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STRENGTHENING ECOTOURISM IN ECUADOR: SEVEN RECOMMENDATIONS

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This document is mirrored online the Planeta website

25 March 2003

In the past four months a network of Ecuador Ecotourism Experts, the "Grupo Internet en Favor de Ecoturismo Ecuatoriano" (GIFEE), has worked intensively online to develop a series of recommendations to encourage ecotourism in Ecuador. Realizing the potential of Ecuador to become a world leader in Ecotourism, we call upon the Ecuadorian government to stimulate Ecotourism through inclusive, widespread consultations, economic incentives to genuine ecotourism operations, private or community-owned, innovative laws, and creative use of educational and promotional funds.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Despite a slump in world tourism, the global demand for ecotourism and environmentally friendly vacations is on the rise. To take advantage of this development, Ecuadorian stakeholders, including the central and local government, communities, private businesses, educational institutions and NGOs need to work together. Historically, Ecuadorian stakeholders have had difficulty cooperating with one another. Difficulties have arisen from the isolation of the projects, inadequate or conflicting laws, lack of consistent support from government and NGOs, inadequate financing, poor communication and access to information. The next few years are critical in the development of successful nature-based travel businesses and the evolution of an environmental ethic that respects and protects the ecosystems that make Ecuador unique.

GIFEE thus encourages the new government of Ecuador to study and follow the directives of the Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism and the momentum set forth during the United Nations International Year of Ecotourism, 2002. We further recommend giving priority to indigenous-run operations and supporting networking among indigenous peoples and other stakeholders. We believe that community owned or managed indigenous projects within Ecuador should be given training, publicity and support, and that the Council of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (Consejo de Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador or CONAIE) should be consulted.

GIFEE has identified seven, interdependent sectors for action: the Internet, Education, Conservation, Waste Management, Financing, Promotion, and Cooperation and make the following seven recommendations to national, regional and local governments:

1. Favour the Internet as a policy, management, educational and promotional tool
2. Develop school and continuing education programs on ecotourism, nature conservation, and sustainable use
3. Expand and improve protected areas through scientific and transparent management
4. Improve waste management nationally and in the tourism sector through Reduce, Reuse and Recycle policies and plan for clean sustainable transport
5. Improve access to financing and education for small private and community ecotourism efforts
6. Redesign the tourism promotion strategy of Ecuador to be imaginative, efficient and sustainable
7. Encourage cooperation with and between all stakeholders

SEVEN RECOMMENDATIONS IN DETAIL

1. INTERNET

We have placed the Internet as our top recommendation as it complements all the following recommendations. Additionally, the increasing use of the Internet by independent travellers and media professionals make this an indispensable tool. We recognize that many tourists and stakeholders are wary of online communication and may not yet have the needed skills or technology access to take advantage of what the Web offers, but we believe that training in the use of this powerful communication tool is vital. In this respect,

GIFEE recommends:

- Offer Internet workshops for stakeholders, teaching entrepreneurs, communities and environmentalists to make more effective use of the Web
- Encourage tourism officials at national and municipal levels to become comfortable with participating in online forums
- Encourage online announcements and summaries of all ecotourism-related events
- Improve government portals in the tourism and environmental ministries
- Make government portals more "user-friendly" for communities, with Spanish but also indigenous languages, practical tools, and greater use of easy-to-load graphics
- Network with already existing private portals, to avoid duplication and unnecessary costs
- Seek ways to finance needed infrastructure, such as rural telephone lines, and education in Internet use and apply new, inexpensive, alternative technology as it becomes available.

2. EDUCATION

Children are the future of Ecuador and in order to guarantee a sustainable future, children need to be educated on the importance of natural resource management.

GIFEE recommends:

- Introduce environmental education in primary schools
- Provide Conservation Education and Training in fields such as: reforestation, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and waste management
- Provide practical and accessible Ecotourism Education and Training in the fields of: hotel management, guiding, local ecotour operation, interpretation, local history, language skills, kitchen skills, accounting, financial management, marketing, planning, project management, and 'people management' which would build skills such as communications, conflict resolution, leadership and teamwork.

3. CONSERVATION

Conservation of Ecuador's diverse and unique sociocultural and ecological riches should be the fundamental goal of ecotourism policy. Ecuador contains some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, and has the potential to become one of the world's leading destinations in ecological and community-based tourism. We suggest the development of a five-year plan to work toward these goals.

GIFEE recommends:

- Expand and improve protected areas: national parks, public and private reserves
- Enforce existing legal protections against encroachment in protected areas. Announce a firm governmental commitment to this goal; provide assistance to organizations and individuals managing private reserves.
- Provide training and resources in conservation management for communities and private reserve managers, including reforestation methods, watershed management, agro forestry and ecological monitoring.

4. WASTE MANAGEMENT

In Ecuador, the problem is primarily one of sanitation and public health but also aesthetics, as it is dismaying for the traveller to experience smog and pollution in the cities, to observe garbage on the streets sidewalks and especially in rivers and gorges. The solution is not merely to move the garbage away to another less visible location but to "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle." Reducing waste: There is more garbage now in Ecuador than ever before is because of large companies overuse of cheap (mostly non-degradable plastic) bottles and packaging. Pressure must be exerted on these companies to invest in recycling efforts. Consumer education and incentives are needed so that the public favours reusable products.

Reuse of resources: Visitors to the Ecuadorian countryside remark favourably about local inventiveness in repairing broken appliances and finding alternative creative uses for "used" products such as tires, plastic jugs, refillable glass bottles and even old newspapers to wrap items sold in rural stores. In the countryside food scraps never go to waste; they are always reused for the campo pigs or chickens. Although this conservation and reuse is mainly due to a scarcity of resources more than a conscious desire to conserve, educational programs can foster this noble tradition among all social strata, rural and urban.

Recycling waste: It will require investment to bring the machinery necessary for industrial recycling so that all type of plastics (#1, #2 and #3) can be readily recycled. It is imperative that an educational campaign takes place on how to identify and separate the different varieties of trash, and on the benefits of recycling generally.

GIFEE recommends:

- Improve waste management programs that focus on Recycling and separation of trash, and put pressure on large companies to maintain the use of returnable bottles, a tradition that must be revived and maintained
- Improve municipal waste water treatment systems, encourage tourist facilities to implement appropriate grey water treatment
- Educate the public on how, why and where to recycle; this campaign should have distinct components directed to the needs of the urban as well as the rural populations
- Encourage & require all hotels and tourist facilities to implement Recycling programs
- Add more trash disposal cans, particularly in tourist destinations and near protected areas.

5. FINANCING

Access to capital is necessary for expanding and improving investment in ecotourism. Improved access to low-cost financing, such as low-interest loans and grants, would particularly aid small-to-medium enterprises and community-based ecotourism operations. In some cases, such financing does not exist locally or rates of interest are prohibitive. In many instances however, the problem is not that such financing does not exist, but rather the lack of sufficient information (particularly for small enterprises and communities) and transparency in the way these financing sources operate.

GIFEE recommends:

- Encourage sources of funding for ecotourism, particularly for communities and small and medium-sized businesses
- Develop a compendium of sources of ecotourism financing (loans, grants, donations) both locally and internationally
- Encourage greater level of transparency in ecotourism financing -- for example, by requesting publication of development agency reports on the status of ecotourism/sustainable tourism projects.

6. PROMOTION

Ecotourism needs tourists! Tourists in turn need timely and quality information, ideally obtained directly from stakeholders. Promotion covers all aspects of communicating this information, of what Ecuador really is, in every way possible: from word of mouth, to conventional literature, to interactive media such as the Internet. The Internet is typically the first place ecotourists look to verify what they have heard or read.

GIFEE recommends:

- Create a 'slogan' or 'logo' and 'trademark' for Ecotourism in Ecuador incorporating a widely recognized Ecuadorian cultural and/or natural icon, and apply this mark consistently and continuously.
- Improve and promote national website portals, to provide up to date, vital information for potential visitors including practical information such as visas, timetables, visitor permits, more specialist information such as tourism and environment laws and relevant publications, and links to key third-party websites
- Shift more of the advertising budget to the Internet
- Solicit fresh marketing data and ideas from Ecotourism stakeholders, through a series of physical and virtual meetings; facilitate direct and active participation from Ecotourism stakeholders from all sides
- Create a Central Ecotourism Information Desk that will coordinate ecotourism promotion and data gathering - Hire an internationally respected ecotourism professional to head this desk, and to coordinate with Regional Ecotourism
Information Desks, and village desks in association with local communities; send timely promotional packets to key embassies abroad
- Diversify target markets, give incentives to domestic visitors and encourage visitors from neighbouring countries
- Measure tourist satisfaction through surveys, both virtual and physical
- Highlight genuine Ecotourism successes as a way of setting an example for others to follow
- Show the world that the Ecuadorian Government really monitors and imposes sanctions -- if need be -- on violators of its environment and tourism policy.

7. COOPERATION

Ecotourism requires cross-sector and intra-sector cooperation. Stakeholders in this process gain much by coordinating resources, beginning with information sharing. In order to build constituencies that favour ecotourism, the Ecuadorian Government needs to listen to and to work with as many stakeholders as possible.

GIFEE recommends:

- Promote a climate of stability and trust through improved infrastructure and clever laws to encourage stakeholders to be mutually supportive and less antagonistic
- Use already existing sources, to avoid time and money waste and unnecessary competition.

ABOUT THIS DOCUMENT

This document is based on the recommendations made by a virtual network of Ecuador Ecotourism Experts -- the Grupo Internet en Favor de Ecoturismo Ecuatoriano (GIFEE) or the Internet Working Group in Favor of Ecuadorian Ecotourism. In November 2002, the ECOCLUB.com website hosted an online discussion focusing on Ecuadorian ecotourism. The featured speaker was Ron Mader, host of the Planeta.com website, who had just delivered a presentation in Quito on "Using the Web to Facilitate Ecotourism" at the First Ecotourism Forum by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC). Mader agreed to draft comments from the participants and assemble a white paper with practical recommendations, which can benefit all stakeholders.

GIFEE Members:
Susana Andrade, Ximena Gabriela Andrade, Mary Finn, Andres Hammerman, Michelle Kirby, Ron Mader, Antonis B. Petropoulos, Betti Sachs.

MARCH 25, 2003

BIOS:

Susana Andrade is an anthropologist who has worked as a consultant for the International Labour Organization and the Organization of American States on community-based tourism experiences among various ethnic groups. At the moment, she is preparing a technical proposal for creating an community tourism information centre in Quito.

Ximena Gabriela Andrade holds a B.S. in Tourism Management from the Catholic University of Ecuador. Ms Andrade has worked with several NGO's in social development and conservation projects, with the Organization of American States as a consultant and developed a database of the Community-based Ecotourism operations in Ecuador. Currently, working for the National Council of La Raza in Washington DC.

Mary Finn works as a consultant in Internet Marketing, Conservation Management, and Project development for a community-run ecotourism operation -- the Bosque Nublado Santa Lucia, in Ecuador's Choco Bioregion. Ms. Finn's credentials include Master's degrees in Environmental Policy Planning and in Business Administration, and several years of experience in project management and strategic market planning.
>> http://www.santa-lucia.org

Diego Falconí and Betti Sachs are co-founders and proprietors of Casa Mojanda, an ecolodge and farm near Otavalo, Ecuador, which practices organic farming and permaculture. Both work in the surrounding communities in rural public health, education and conservation projects. Diego is an elected member of the governing board for the Mojandita Clinic for the Practice of Family and Holistic Medicine, and is a founding member of the Pachamama Environmental Association, dedicated to the protection and conservation of he the Mojanda Lakes ecosystem and watershed. Diego was recently elected to the Two-County Committee for the Management of the Mojanda Lakes. Betti is the current of EcuadorVerde/GreenEcuador, Ecological Tourism Network. Before coming to live in Ecuador in 1995, Betti was a civil rights attorney with the Legal Aid Society for sixteen years in New York City. Diego has worked as a photographer and starting in 1975, as a professor of political science in Ecuador; he then worked for many years as writer, editor and translator in New York City.
>> http://www.casamojanda.com

Michelle Kirby and Andres Hammerman built, own and operate the Black Sheep Inn, a small Ecolodge in rural Cotopaxi Province. The four-hectare property is designed using Permaculture Ideas including organic gardens, native tree reforestation, composting toilets, recycling, gray water filter tanks, and adobe construction. Selected as one of the "Top 10 Ecolodges in the World" by Outside Magazine, March 2003.
>> http://www.blacksheepinn.com

Ron Mader is the host of Planeta.com, which debuted in 1994 as the first website that actively covered ecotourism and sustainable travel. In 2002 Ron hosted the Sustainable Development of Ecotourism Web Conference which served as the last preparatory conference before the World Ecotourism Summit and spoke at three ecotourism conferences in Ecuador.
>> http://www.planeta.com

Antonis B. Petropoulos, is Founder and Director of ECOCLUB.com, the International Ecotourism Club, a membership-based network promoting genuine ecotourism worldwide, with headquarters in Athens, Greece. Antonis holds an M.Sc. in Economic History and a B.Sc. in Economics from the London School of Economics, and an M.Sc. in Shipping Trade and Finance from City University Business School.
>> http://www.ecoclub.com

Discuss this document on-line

for Spanish Version click here

ECOCLUB.com - International Ecotourism Club
ECOCLUB.com - International Ecotourism Club