Improving tourism and conservation practices and increasing community participation and benefits from sustainable tourism in Ecuador's protected areas
- Client: USAID
- Partners: Asociacion Ecuatoriana de Ecotourismo, Ministerio del Ambiente, Ministerio deTurismo
- Project Duration: January 2008 – November 2009
Ecuador is a well-known tourism destination with spectacular scenery, a rich cultural heritage, high levels of biodiversity, and numerous leisure opportunities. However, there is much to be done if Ecuador is to become a leading sustainable tourism destination. Many rural community settlements lie within the borders of protected areas and rural poverty levels are particularly high, leading to unsustainable uses of the region’s natural resources. The declining quality of natural attractions in protected areas—itself caused in large part by visitation due to Ecuador’s good reputation in the international travel markets, but also by poor system management capacity—is constraining sustainable tourism growth.
Sustainable tourism in Ecuador’s protected areas has the potential to become a key source of income production, a tool for conservation, and a mechanism for poverty reduction. Solimar’s solution for Ecuador is to better equip and strengthen the Ecuadorian protected areas system, local tourism enterprises, and relevant public sector institutions so that local communities may achieve sustainable economic growth while contributing to conservation efforts. These conservation efforts include implementing adequate control and monitoring mechanisms for tourism activities, sensitizing local populations to sustainable tourism, and improving tourism-related infrastructure in protected areas to bring back satisfied tourists and new visitors.
Solimar worked with the Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Alliance (AETS) to spur public-private collaboration and to reach out to new development partners. The project worked to align the visions of all stakeholders and foster cooperation and linkages along the value chain and increase destination market opportunities. Furthermore, the Alliance helped to maximize tourism’s contribution to natural and cultural conservation by promoting sustainable tourism development standards. Major activities of the project included:
- Educating and building capacity: improving skills of tourism actors through training programs for small business operations, guiding, and dining, lodging, and transportation services; establishing the “Amigos de las Areas Protegidas” program and a UNEP Green Passport to help educate local tourism businesses and travelers on sustainable tourism practices.
- Incentivizing the Travel Trade: developing and implementing tourism marketing and promotion strategies and online tools targeting domestic and international tourism markets in an effort to increase visitorship.
- Developing new tourism opportunities: incorporating local communities in the tourism value chain and establishing new community-based tourism enterprises.
- Improved quality and diversification of sustainable tourism products and services offered in protected areas through the development of three small community-based enterprises (Manglares Churute Mangrove Tours, Secoya Lodge, and Oyacachi Adventure Tours).
- Incorporation of communities located within and around the protected areas into the tourism value chain so that they can receive benefits from sustainable tourism.
- Improved capacity of sustainable tourism actors with regards to small business operations, guiding, and accommodation services.
- Marketing and promotion strategies at the protected area and national level targeting local and international tourism market segments.
- Development of a UNEP Green Passport to promote protected areas while educating travelers on how to travel responsibly.
- Establishment of the “Amigos de las Areas Protegidas” program—a membership and marketing program designed to engage local tourism businesses in conserving protected areas while promoting them to national and international travelers.
- Creation of the National Ecotourism Portal of Ecuador to assist travelers in planning their next visit to Ecuador’s protected areas.