Bocas del Toro, Panama

Promoting Sustainable Tourism in Bocas del Toro through improved destination management.

  • Client: USAID–Conservation of Central American Watersheds Program (USAID-CCAW)
  • Partners: Chemonics International, Sustainable Travel International, Rainforest Alliance, APTSO
  • Project Duration: December 2008 – November 2009

The Challenge

Located on the Caribbean coast of Panama, Bocas del Toro is a popular tourism destination with an estimated 100,000 visitors per year. It’s archipelago of pristine islands and laid back Caribbean culture makes it a popular place for international and domestic travelers. But with tourism having grown by 70% in the past decade, unplanned tourism development is putting tremendous pressure on the region’s natural resources, and previous efforts to develop community tourism and promote sustainable tourism in the region have been weak and fragmented. If the threats from unsustainable tourism development and destination management are not addressed, Bocas del Toro risks losing the very assets that make it such a desirable destination.

The Solution

To address this challenge, Solimar has provided technical assistance in improving destination management. Solimar’s Geotourism initiative has brought together a strong and diverse group of stakeholders to establish a destination management organization (DMO) with the goal of working collaboratively to develop and implement sustainable tourism practices in Bocas del Toro. This Geotourism Stewardship Council represents all relevant stakeholders—from business owners and agriculturalists to indigenous community members and conservationists—and established the Bocas Sustainable Tourism Alliance (BSTA), which is now viewed as the leading organization in addressing community and conservation issues in the region.

Major Activities

  • Branding and education: facilitating the creation of a Tourist Information Center and development of a destination marketing strategy that included designing a logo, creating Geotourism maps, launching a website to promote BSTA member products, and creating member sell sheets to be displayed in the information center.
  • Building capacity: coordinating workshops for best management practices for hotels, customer service training for information center staff, and conservation and guide training for local boat drivers.
  • Developing new tourism opportunities and conservation efforts: facilitating the creation of “La Ruta Amistad,” a new cultural tourism route linking Costa Rica and Panama, and a Farmers’ Market Committee as well as a Waste Management Committee.


  • Creation of the region’s first Tourist Information Center which serves as a hub for sharing and addressing environmental and social issues related to tourism.
  • Creation of the Waste Management Committee, which broadcasts public service announcements on local TV, collects recyclable waste, and organizes regular beach clean-ups.
  • At least ten hotels with improved environmental performance through the implementation of Rainforest Alliance’s best management practices program.
  • Creation of a Farmers’ Market Committee which organizes a bi-weekly Farmers’ Market to sell local products and showcase local dances and music.
  • 3,000 Green Passports were designed, printed and distributed to promote La Ruta Amistad.
  • Four new tourism products were developed that link local communities to the market and diversity the offerings within the archipelago.



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Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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