption of a bottom-up approach where people and their stories (and not the business itself) are at the core of the communication strategy.

At Fogo Island, locals are the true face of the business: all the initiatives carried out by the inn have the aim to make guests 'feel' the place through its people and their stories: from the exhibitions in the gallery to the handcrafted furniture everything speaks about the local identity.

An extraordinary piece of storytelling comes from the video realised to promote the Fogo Island Woodshop. Through the voice of the local woodworkers, the story shows the knowledge and expertise of local artisans. The video tells the story about how the islanders, once experienced boat builders, rediscovered their ability to craft wood, creating unique pieces of furniture that now adorn the inn.

Here, storytelling is used by Fogo Island not only as a tool to engage with visitors but to reinforce the local identity. Storytelling becomes then an extremely beneficial practice for the community itself: by giving a voice to locals and creating content around their lives, community values are rediscovered and strengthened.

Our Community Hosts are passionate, lifelong Fogo Islanders who are pleased to offer their insights into the Island’s natural and cultural heritage. - fogoislandinn.ca

Storytelling, though, is not only limited to communication and creation of content but becomes a key tool to enrich the activities provided by the inn to guests. In particular, storytelling is one of the core aspects of the 'Community Host Programme' developed by the inn to make guest discover the island. The programme consists of a half-day, customized 'island orientation' with a community host for every guest. The aim is to allow visitors to experience life on the island from the perspective of a local. During the orientation, the host shares stories about the community, how it has changed and what living on the island really means.

The programme is just another example of how storytelling can help both to engage with the audience and reinforce the local identity: if stories are being told and memories shared, traditions, knowledge heritage will be preserved, for the benefit of the whole community.

Building sustainability and transparency

Sustainability represents another fundamental pillar of Fogo Island's strategy. As a 360 degrees concept, sustainability involves environmental, societal and economic aspects. All of these aspects have been carefully taken into consideration by the inn whose approach represents an excellent example of a comprehensive sustainable strategy.

Implementing environmentally conscious choices

Fogo Island's sourcing strategy is based on simple reasoning: start by seeking locally, and if a product is not available, move to the closest communities. This approach ensures that supplies are mostly found within the island, and if not, within the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. Only a small percentage is coming from other parts of Canada and North America. Whilst sourcing, Fogo Island takes into consideration only those suppliers that have certified environmental and labour standards.

The building itself has been designed according to high environmental standards: the floor-to-ceiling windows ensure natural lighting to the building, rooftop solar panels produce heat that is used to warm up all rooms, whilst rainwater is collected from the roof into cisterns, and reused for toilets and kitchen.

Promoting Social Purchasing and Transparency

At Fogo Island, the determination to support the local community and to ensure its economic and societal sustainability translates into concrete actions.

One of the main ways the inn is promoting the reinvestment of resources into the local community is by promoting 'Social Purchasing'. Social Purchasing is that kind of purchase that leverages the social value of a product: in this view, a product should not only be considered by its price and quality but by the positive impacts it can bring to the community where it is produced.

The strategy adopted by the inn, which prioritises the procurement of supplies from local producers was developed according to this principle. On the other hand, social purchasing is also encouraged on the visitor's side: daily visitors and guests of the inn are invited to purchase products crafted by the woodshop and by the many artisans supported by the Shorefat Foundation.

To assess the impact of the sustainable strategy adopted by the inn and at the same time to ensure fully transparent communication, Fogo Island has created the 'Economic Nutrition' certification mark.

Taking inspiration from the nutritional labelling on foods and drinks allowing consumers to make informed choices, the Economic Nutrition mark provides visitors with transparent information on how their spend impacts the economic and social development of the local community. By showing to guests exactly where their money goes, Fogo Island ensures a 100% transparent approach allowing guests to make more confident purchase decisions.

Key Takeaways

Published on:
May 2020
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