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September 22, 2010

Top Five Reasons to Use a Community Ecotourism Operator

Help locals on your next trip

Humane Society International

  • Margay in El Salvador. Toby Bloom/HSI

  • Squirrel monkey in Peru. Marta Prado/HSI

  • Archeological trail in the Dominican Republic. Toby Bloom/HSI

by Toby Bloom

Did your summer getaway leave you feeling unfulfilled? Do all of the days of your trip seem to blend together in your memory? If you go on your next trip with a community ecotourism operator, you won’t have the same problem! Ecotourism is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." Community ecotourism operators go one step further, since they are actually owned and/or operated by the local community.

In HSI’s Wildlife Ecotourism section, we work with local NGOs in developing countries to help communities create ecotourism products that are unique, exciting, and beneficial for people, animals, and the environment. To find out the five most compelling reasons to try this unique kind of tourism, read on:

5. You’ll have unique stories to tell all of your friends when you get home. Community ecotourism can offer you lots of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities! While thousands of vacationers at traditional mass tourism resorts are offered the same old excursions, food and lodging, the savvy ecotourist opens up a whole world of adventure by using local tourism operators. Locals in any city or village are often better at helping you search for rare and beautiful wildlife, navigating lesser-known trails, and suggesting restaurant or entertainment options that virtually guarantee that you’ll have unforgettable vacation stories.

4. Your money goes to people who really need it. Even though you may take your vacation in a developing country, chances are the majority of the money you spend on traditional tourism ends up outside of the country you visited. Because of international hotel chains, tour operators, and the importation of food and souvenirs, it is estimated that as little as five percent and at most half of the profits from traditional tourism stay in the host country. By working with community ecotourism operators, you greatly increase the amount of profit from your trip that can be used for food, social programs, and infrastructure within the local community and the host country.

3. Ecotourism is good for you and the rest of the planet. Ideally, ecotourism operators and their products aim to have minimal negative impacts on the environment and contribute to conservation programs in the area. However, another vital part of ecotourism is to help tourists understand the environmental issues that affect the places they visit and the rest of the world.  Seeing the effects of our actions in high biodiversity areas (yes, your actions have an effect on the other side of the planet) often motivates tourists to be better stewards of the environment, even when they return home.

2. You’ll have a more personalized and authentic vacation.  Many of us have had the experience of being herded like cattle through lines at a buffet, or while checking into a big hotel or resort. Since community ecotourism operators typically cater to smaller groups of tourists, you will most likely receive more individual attention. Community ecotourism opens the door for a deeper understanding of local culture, and more interaction with the people and animals who live in the place you visit. Also, locals are usually the best source of information about their respective area’s nature, history and folklore, and traditional customs. Observing or helping out with the preparation of local cuisine, participating in holidays and festivals, and making lifelong connections with people in faraway lands are among the many ways to more fully appreciate the richness that your vacation destination has to offer.

1. You can enjoy your vacation and protect wildlife at the same time! All of the community ecotourism operators that HSI works with are in or near high biodiversity areas, as is the case for a great majority of community ecotourism operators worldwide. When you book a trip or activity with a community ecotourism operator, you help reinforce the link created between protecting the local environment and increased economic income. Your money ensures that local communities can provide for their families without having to resort to illegal hunting, or selling endangered species into the illegal pet trade. Ecotourism helps both tourists and local communities celebrate the amazing animals and landscapes that surround them.

For more information about booking a trip or activity with a community ecotourism operator, you can contact HSI’s local partners through the following websites:

Costa Rica: Foundacion Corcovado

Dominican Republic: FUNDEMAR; Bayahibe 

El Salvador: SalvaNATURA

Guatemala: FUNDAECO

Honduras: Cayos Cochinos

Nicaragua: Tortugas Nicasasoc.tierrayvida@gmail.com

Peru: ProNaturaleza

Toby Bloom is Director of Wildlife Ecotourism for HSI.

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