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IDB Fund seeks new sustainable tourism projects in Latin America and the Caribbean

The MIF, an autonomous fund of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that supports projects for small and microenterprises, will offer grants to finance the creation of small tourism business networks, train entrepreneurs in the region to offer high-quality services and market their services.

The MIF is working closely with The National Geographic Society and Ashoka Changemakers to launch a new call for proposals in the second quarter of the year. The MIF will seek proposals in several categories including ones that are related to tourism and climate change; information technology and market access; and the development of sustainable tourism in the Caribbean.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is one of world’s most culturally and environmentally diverse,’’ said Santiago Soler, who heads the sustainable tourism cluster at the MIF. “We want to help countries take full advantage of tourism in a way that will preserve their cultural heritage and environment while ensuring that small entrepreneurs run a profitable and high-quality business.”

Tourism accounts for 11 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, 7 percent of all job opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean and it is among the top five sources for foreign currency for poor nations. It is a labor-intensive industry that offers an important opportunity to increase employment and reduce poverty, particularly among developing nations, Soler said.

The MIF began investing systematically on sustainable tourism in 2003 when it selected 25 projects in the region with the primary goal of improving competitiveness of business and developing or creating new tourism destinations in which small businesses and the local community could participate. Interest has been so strong from countries in the region that the MIF is now in the process of selecting new proposals. As many as 350 proposals were submitted in last’s year selected process, Soler said.

Over the past seven years, the MIF has financed a wide range of projects that helped improve the quality of services by small hotels in Mexico’s Tequila Trail destination, develop a sustainable supply of products for the tourism industry in Galápagos and create and market tourism destinations in Colombia and Brazil.

The MIF teams up with local partners, local governments, nongovernment organizations and industry groups, for example, to implement the project and offer training. Thanks to the project, small entrepreneurs learn tools that will allow them to improve the quality of their services and better manage their business and take advantage of networking to market each their services and products.

“Our role is to help plant the seed,” Soler said. “Our local and international partners, together with the local entrepreneurs and communities, have to ensure the work that has been done is preserved and expanded long after the IDB’s role has finished.”

Partnerships with corporations

During 2010 a special emphasis will be made to incorporate partners from the corporate world that are directly or indirectly related with the tourism sector. In February, the MIF organized a partnership summit at the National Geographic´s headquarters in Washington DC.

The event sought to narrow the gap between the development world, initiatives related to corporate social responsibility and corporate business strategies to identify commercial opportunities and achieve sustainable development, according to Soler.

“We are working closely with companies such as Microsoft, Amadeus, Google and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), and we hope to have targeted competitions with active participation of selected corporate partners in 2010,” said Soler.