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Promoting Nature- and Culture-Based Tourism

A reserve of 730 hectares of cloud forest in rural Ecuador is part of a community project known as Santa Lucía that seeks to conserve nature through ecotourism and generate new income for local campesino families who manage their own resources.

Santa Lucía is just one of the 41 pilot programs of best management practices in sustainable tourism conducted in Ecuador with support of Rainforest Alliance, a nongovernmental organization whose mission is to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.

Costa Rica and Ecuador are two small countries leading sustainable tourism practices in the Americas. In the minds of many, Costa Rica seems to have become practically synonymous with “ecotourism,” while Ecuador is becoming a model country for sustainable tourism development in South America.

Speaking at IDB Headquarters, Ronald Sanabria, Director of Sustainable Tourism for Rainforest Alliance, pointed out that the growing support for nature- and culture-based tourist destinations signals that sustainable tourism is the beginning of exponential growth for Latin American countries with vast natural resources that are investing in the conservation of those resources.

Tourism to so-called biodiversity “hotspots” or nature- and culture-based tourist destinations—the majority of which are found in Latin America—has increased by 100 percent since 1990, according to Conservation International.

During a conference held at the IDB for the sustainable tourism cluster of the Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), Sanabria explained the many business advantages that arise from facilitating the development of regional and global sustainable tourism standards and increasing credibility and market support for sustainable tourism certification, a way to mainstream biodiversity into tourism by verifying the “greenness” of businesses.

Some criteria for this type of certification involve compliance with legislation, water and energy consumption, waste disposal, efforts to conserve biodiversity, community development, respect for local cultures and responsible marketing practices.

“Green” certifications help identify businesses going in the same direction towards sustainable tourism practices. To this end, the certification network can also be used as a shared marketing strategy to attract more environmentally conscious travelers, potentially boosting the competitiveness of small and medium-sized businesses.

According to participants from the tourism sector’s supply side in Costa Rica and Ecuador, more and more tour operators, hoteliers, and other businesses in the sector are looking to do business with certified partnerships.  They also stated that their business has increased since 2003, when Rainforest Alliance entered the picture with a MIF-funded project to promote responsible tourism practices among local businesses, motivating them to join voluntary sustainable tourism certification initiatives.

Santiago Soler, MIF coordinator of the sustainable tourism cluster, presented the 22 MIF cluster projects financed in 17 countries in Latin America, and highlighted the successful partnership with Rainforest Alliance on implementing best management practices in sustainable tourism for small and medium-sized enterprises.

To conclude, Sanabria pointed out how these partnerships are mainstreaming sustainable tourism principles and greening the commercialization chain by linking sustainable tourism service suppliers with buyers and consumers.

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