Knowledge exchange strengthens community-based tourism initiatives
Community-based Sustainable Tourism (CBST) is a booming tourism product, provided by traditional communities to the emerging group of tourists in search of a more sustainable and authentic way to go on vacations. In the Amazon, it offers immersive touristic experiences built upon the inner connection of the forest people to nature, their cultural assets, traditions, and way of life.
In 2021, a group of 22 local entrepreneurs, community leaders, and government officials from Brazil, Colombia, and Peru were taken on a learning journey in which they reflected and exchanged their CBST experiences. The aim was to prepare them to consolidate their CBST initiatives and increase their market share, as part of a path to green recovery.
The Community Tourism: Amazon Exchange is a knowledge exchange event from the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Program (ASL), an initiative led by the World Bank and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to protect globally significant biodiversity and implement policies to foster sustainable land use and restoration of native vegetation cover.
Advocating conservation is much more successful when combined with alternatives that ensure means of subsistence and improve local communities’ quality of life. CBST is one of these possible alternatives, allowing local communities to improve their livelihoods as a result of protecting and valuing the standing forests, its biodiversity, and the secular knowledge they have about it.
As part of the journey, the participants experienced a three days’ immersion in the Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) of Rio Negro, in Amazonas (Brazil), visiting CBST initiatives led by traditional communities and local entrepreneurs. The region selected for the field visits is a hotspot for ecotourism with a growing range of options.
The immersion was preceded by virtual meetings that allowed the group to gain a common understanding of the CBST concepts, principles, criteria, its links with public policies and regional planning, and how communities can get better organized to lead CBST initiatives. A supporting dual-language material (Spanish and Portuguese) was developed to cover these topics.
Visited tourism ventures had different business models ranging from family-owned (Caboclo’s House Ecolodge and Pousada do Garrido) to community associations (Pousada Vista do Lago Jungle Lodge and Nova Esperança) where they could observe firsthand how communities and entrepreneurs are making CBST happen in the Amazonas region.
Participants had the opportunity to harvest ideas and solutions from case studies brought by the experts, peers’ initiatives, and field visits and compare them with their own experiences. This empirical approach contributed to define a path forward to develop their own CBST initiatives.
Among the cases covered, Royer Belix, tourism specialist of the Peruvian National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (SERNANP in Spanish) working in the State of the Manu National Park (Peru) presented the Casa Matsiguenka experience to his peers. Discussions led to valuable feedback and ideas from the participants and experts, a nascent CBST Amazon network issued from the exchange.
Analyses were made following the CBST business analysis framework provided by the course. This way, participants had the opportunity to reflect on a comprehensive set of aspects to be considered when implementing their initiatives. As pointed out by Kiara Julca (SERNANP), Peru:
It is a timely course that brought a wide range of issues that must be considered by those engaged in CBST. The proposed framework eases the identification of tools, practices, and solutions applying them in the different CBST ventures we are developing in Peru. It helps to work with the initiatives in a structured and solution-driven fashion.”
Topics covered virtually were revisited during the study-tour. Practical activities such as designing business plans and creating communication content were carried out so that participants could implement and later replicate with their peers. The goal was to put the learnings into practice and multiply knowledge once they are back home.
The participants to the exchange have safely returned to their homes and are now ready to move forward with their own tourism activities, but also teaching to their peers locally and consolidating a community of practice to continue learning and exchanging about CBST, with the other participants and others interested, including through the support of the C4D platform.
This exchange is implemented by Mariepáua Sustentabilidade, in partnership with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for Amazonia (SDSN Amazônia), the community-based tourism agency Poranduba Amazônia, and the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS).