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PPT Working Paper No.6
Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism
TROPIC Ecological Adventures - Ecuador
Scott Braman and
Fundación Acción Amazonia
April 2001
This case study was written as a contribution to a project on ‘pro-poor tourism strategies.’ The pro-poor tourism projectis collaborative research involving the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the International Institute forEnvironment and Development (IIED), the Centre for Responsible Tourism at the University of Greenwich (CRT),together with in-country case study collaborators. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Unit (ESCOR) ofthe UK Department for International Development (DFID).
The project reviewed the experience of pro-poor tourism strategies based on six commissioned case studies. Thesestudies used a common methodology developed within this project. The case study work was undertaken mainlybetween September and December 2000. Findings have been synthesised into a research report and a policy briefing,while the 6 case studies are all available as Working Papers. The outputs of the project are: Pro-poor tourism strategies: Making tourism work for the poor. Pro-poor Tourism Report No 1. (60pp) by CarolineAshley, Dilys Roe and Harold Goodwin, April 2001.
Pro-poor tourism: Expanding opportunities for the poor. PPT Policy Briefing No 1. (4pp). By Caroline Ashley,Harold Goodwin and Dilys Roe, April 2001.
Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism, Wilderness Safaris South Africa: Rocktail Bay and Ndumu Lodge.
Clive Poultney and Anna Spenceley Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism. Case studies of Makuleke and Manyeleti tourism initiatives: SouthAfrica. Karin Mahony and Jurgens Van Zyl Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism. Case study of pro-poor tourism and SNV in Humla District, WestNepal. Naomi M. Saville Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism: NACOBTA the Namibian case study. Nepeti Nicanor UCOTA – The Uganda Community Tourism Association: a comparison with NACOBTA. Elissa Williams,Alison White and Anna Spenceley Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism. Tropic Ecological Adventures – Ecuador. Scott Braman andFundación Acción Amazonia Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism: a case study of the St. Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme. YvesRenard Pro-poor tourism initiatives in developing countries: analysis of secondary case studies. Xavier Cattarinich.
All of the reports are available on our website at:
Readers are encouraged to quote or reproduce material from this working paper, but as copyright holders CRT, IIEDand ODI request due acknowledgement.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) infunding this work. DFID supports policies, programmes and projects to promote international development. It providedfunds for this study as part of that objective, but the views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors alone.
The study was conducted under the auspices of the CRT, IIED and ODI, with editing and advisory inputs from CarolineAshley (ODI) and Dilys Roe (IIED).
Thanks are due to Sonia Sandoval, Sofía Darquea and Andrew Drumm for their support and valuable inputs inreviewing the material.
About the authors and organisation:
Fundación Acción Amazonia is dedicated to working with indigenous communities and organisations to protect theirenvironment and cultural integrity, and to develop small-scale, sustainable, development projects including ecotourism,and can be contacted at: Accion AmazoniaSarmientoN39-198 entre Hugo Moncayo y Gaspar de VillaroelQuitoEcuador Scott Braman is completing a year of community ecotourism research in Ecuador financed by the US Governmentsponsored Fulbright Scholarship programme. The majority of Scott’s work has been with the Huaorani. He may becontacted at: Email: Scott.C.Braman.99@Alum.Dartmouth.ORG Contents
1. Introduction
2. Assessment of Pro-poor Strategies and Actions
2.1 Assessment of broad pro-poor tourism strategies 2.2 Specific action to involve the poor in tourism 3. Progress and Challenges
3.1 Progress of Tropic’s pro-poor initiative 3.2. Challenges and Tropic’s need to adapt 3.3 Relevance to the poor and poverty reduction 4. Review and Lessons
4.1 Different views on Tropic’s initiative Tables
Table 1
Specific actions to involve the poor in tourism Aggregates for Tropic’s Amazon community-based tourism initiative since 1996 Key factors that limit Tropic’s achievement of pro-poor benefits in Quehueirono and Financial earnings of the poor, Community Zabalo, Cofan Financial earnings of the poor, Huaorani communities of Quehueirono and Huentado Estimates of handicraft sales in the Huaorani communities of Quehueirono and Huentado Synthesis of positive and negative benefits on livelihoods of the poor 1. Introduction
1.1 The area and context
Over the last 30 years, neotropical rainforests have experienced severe pressure from thecombination of continuing expansion of road networks, immigration of colonists, and the increasingreach and influence of extractive industries such as oil and logging. In the Ecuadorian Amazon,which covers an area roughly half the size of the country, a dynamic exists between these agents ofenvironmental degradation and emerging counter-currents, such as effective indigenousorganisations, national and international efforts working toward biodiversity conservation, and theincreasing economic importance of nature-based tourism.
The Ecuadorian Amazon, composed mostly of lowland tropical rainforest, is commonlyacknowledged by researchers and conservationists as one of the most biologically and culturallydiverse of the world. There are eight indigenous groups in the area including the Achuar, Zaparo,Cofan, Siona, Siecoya, Huaorani and the more numerous Sacha Runa (lowland Quichua) and Shuar.
In the last ten years many of these indigenous groups have successfully managed to delimit and gaintitle to communal territories covering at least part of their ancestral lands. The area also containseight protected areas. The Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve and Yasuni National Park are the largest ofthese areas, and cover over 2 million hectares between them. While the vast majority of theEcuadorian Amazon is currently covered either by protected areas or indigenous territories, theEcuadorian government retains the rights to all subsurface resources, most importantly oil.
Large reserves of oil were discovered in 1967, and the progression of this industry and thesubsequent roads and colonists that have followed continues up to the present time. Oil fromreserves in the Amazon accounts for over 15% of the Ecuadorian economy (Arteta 2000, pers.
comm.). There are currently over 15 international oil companies working oil concessions in theEcuadorian Amazon including Occidental, YPF, City, Oryx, Elf, and Arco Oriente. Many of thesegovernment-sanctioned oil concessions overlap with protected areas and indigenous territories. Sixcompanies work in Huaorani Territory alone, and nearly a quarter of all Huaorani communities arenow located along oil roads.
Many indigenous communities still rely heavily on hunting, fishing, and small-scale agriculture, butas communities become increasingly integrated into the market economy, especially those near oilroads or gateway towns, they perceive that money is necessary. The Huaorani and other indigenousgroups have very limited opportunities to earn money and often turn to the oil companies forhandouts (usually food, clothes, chain saws, or outboard motors) or jobs as manual labourers, or toextractive practices such as logging and clearing of land for cattle. As indigenous groups becomeincreasingly aware of the negative socio-cultural and environmental impacts of oil exploitation andother environmentally destructive practices, many indigenous communities see the development oftourism as one of their only economic alternatives, and one capable of promising economic benefits,environmental protection, and cultural pride and empowerment.
The Ecuadorian Amazon has been an established tourism destination since the 1970s, attractingtourists with its diversity of indigenous groups and large tracts of primary forest with ampleopportunities for viewing wildlife. There is a wide range of ecotourism opportunities in the regionfrom high-end lodges with private reserves, to rustic cabañas and river adventure trips, to nationalparks and indigenous territories (Drumm 1990). The high-end tour operators often combine trips tothe Ecuadorian Amazon, which may cost as much as $200 per day, with the cruises around theGalapagos Islands – one of the world’s most popular nature tourism destinations. Tropic EcologicalAdventures, the focus of this case study, also uses this strategy of creating Galapagos-Amazon packages as an effective way to sell its Amazon community-based programs. While luxuryprogrammes do exist, a large number of travellers in the region are independent travellers, orbackpackers, with limited economic resources who pay between $25 and $50 per day for all-inclusive multi-day ‘jungle adventure’ trips. Many of these jungle adventures market visits to‘Indian villages’, but rarely are the communities they visit effectively organised to control orcapture ample benefits from the often unannounced visits of these tour groups.
Within the last ten years, many indigenous communities have started to organise themselves inorder to run their own tourism programs. Some have effectively organised at the community level toreceive independent travellers and tourists interested in indigenous culture, either directly or inpartnerships with private sector tour operators. Indigenous community-operated tourism projects inthe Ecuadorian Amazon, particularly those of RICANCIE (Quichua network of 9 communitiesgeared towards mid to economic market segment) and more recently KAPAWI (Achuar partnershipwith Canodros – an operator which also has a luxury ship in the Galapagos), have become well-known models touted worldwide in ecotourism literature for their abilities to capture diversebenefits for local people. Since its initial boom in the 1980s, tourism in Ecuador, particularly tonatural areas, has been increasing, and Ecuador is considered one of the world’s leading ecotourismdestinations both for its natural and cultural attractions and for its dynamic ecotourism projectsinvolving indigenous communities.
There seems to be a general consensus among operators and government officials that tourism tothe Ecuadorian Amazon and Ecuador in general declined in 1999. There are many possible reasonsfor this including increasing competition from neighbouring Peru, volcanic eruptions, a touristkidnapping, a prolonged economic crisis, political upheaval, and most recently the kidnapping of 10foreign oil company employees from an installation on the Napo. Many of these events receivedwidespread coverage in the international press, and led to travel advisories issued by the US StateDepartment. Many tourists and others involved in the industry feel that these events have tarnishedEcuador’s image as a safe tourism destination.
The Ecuadorian government does, however, have policies in place that encourage tourismdevelopment, especially in high-profile areas such as the Amazon. The most influential actors indeveloping tourism in the region, however, are the larger private operators, many of whom aremembers of ASEC – the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association. Unfortunately, in addition to recentexternal problems, the economic dominion of the petroleum industry in the region preventseffective market expansion. The Ministry of Tourism, ASEC, and many small non-governmentalorganisations operating in the area, do encourage specifically pro-poor tourism policies andpractices. Researchers often cite existing community tourism projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon asmodels of socially and environmentally responsible operations and products, many of which haveimplicit pro-poor tourism elements. These pro-poor tourism elements include the creation andexpansion of business opportunities for local people, access to education and healthcare, protectionof the natural environment, and stated goals of cultural empowerment.
Unfortunately, while many communities are organised to run their own tourism operations, andhave been heralded in ecotourism literature, they often struggle to attract enough tourists to maketheir programs viable (Wesche and Drumm 1999). Lack of marketing skills and effectivepartnerships with the private sector present critical barriers to the profitability and, thus, long-termsustainability of community tourism ventures.
1.2 Background and details of PPT
Tropic Ecological Adventures was created by Welsh environmentalist Andy Drumm from a desireto demonstrate the viability of environmentally, socially, and culturally responsible tourism. Manyindigenous communities, particularly the Huaorani, were rapidly becoming a labour force for the oilindustry, which was destroying their natural and cultural environment. Tropic realised that theregion’s natural and cultural resources could provide dynamic ecotourism attractions, where localcommunities could be active participants in tourism development and management. Tropic believesstrongly that tourism, if developed and managed with respect for local cultures and environments,can improve the well being of indigenous communities and contribute to biodiversity conservation.
With this in mind, Tropic provides technical assistance and a critical link to the tourism market, andthus broadens the constituency of support for sustainable development in general, and morespecifically, in Ecuador.
To address the needs of clients and outbound tour operators, Tropic’s objective is to offerspecialised dynamic tour packages that are often highlighted by a trip to an indigenous community-run tourism project in the Amazon. Tropic promises that each package will be tailored specificallyto meet the needs and budgets of clients. A full itinerary created and sold by Tropic might includetwo days visiting Ecuador’s highlands, a five-day trip into Huaorani Territory, and an overnight stayat Maquipucuna – a cloudforest eco-lodge run by a non-profit foundation. Realising the inherentdifficulties in obtaining sustainable profit margins from selling community projects, Tropic’sfinancial viability relies on marketing a diversity of nature and culture based attractions throughoutEcuador. . Tropic has created business alliances with other private companies in order to puttogether a high quality overall experience and diverse itineraries. These partnerships includenumerous arrangements with Galapagos and other mainland operations, which Tropic believes to besocially and environmentally responsible, and at the same time capable of providing a high-qualityproduct. Selling cruises in the Galapagos Islands (an area where both Mr. Drumm and partner SofiaDarquea, as former naturalist guides, have years of experience) accounts for nearly 40% of income,and has proven to be key survival tactic in their continued commitment to sell the Amazoncommunity-based projects.
Tropic has created partnerships with other private operators and non-profit organisations whichshare its philosophy. The company is an active member of ASEC and has played a key role inimplementing policy changes that strive to offer incentives for socially and environmentallyresponsible tourism throughout Ecuador (see ASEC, 1998). Tropic has also worked actively with avariety of other stakeholders to increase community participation in tourism.
Tropic states that its main commitment is environmental and cultural conservation and support forlocal communities. To maintain this aspect of the work and still operate as a for-profit company, in1998 Drumm, then the general manager of Tropic Ecological Adventures, together with otherinterested parties, created Acción Amazonía, a separate non-profit organisation. Acción Amazoníais dedicated to working with indigenous communities and organisations to protect their environmentand cultural integrity, and to develop small-scale, sustainable, development projects includingecotourism.
Tropic has worked with a wide variety of community projects in the Amazon and elsewhere inEcuador, offering technical assistance. In the Amazon, Tropic has successfully marketedprogrammes run by the Siecoya, Cofan, and the Quichua community tourism networks ofRICANCIE and Union Huacamayos. Drumm has personally visited all these projects and hasworked extensively with the communities offering technical assistance to help improve the qualityof their tourism products and management capacity. In addition to providing technical assistanceand marketing the programs run independently by communities, Tropic established its own exclusive community programme by developing a working partnership with the Huaoranicommunities of Quehueriono and Huentado. Tropic’s pro-poor objectives are fundamental to itsoverall approach to working with communities. These are illustrated on its website, marketingbrochures and other documents. The idea presented in Tropic’s marketing material is that respectfuland financially beneficial tourism will bring the income needed at the local level to encourageAmazonian indigenous communities to protect both their culture and environment.
Tropic’s pro-poor tourism initiatives are diverse and include: co-developing community basedecotourism operations with indigenous communities, promoting and marketing independentcommunity-based ecotourism operations, creating business alliances with other responsible privatecompanies in areas where Tropic and communities have no product, playing an active role inindustry associations to promote policy change, providing financial support for Acción Amazonía,and assisting with research in related areas.
This case study will focus on two of these initiatives that seem particularly useful to discuss, notonly in terms of Tropic’s successes, but also for the many challenges that the company has faced inimplementing them in its first 5 years of operation. The detailed analysis that follows will focusspecifically on Tropic’s co-developed Huaorani programme, and its marketing of the insightfulCofan Community Tourism Program of Zabalo – the independent community programme sold mostconsistently by Tropic. The progression and eventual interruption of Tropic’s Huaorani partnershipmay prove particularly insightful because it highlights the many potential problems that can resultfrom limited sales that fail to live up to both the company’s and community’s expectations. TheHuaorani programme also serves to demonstrate that even with a limited financial investment acommitted private sector partner can bring significant benefits to the livelihood of localcommunities. The Cofan Community Tourism Program of Zabalo sold by Tropic to its clients,highlights the marketing potential that private sector partnerships can have in supporting ongoingcommunity programmes. The Cofan Program is also the longest-running community tourismprogramme in the Amazon, with many lessons to offer.
1.2.1 Headwaters of the Amazon with the Huaorani The relationship that Tropic’s founder Andy Drumm established with the Huaorani was originallyone of collaboration on environmental protection issues. During 1993 it became apparent that thecommunities had title to territories with considerable natural and cultural resources which could bedeveloped into an ecotourism programme that they could manage themselves. Randy Smith, (1995)chronicles many of the cultural injustices that the Huaorani have been subjected to over the past 20years, as a result of the combination of ignorant tourists, irresponsible tour companies and guides,and the lack of any effective Huaorani involvement in issues of management and control. Thisexploitative situation predominant in the limited tourism that did exist in Huaorani Territory, ledTropic’s founder, Andy Drumm, to begin working more intensely with the Huaorani, and aninspiring community leader, Moi Enomenga, to set-up a small-scale model ecotourism programmein Moi`s community of Quehueriono. In order to ensure the community’s understanding of theproject, and to limit any possible negative consequences, Tropic’s style of working with theHuaorani in Quehueriono was commended by Ecotourism Society President, Megan Epler Wood,as a ‘go slow’ attitude, where low numbers of tourists should be expected (Epler Wood 1998).
From the outset, the idea was to pursue a balanced relationship between the community and thecompany. Tropic worked for nine months giving orientation and planning workshops in thecommunity before opening the programme for tourists. The hope was that the community wouldgain employment during tours by working as guides, motorists, helpers and cooks, and, for each tourist, would receive a fee that would go into a special community fund. Tropic would providelimited capital investment for the project and offer the community technical and backgroundtourism training. Tropic received access to Huaorani Territory around Quehueriono and, withHuaorani and bilingual guides present, its clients were able to visit the community and use thecommunity’s extensive system of forest trails. Tropic encouraged the community to build a rustictourist cabaña built alongside the Shiripuno River in the traditional Huaorani style, made with localpalm fronds and other materials gathered from the forest. Tropic and the community decided tobuild the cabaña about 30 minutes by foot from the community in order to limit the negative socialimpacts that may result from constant contact between the community and tourists.
In addition to the lengthy planning process, Tropic invested funds to help the community and Moibuy a suitable canoe. Even though the community was anxious to receive more tourists, Tropicstressed the importance of limiting group size and visits. The community and Tropic decided that nomore than 8 tourists would be allowed on any one tour with a maximum of one group per month.
Tropic would be responsible for marketing, packaging, and selling tours to the community. Tropic`sall inclusive tour offerings for the Huaorani Territory range from $125 to almost $200 per personper day depending on group size, length of stay, and transportation options (canoe, air). Itinerarieswere fitted to match the interests of the clients but usually included visits to oil facilities, talks withcommunity elders, guided rainforest hikes, canoe trips, a community meeting, and opportunities forintercultural exchange through song, dance, and stories. With its high price range, Tropic targetssensitive travellers motivated to pay the higher costs associated with a unique and socially andenvironmentally responsible tour product to remote areas relatively unaffected by outsideinfluences.
Elements in Tropic`s Huaorani initiative that are specifically pro-poor include: direct but limitedemployment, capacity-building at the community level, opportunities to sell local handicrafts(micro-enterprise), investment in useful community infrastructure (canoe, motor repairs, radio), anda commitment to limit potential negative social and cultural impacts. Income received andgenerated by the community does not necessarily affect their level of subsistence, which remainsstill largely dependent on the forest, but can provide critical funds for education and both long-termand emergency healthcare. Tropic raised funds from clients to buy a radio that is both a key tool forthe Quehueriono community in emergencies, and has the potential to help the community build bothterritorial control and cultural empowerment. Tropic has also supported community members withtransportation, food, and accommodation on visits to Quito for workshops and medicalemergencies.
Recognising the importance of promoting inter-community collaboration, Tropic EcologicalAdventures has also signed an agreement with ONHAE, the Huaorani indigenous organisation, tooperate tours in the Huaorani Territory and was instrumental in helping it establish the $5 per touristentrance fee theoretically charged to all tourists entering the Huaorani territory. Tropic has alsoprovided technical and economic assistance to ONHAE in critical situations of disputed controlover territory, particularly those concerning incursions by oil companies and illegal woodcuttingoperations. Tropic`s experience and extensive marketing strategies and connections withuniversities, journalists, and other activists, has helped produce numerous television documentaries,articles in international publications, and extensive documentation in ecotourism literature. This hashelped generate exposure and international attention on a macro-level to the Huaorani and theirstruggles, particularly oil exploitation. This has also served to generate initial visitors for thecommunity and clients for Tropic. For remote indigenous communities with little contact like theHuaorani, international attention (resulting from concerned tourists, academic researches, theinternational press, magazine articles, books) is one of the most effective weapons in counteractingthe environmental and cultural dangers posed by increased oil company operations, and otherexploitative practices encouraged by outsiders working in Huaorani Territory.
Tropic markets numerous independently run community tourism projects in the Amazon. From thecompany’s beginning, Tropic has marketed and sold the Cofan Tourism Project in Zabalo moreconsistently than any of the other Amazon community projects offered in its brochures or website.
Zabalo’s ecotourism programme was spearheaded by the Cofan leader, Randy Borman. Randy isthe son of American missionaries who grew up with the Cofan, a nation of over 700 people, andlater married Amelia, a Cofan woman. The Cofan have experienced severe impacts throughout theirtraditional territory, since the large gateway and oil boom-town of Lago Agrio, was built in theheart of their traditional territory in the early 1970s. Randy and other Cofan helped found thecommunity of Zabalo far down river near Ecuador’s border with Peru on the Rio Aguarico. Theyset up a community-run tourism programme that could provide them with critical economic andcultural benefits. In their brochure, the Cofan boast about being the ‘oldest community operatedtourism program in Amazonia, with over twenty years of experience.’ (See Cofan marketingbrochure).
The community currently operates two kinds of tourism operations. One is a partnership withTransturi (a subsidiary of Metropolitan Touring, Ecuador’s largest tourism company), whose boatsfrom its luxury Flotel Orellana visit the community weekly for short visits. The community chargesthe company $3 per tourist and sells a wide-variety of handicrafts to tourists through a carefullymanaged craft cooperative. The Cofan’s partnership with Transturi is the mainstay of thecommunity bringing in an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 per year. In addition, Randy and thecommunity also run multi-day community tours where tourists are lodged in community cabañas,accompany Cofan guides (and occasionally Randy himself) on walks through the forest, and areable to learn about the daily life of the community and the Cofan culture. While Randy and theCofan do their own limited marketing, they also retain active partnerships with a number of touroperators, including Tropic, in order to maintain a more constant flow of tour groups.
When Tropic sells a trip to Zabalo and the Cofan, it provides a bilingual naturalist guide whennecessary, and then leaves the rest up to Randy and the experienced Cofan, who provide lodging,food, and a busy itinerary. Tropic lent logistical and marketing support to the Cofan by bringingtheir ecotourism product to a wider audience through Tropic’s own marketing strategies, andthrough its contacts with universities and tourism organisations which are often keen to visit thisincreasingly well-known project. The itineraries are Randy’s creation. Tropic has talked with Randyand the Cofan about issues of group management, photography, and guide training. Tropic’s guidescomplete an informal assessment after each trip and offer any suggestions and feedback to Randy toensure quality control. Tropic appreciates the Cofan’s extensive experience in operating communitytourism and has arranged on various occasions for members of Zabalo to visit Quehueriono andother Huaorani communities to share their experiences and to help train Huaorani guides.
Pro-poor objectives are implicit in the Cofan’s community tourism programme in Zabalo, describedin their brochure as a ‘a conservation ecotourism community’. Randy has used his knowledge ofboth the business world and the Cofan to maximise economic benefits to the community. Theemployment and business opportunities he has helped create are constantly expanding, as more andmore Cofan become trained and experienced guides, tourism cooks, and administrators. Thecommunity has established an effective cooperative for handicraft sales that Randy estimates yieldsup to $100 per household per month. Using tourism revenues to ease the potential negative effects,Randy and the Cofan have established complex hunting regulations and restrictions that1 In early 2001, the Flotel moved away from Cofan territiory as a result of perceived security problems resulting from the US backed“Plan Colombia”. Tropic has also been forced to cease sending clients to that region. The loss of this business is expected to becritical for the Cofan.
complement existing environmental monitoring practices. In 1992, the Cofan were able to usenational and international attention, partly generated by their ongoing tourism project, tosuccessfully confront and halt illegal oil prospecting operations on their lands, and within theCuyabeno Wildlife Production Reserve.
2. Assessment of Pro-poor Strategies and Actions
2.1 Assessment of broad pro-poor tourism strategies
Tropic Ecological Adventures’ pro-poor tourism strategies developed from the belief thatcommunity tourism can provide the impetus for biodiversity conservation and culturalempowerment for indigenous communities that are increasingly threatened by oil industryexpansion and other environmentally destructive and culturally insensitive activities. Tropic’s mainpriority in working with indigenous communities focused on expanding business and employmentopportunities to demonstrate that, in addition to economic benefits, tourism can yield criticalenvironmental and cultural advantages. From the creation of the company, Tropic’s intention was tohelp indigenous communities to value their increasingly threatened natural and cultural resources,and to help channel outside interest and necessary policy changes to encourage both biodiversityconservation and programmes for cultural empowerment at the community level. Realising thattourism, if not controlled and managed by the community, could also be exploitative, Tropic set-upguidelines to reduce potential negative socio-cultural impacts.
2.1.1 Expansion of business opportunities for the poor Tropic was instrumental in having Cofan trainers employed for tourism training workshops for boththe Huaorani and the Achuar. By developing a partnership with the communities of Quehuerionoand Huentado and operating a limited ecotourism programme, Tropic created business opportunitiesin tourism where they had not existed previously. The company provided orientation workshops andtraining opportunities to the Huaorani, while the Huaorani programme created a new market thatenabled community households (without preference) in Quehueriono and Huentado, to sellhandicrafts at above average prices to visitors. Tropic actively encourages its clients to buy localartesania as part of the company’s mission to demonstrate economic benefits of ecotourism at thelocal level. Common handicrafts items sold include: necklaces ($1 - $5), woven bags ($3 - $6),spears ($15 – 50), hammocks and blowguns ($50 up to $100).
By providing new marketing opportunities for their products, Tropic expanded business prospectsfor existing community tourism projects and handicrafts, particularly those of the Siecoya andCofan. The experience in guiding and logistics, and increased contacts with conservationists, TVand print media, academic researchers, and other individuals, has improved the businessopportunities for specific members of the communities where Tropic works.
2.1.2 Expansion of employment opportunities for the poor Tropic has created direct employment opportunities for members of Quehueriono and Huentado. Onaverage, a minimum of 4 community members (guide, 2 helpers, and assistant cook) receive directemployment during every tour. This number fluctuates with group size, and may reach 6 or 7 forlarger groups. Guiding is a skilled job, but the other jobs are unskilled or semi-skilled, and are opento all who are willing to participate. Usually, the men work as motorists or punteros (poling at frontend of canoe) while the women often work as helpers to the cook. No organised rotation exists, buthelpers usually change from one trip to another.
For the other community programmes that Tropic sells, employment opportunities have alsoexpanded. In the Cofan community of Zabalo, an apprentice programme is in place to train young,unskilled workers, who begin as helpers, to learn the more skilled jobs of guides and cook- administrators. Approximately 10 community members have now received ample training andexperience in these skilled positions.
2.1.3 Addressing/enhancing the environmental impacts of tourism that particularly Community tourism operations add an economic value to the land and the undisturbed condition ofthe forest: the more intact and ‘wild’ an area, the more valuable it is for tourism. Some communityprogrammes with which Tropic works, have voluntarily decided to set apart no-hunting zones inareas frequented by tourists, to ensure better wildlife viewing opportunities. These restricted areaslimit access to hunting grounds, and serve as a reservoir area for important seed dispersers andpreferred food species such as peccaries and woolly and spider monkeys. Community tourismprogrammes supported by Tropic provide an economic alternative to the environmentallydestructive practices of the ever-expanding petroleum industry. Tourism also provides incentives toreduce or halt other extractive activities – i.e. logging, selling animal products, etc. that mayjeopardise the attractiveness of the community’s forests. Randy Borman and the Cofan of Zabalohave established detailed hunting restrictions and monitoring practices that ensure not only ease ofwildlife viewing for tourists, but also a healthy ecosystem and constant food supply. The Cofanhave also been active in a programme for rearing river turtles that complements their tourismactivities, and ensures the prolonged protection of this endangered species.
2.1.4 Enhancing the positive and addressing the negative social and cultural impacts Community-based tourism enterprises encourage traditional skills and help maintain culturalknowledge (myths, histories, songs, clothing style) and events (dances, festivals). In Huentado,mothers encourage their children to wear traditional clothing, paint their faces, and learn thetraditional Huaorani welcoming songs that they sing to tourists during cultural presentations. Tropichas instituted policies for its Huaorani programme that minimise the negative socio-cultural impactsthat can result from tourism activities. This includes limiting group size, restricting visits to onegroup per month, and locating its cabaña half an hour’s walk from the community. Randy Bormanstates that tourism has been a ‘very positive cultural influence overall’ in Zabalo and that it has beenan ‘affirmation of the Cofan culture’. Tourism in Siecoya Territory has encouraged the use oftraditional clothing such as the blue or white smocks commonly worn by guides during tours.
In the Amazon, community earnings from tourism are often used to improve communication,health-care, and education facilities and provide much-needed funds for medical emergencies suchas poisonous snake bites. By encouraging their clients to become active donors, Tropic has beenable to raise funds to buy two multi-frequency radios for the Hauorani. Tropic has also encouragedclients visiting communities to bring along school supplies to give to the community, if appropriate.
2.1.5 Building a supportive policy and planning framework Tropic has played a critical role in the formulation of a groundbreaking policy document, ‘Políticasy Estrategias Para la Participación Comunitaria en el Ecoturismo’ (Policies and Strategies forCommunity Participation in Ecotourism) produced by ASEC. This document was the result of aconference which brought together government ministry representatives, private tour operators,non-profit organisations, and indigenous people, including the Cofan, Siecoya, Hauorani, Quichua,Shuar, and others, to discuss the conditions and aspirations of community involvement in tourism.
The Ministry of Tourism has subsequently adopted the policy document as a major input into itsnew tourism legislation.
Tropic has also supported the RICANCIE network and other communities’ aspirations to establishthe legal basis for community ecotourism operations.
2.1.6 Developing pro-poor processes and institutions Tropic believes it is essential for communities to be active in developing and managing tourismprojects. The company has held numerous workshops in Quehueriono which provided forums fororientation and planning. At these workshops Tropic and the community discussed communityaspirations, tourism dynamics, possible strategies to manage the programme, the work involved,and the possible rewards. In one of these workshops given in coordination with an environmentalorganisation, Acción Ecológica, representatives from 20 Huaorani communities were present todiscuss the impacts of oil exploitation and the possibilities of tourism as an income-generatingalternative. Tropic helped raise money for ONHAE to set up a tourism committee and suggested theimplementation of a territorial entrance fee paid to ONHAE by each tourist entering HuaoraniTerritory. The $5 per tourist fee would help ONHAE build its capacity to manage and controltourism in the territory.
2.2 Specific actions to involve the poor in tourism
Table 1 Specific actions to involve the poor in tourism
Barriers to participation
Means of overcoming barriers
of the poor in tourism
encountered by Tropic

Through workshops, training courses, and direct experience Tropic actively promotes the transmission of tourism skills. Tropic encourages thecommunity to select cooking apprentices to accompany Tropic’s professionalcook and to help Huaorani participants in the formal guide training offered bythe Ministry of Tourism.
Tropic has given orientation and planning workshops in Quehueriono. At one workshop, two Cofan were contracted to share their experiences and tosuggest community management of the programme. Tropic encouragedelders to be active in discussions and decision-making, Tropic has made efforts to ensure that women’s opinions are expressed in the meetings and encourage the men to take them seriously. This did not violategender norms, as Huaorani women are more active participants in decision-making than other Amazonian groups.
Tropic bought a boat for the community and helped pay for repairs on thecommunity’s outboard motor. Tropic raised money from its clients to buyQuehueriono a multi-frequency radio to facilitate communication with otherindigenous organisations, airline companies, the hospital, governmentministries, and ONHAE.
Tropic’s community partnership was designed to strengthen Huaorani rightsto their territory by offering support on issues of environmental protectionand control of exploitative tourism practices.
Tropic adapted the existing forest trails to create a couple of circuits. Tropicintegrated the river journey out of the community to the bridge into theitinerary, insisting that the canoe be poled down river rather than use the noisy outboard motor. Tropic also worked with the community to buildcabañas in the traditional Huaorani style and encouraged the community tobuild another traditional structure on a hill that could serve as a lookout andlunch destination.
The situation that Tropic found was completely open – there were noregulations and many communities were being exploited by irresponsible touroperators. Tropic was instrumental in creating regulations for tourismoperations, which included the idea of a community fee for overnight stays, aterritorial entrance fee paid to ONHAE, and guidelines for signingoperational agreements with ONHAE.
Tropic markets and sells trips to Quehueriono and Huentado using its web site, brochures, and recommendations through publications produced by itsclients many of whom conservation and ecotourism professionals. Tropic hasworked with NBC, the Discovery Channel, the Independent on Sundaynewspaper, Stern Magazine and others to produce coverage of the Huaoraniand to highlight the impacts of oil development.
Tropic has worked with the community to establish a dynamic itinerary that includes discussions with elders, and has helped to create balancedintercultural exchanges. Tropic has encouraged its clients to be understandingand respectful of local conditions and rustic infrastructure.
Tropic has introduced the Huaorani to a new, higher-end segment of the international tourist market. Tropic considers its clients to be a niche marketof relatively wealthy people who are adventurous and keen to explore theAmazon and learn from indigenous culture. Tropic sold the Huaoraniprogramme as a special ‘life-enhancing’ experience, and a chance to learn,through direct experience, about the realities of the Amazon and the threatsposed by oil industry encroachment. Tropic’s market includes responsibletravellers who want to be reassured that their presence does not negativelyimpact on the culture or natural environment, but rather contributes tocultural and environmental benefits. Tropic provides a high quality bilingualnaturalist guide, specialised meal service, and a dynamic itinerary. Tropicalso markets the fact that their local Huaorani guide would be MoiEnomenga, a name well-known thanks to the book, Savages, written by JoeKane.
3. Progress and Challenges
3.1 Progress of Tropic’s pro-poor initiatives
Tropic has been operating at full capacity only since 1996. Since that time, the company has wontwo international awards for socially and environmentally responsible tourism for its work. One ofthese awards, the ToDo! 97 Award, is believed to be the only award evaluated in the field by anindependent judge. Along with the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Reserve and Lodge (with whichTropic has a strategic alliance), Tropic was highlighted in the Ecotourism Showcase 2000 Award, atthe annual Non-Profits in Travel Conference. In addition to this international acclaim used in itsmarketing brochures and website, Tropic has managed to remain profitable and active throughdifficult years for tourism in Ecuador, due in large part to national political, economic, and otherevents (volcanic eruptions, kidnappings).
Since 1996, Tropic has sent over 44 tour groups and more than 140 passengers to Amazoncommunity-based projects and has generated over $20,000 of total income for these communities(See Table 2).
Table 2 Aggregates for Tropic’s Amazon community-based tourism initiatives since 1996
No. of tour
No of passengers
Aggregate $ into
community *
* Aggregate numbers for the Huaorani Program do not include food, gasoline, oil and other such costs that are includedfor the other programmes. These aggregate numbers include money collected as a community fee, income earnedthrough employment and other services such as food, accommodation, and excursions. These figures do not includemoney generated through handicraft sales.
Tropic’s ability to sell these projects is a modest, but recognisable achievement considering that theEcuadorian Amazon in particular has experienced three major kidnappings (one involving tourists,the other two involving oil company employees), all of which received widespread internationalpress coverage. Tropic has provided more groups and passengers to the Cofan project of Zabalothan any other private sector partnership with the community.
Founder, Andy Drumm, summarised Tropic’s achievements with its award-winning Huaoraniprogramme by stating: ‘At least for a period, we demonstrated that tourism is something that is empowering andcollaborative, and is not exploitative in the Huaorani’s relationship with an outside organisation.
The community benefited materially. Tourism promotes self-esteem in the community, which isnot something that outside involvement in communities usually does. Tropic brought the plightof the Huaorani and other communities to the outside world, resulting in greater awareness ofthe Huaorani, the questionable actions of the oil companies who work in that area, and theHuaorani’s potential and need for community-run tourism. When we bring a group intoHuaorani Territory it is a very respectful group with high potential to continue a relationshipwith the Hauorani and make donations. Often, Tropic clients buy all the artesania available inthe community, which typically is more than $150 per group.’ 3.2 Challenges and Tropic’s need to adapt to new circumstances
Due to problems with the country’s image abroad, the number of tourists to the Ecuadorian Amazonhas decreased in recent years. This has heightened the level of competition (including offerings toAmazon community projects, which have blossomed in recent years). Tropic has therefore had tomodify its prices and add new products to accommodate the difficult market. The challenge forTropic was how to lower prices without jeopardising quality. To subsidise its continuedcommitment to the Amazon projects (for the most part these are not very profitable), and theirimplicit pro-poor elements, Tropic has had to depend more and more on its ability to market andsell other destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and the Ecuadorian Highlands.
Tropic also points out that another major obstacle to success is the limited understanding bycommunities of the disciplines demanded by the tourism business. Following the failure of theHuaorani of Quehueirono to meet the standards set by the local air traffic regulating board, flightsinto the community were suspended. Tropic in turn was forced to cancel groups. In recent years,Tropic has also had to re-evaluate the Siecoya project due to changes in the community’smanagement structure after the problems with its initial tourist cabaña. The community promised toreorganise, but when it did, it turned out that the new cabaña and tour was run by only one family.
Even though Tropic had sold the Siecoya project well in the past (it had provided clients with agood quality product and at a budget-price, attracting a cheaper and more easy to access marketsegment), the company decided to cease selling temporarily, as the project no longer conformed toTropic’s philosophy of community tourism.
Tropic's inability to meet its own projected sales goals has hindered the Huaorani project. Thecompany believes its limited economic capacity is a critical obstacle to making the capitalinvestment needed to upgrade community infrastructure (including cabañas, canoe, outboard motor)and to improve its marketing reach through more sophisticated promotional materials and qualifiedpersonnel. Tropic recognises that its patchy marketing success of the Huaorani programme hasprevented a sufficiently constant flow of groups to encourage and maintain the commitment of aremote community, which barely understands the dynamics of the tourism business.
Another major challenge facing the programme is continued expansion of the oil industry intonearby Huaorani communities. Other communities receive company gifts and employment inexchange for allowing the companies to conduct operations peacefully. Quehueriono continues tooppose the oil company activities, but this is becoming more difficult as they witness the materialbenefits gained by their neighbours. The environmental disruptions of the oil companies, and therapid integration of the Huaorani into the market economy, create ongoing degradation of thetourism resources (pristine tropical forest and relatively unaculturated indigenous communities) thatencouraged Tropic to operate in the area in the first place. Tropic believes there is a risk that thequality of the natural resources will deteriorate before it is able to raise money for new investmentin Wquehueri’ono and Huentaro. The obstacles and the associated impacts encountered by Tropicare summarised in the following table.
Table 3 Key factors that limit Tropic’s achievment of pro-poor benefits in Quehueirono and
Impacts within the community
- Material benefits, employment opportunities, aggregate community fees, and handicraft sales were lower than - Community did not maintain airstrip; air service cancelled – emergency airlift was no longer available toresidents - Community ineffective in rebuilding airstrip - Some skills (cooking, guiding, motorist, puntero) were imparted to community members, but their potential for experiential learning was limited due to the number oftour groups sent into the community - Skills were dispersed too widely among community members preventing assistants and apprentices from moving from unskilled positions to those that involvedmore skilled work (cooks, guides).
- Moi gained an incredibly diverse range of both practical - Concentration of training in Moi limited Tropic’s ability to pass on skills to more than a few other communitymembers.
- Friction developed between Moi and some community members who blamed him for Tropic’s inability to sendgroups consistently, and felt that he benefited unfairly.
- Quehueriono and Huentado feel increasingly ‘poor’ in comparison to other Huaorani communities who receive employment and gifts from oil company.
- Some community members have false expectations of a - Community members unwilling to invest time or energy in a community project. Influence of market economythrough oil and timber industries have encouragedindividuals to depend on cash.
Tropic believes that it will be able to more effectively implement and expand pro-poor elements inits new project planned for Quehueriono and Huentado if it can sell the product more consistently.
The company will then be able to channel more money into the community through higher levels ofemployment, increased opportunities to sell handicrafts, and more constant inputs into a communityfund. Tropic hopes that an upgrade in infrastructure will enable it to increase sales, and thus,generate more income for the community. The more training programmes that Tropic is able toinvest in, or that community members are able to acquire through outside assistance, the morequality services (e.g. cooking, guiding) the community will be able to provide, and the moreeconomic benefits they will be able to receive. For example, Tropic has to pay $30 a day for thecook its sends into the communities – money that Tropic would rather spend within the communityfor the same service.
In the past year, Tropic has visited the communities of Quehueirono and Huentado three times inorder to assess impacts on the community and discuss with them new possibilities for restarting thepartnership and tourism programme. The people brought into the community by Tropic on thesetrips include an ecotourism researcher who has worked in numerous Huaorani communities,Tropic’s managing director (Sofia Darquea) and other qualified consultants. Tropic feels that itneeds further investment both in infrastructure and in community training and organisation if it is tosatisfy both the needs of the community and the company successfully.
3.3 Relevance to the poor and poverty reduction
3.2.1 Analysis of Cofan community of Zabalo Data has been collected on the Cofan tourism project in Zabalo in order to give some roughestimates of wage earnings (Table 4). It is important to note that for the Cofan figures, Tropic’ssales account for approximately 25% of the totals.
Table 4 Financial earnings of the poor – community Zabalo, Cofan
No. of people
Estimated total work
days available /wage
earnings p.a/
wage earner
* These numbers are based on 20 total groups per year, which stay an average of 5 nights each.
In addition to wages earned by community members, the Cofan earn money through an $8 perperson per night community fee for lodging and handicraft sales. Randy Borman estimates that eachhousehold in Zabalo earns on average $100 per month selling handicrafts. Perhaps more than half ofthis monthly total comes from Flotel tourists who visit the community for short-stays and visits tothe handicraft cooperative. For tourists (like Tropic’s) who visit the community for multi-daycommunity stays, Randy estimates that tourists will spend between $10 and $50 per person, withAmerican tourists generally spending more than Europeans. Families who are able to sell biggeritems such as blowguns or hammocks can make nearly $100 in just one transaction.
In Zabalo, the majority of households, especially those whose men work as either guides or cook-administrators, have been able to move up from a classification of ‘poor’ into a more stableeconomic condition. Money earned by residents of Zabalo is primarily used to buy extras and notfor self-sustenance which comes mainly from their forest gardens where they grow manioc, banana,and other staples. The artisan sales go to items such as soap, toothpaste, aspirin, rice, sardines,pasta, and flour. Money earned is also used to buy clothes, more expensive items such as radios,and, more commonly, gasoline to fuel many of the motor boats owned by community members fortransportation purposes. Community funds, especially the fees collected through the cabanas, areseen as bulk funds that can be applied to particular community items. Recently, the community wasable to replace their old lawn mower. The community has plans to buy another outboard motor andfibreglass canoe later in the year.
Other alternatives to employment with the tourism project include work on Zabalo’s turtleconservation project, which pays eight workers monthly salaries. Other potential income generating activities include work for the oil companies, logging, and selling of skins. Zabalo is too far downriver to make oil employment or logging feasible and there is currently no market for animal skins.
3.2.2. Analysis of financial benefits to Huaorani communities of Quehueriono and While Tropic’s pro-poor initiative with its Huaorani project has not brought all of the positiveimpacts that the company and the community anticipated, it has had some financial impacts for thetwo communities (Tables 5 and 6).
Table 5 Financial earnings of the poor – Huaorani communities of Quehueriono and

Estimated amount work
Estimated earnings
days available/year/
pa/ wage earner
wage earner*
* These figures are based on 4 tour groups per year staying on average 5 days each. They do not include communityfees that range from $8 to $15 per tourist per night spent in the community or the $5 per tourist territorial entrance feepaid to ONHAE.
Table 6 Estimation of handicraft sales in the Huaorani communities of Quehueriono and
Tours groups
Amount spent on
Total amount from
Handicraft sales/
handicraft sales
In both communities, handicraft sales are available to all interested households and the economicbenefits they receive are related to individual skills and quantities produced. Women are moreactively involved in handicraft production, but men are the primary workers on blowguns andspears. Residents in both communities have expressed the opinion that selling handicrafts is one ofthe best parts of having tourists visit their communities. More than a few women commented thatthey want more groups to visit just so they can sell more handicrafts. On many of Tropic’s tours,clients buy all the handicrafts available and are actively encouraged by Moi and the guides to do so.
Sometimes, if handicraft items remain after visitors finish buying, community members will givethem away to the visitors as a sign of friendship. Tropic estimates that a typical group spends anaverage of $150, commonly buying all the handicrafts offered by the community (See Table 6).
This figure can be higher depending on how many large items (blowguns, spears, hammocks) areavailable and sold.
The main beneficiaries of employment opportunities have been Moi and his immediate family. Moitends to delegate friends and family members, most commonly his brothers, to work as assistants(motorists, cook assistants, punteros) on Tropic’s tours. Tropic has made efforts to ensure that otherfamilies receive sufficient benefits and Drumm has raised the issue on numerous public community meetings. The difficult situation that resulted may be exacerbated by the Huaorani culturaltraditions of gift sharing that have more to do with family than community ties.
Nevertheless, Moi and his immediate family - parents and some brothers and sisters (in total around12 people) - have received enough financial benefits and training to effectively move from ‘poor’ to‘not poor’ status. It is important to realise that the Huaorani, more so than the Cofan and otherindigenous communities with a longer history of contact, still live a traditional lifestyle, especiallywhen it comes to dietary intake. The Huaorani, and Moi, often spend money as soon as they get it.
Consequently this ‘not poor’ distinction given to Moi and some of his family does not mean thatthey always have money on hand, but rather, that with their connections with outsiders and theircollection of purchased items, they would consistently be able to access money in times of need.
All community households receive an equal portion of the community fee that is divided up (in thecontinued absence of a established and well-managed community fund) and presented publicly tothe community president by Tropic’s guide during a community meeting. Other communityresidents who have received less direct benefits from Tropic’s initiative may still be considered‘poor’, as they have not earned enough to have money consistently available.
Earnings by community members most frequently go towards buying medicine, clothes, backpacks,pocket-knives, boots, machetes, and other ‘modern’ items increasingly needed or desired by theHuaorani. They will also occasionally spend money to buy basic foodstuffs such as rice, sugar,oatmeal, cooking oil and desired treats such as cola, bread, and candy. Some of the young adults,particularly young men, will also spend money on alcohol.
In addition to contractual type payments, Tropic has spent money in the past year on twoemergency operations for community members and transportation for others to travel to/fromimportant Huaorani assemblies and negotiations with oil companies.
In Huentado, Cogui – the community president – has received the most benefits from thecommunity’s partnership with Tropic, as he demands usually half of the community fee. In theory,Cogui, as president, is responsible for decisions regarding community projects or for handlingpotentially costly emergency situations for community members. The other half of the communityfee in Huentado is divided equally among households. Households here buy the same types of itemsas those in Quehueriono, the only difference being that they live further upriver and, thus, are moredistant from the bridge and access to town. With transportation to market being a bigger challenge,residents of Huentado seem to be more prudent with their purchasing decisions.
No-one in particular in either community has suffered negative impacts from the community’stourism programme. Some residents may have been prevented from selling timber and other one-time-only extractive practices. The no-hunting area originally set-up is not formally protected andcommunity members have not lost access to hunting grounds. As a whole, community memberswho participated in community work parties or ‘mingas’ associated with the tourism project(clearing land, working on cabanas or airstrip) do not receive direct compensation for their workalthough each family does in fact benefit from the division of community fees. In 1997, Huentarowas founded when the community of Quehueirono split due to conflicts between families, but it ishard to determine how Tropic’s involvement in the community influenced the complex dynamics.
3.2.3 Impacts on livelihoods of the poor Tropic’s pro-poor initiatives both in the Huaorani communities of Quehueirono and Huentado, andin other communities who run tourism projects independently, have had mainly positive impacts on the livelihoods of the poor. Tropic and Acción Amazonía are constantly available to support thesecommunities in times of need. This support has taken many different forms depending on thespecific circumstances. This includes helping pay for medical care, transportation to importantmeetings and events, and providing contacts with local and international activists and clientsinterested in helping these communities retain their territorial integrity – particularly against threatsfrom oil companies and logging interests. Many community leaders from these projects useTropic’s office as a home-base in Quito, from which they make and receive phone calls, get adviceon issues relating to their tourism projects, and learn from Tropic’s wide-range of tourism materialsand brochures available in the office. Tropic frequently provides technical assistance and advicefree-of-charge to other indigenous groups and community leaders interested in working in tourismthroughout Ecuador, and often links them with volunteers and other professionals who may bebetter suited to help them.
In the case of the Huaorani communities of Quehueriono and Huentado, Tropic’s continuedpresence and involvement, even when group numbers are low, gives both communities the feelingthat they have an outside organisation on which they can depend, if not for direct economicassistance, then for advice and further connections. For remote communities such as these, thisoutside ‘friend’ should not be underestimated, as it can provide a valuable type of insurance as thereare commonly no other options. The availability of support from Tropic still provides enoughincentive to prevent these two communities from asking for extensive support from the oilcompanies. Even though the programme has faltered in the past year, community members are stillproud of their tourism project and relationship with Tropic. Tourism is something commonly talkedabout by many Huaorani as a solution to their economic and cultural struggles, and they hope thattourism development can combat the oil industry, which continues to build roads into their territoryand work indiscriminately with their communities.
Ecotourism has been heralded in various workshops given to the Hauorani, and communities whowork with tourism are given respect and often are asked to share their experiences with other, lessfortunate communities. Tropic’s presence has prevented the discouraged exploitative tourismcommon in other communities further down river. The communities and their leaders are eager forTropic to reinvest in new cabañas and remain confident that the company will act soon and in thecommunity’s best interest.
Even when tour groups are not present, residents of Quehueriono receive access to communicationand transportation facilities that donations from Tropic and its clients have helped provide. ManyHuaorani utilise Tropic’s groups as an opportunity for transportation and travel to and from thebridge and other communities they wish to visit. The arrival of a tour group in the communities isstill considered an exciting event. Many residents, especially children, will watch and follow thetourists for hours and, when possible, interact with them – playing, sharing stories, laughing, andchallenging them to volleyball or soccer, which are popular and hotly contested activities in thesecommunities. Many Huaorani are curious as to where the tourists come from (e.g. what they do forwork, what their families look like, what their towns and homes are like, etc.) and often want tohear stories about planes, cities, other indigenous people across the world, strange animals, and theocean. And vice versa of course.
Much attention in tourism literature has been given to the many negative socio-cultural impactsassociated with tourists entering sensitive cultures and remote areas. The author’s (Braman)experience with the Huaorani – albeit limited – suggests that tourist visits are thoroughly enjoyedby almost all community members. Of course, in a general sense, tourism does increase theHuaorani’s contact with outsiders and there are possible repercussions that can result – feelings ofinferiority, increased desire for expensive clothes, goods, and food items, changes in culturalpatterns, music, etc. With the Huaorani, however, the long-term impacts of the continued presence of oil operations and missionaries are a much more serious and insidious threat than that posed bysmall-scale tourism activities such as Tropic’s. Tropic has worked diligently to develop visitorguidelines and procedures that encourage a balanced and respectful interaction between hosts andguests and which limits the potential negative consequences mentioned above. I believe that in thecase of Quehueriono and Huentado, that tourism provides positive cultural reinforcement and asense of pride and cultural cohesion. The insightful and entertaining interactions that communitymembers have been able to share with tourists are often remembered fondly and stories are oftentold subsequently to other Huaorani about these encounters. Tropic’s philosophy leaves a lot ofcontrol in the hands of Moi and the community which can decide what, when, and how they want tointeract and share their culture with tourists. The communities often decide to perform a culturalpresentation with traditional songs and dances, but this is not always the case. Tourists areoccasionally asked to share songs, stories, or dances from their own cultures.
Inspired by tourism activities, young adults want to learn their cultural histories, myths, and songsand have taken a new interest in learning about the flora and fauna of the forest from their elders.
Tourism has created a clear recognition that environmentally destructive activities such as oil andlogging damage their resource base and should be avoided if possible. In the recent HuaoraniAssembly which brought together over 150 Huaorani from every community, participants signed aletter denouncing five of the six oil companies that work in their territory and the imminent plansfor a new oil road threatening to divide their territory in half. In the same assembly, tourism wasdiscussed as one of their only income-generating non-destructive alternatives. There was a generalconsensus that they wanted to continue to look for ways to involve more communities in tourism.
By creating a future potential for jobs that require Spanish proficiency and basic education, tourismencourages the Huaorani to continue with their schooling and to pursue out-of-classroom trainingopportunities. Tourism has generated increased interest in conservation projects such as no-huntingzones, environmental monitoring campaigns, and the rearing of native animals to reintroduce totheir natural habitat. ONHAE and Huaorani leaders have formulated plans to organise the creationof a Huaorani-run tourism agency. If and when this occurs, the experience and skills gained byresidents of Quehueriono and Huentado will be extremely helpful in planning an effective tourismentity with clear community participation, involvement, and benefits. Thanks to Tropic, Moi hasbecome, without doubt, the best and most experienced Huaorani guide and logistical coordinator,and his experience will be vital for the Huaorani and their hopes of organising and controlling theirown tourism enterprise sometime within the next few years.
Table 7 Synthesis of positive and negative benefits on livelihoods of the poor
Tourism creates a desire for moreeducation, as jobs in tourism (esp.
guiding) require proficiency in Spanishand frequently, advanced training andskill development Community organisation, Community tourism encourages work, the communities willlose a lot of pride and confidence in their worth as atourism destination.
at the ONHAE office providesimproved communication facilities; thecommunity has access to phones inTropic’s Quito office.
health risks (sweets createseriously dental problems).
Intercultural exchanges and potential touse Tropic’s contacts with journalistsand concerned activists. Use ofTropic’s office in Quito. Availability ofmulti-frequency radios.
communities, fee is used to buycommunity materials or equipment.
farming, employment, benefits encourages community Potential to use contacts and client base to generate international attention andsupport in times of crisis income and handicraft proficiency, andmay encourage new markets Provided by sporadic employment, Limited by opportunity cost ofdivided community fees, and foregoing employment with oilhandicraft sales Promotes cultural pride and encourages Increases contact with wealthyyouth to learn cultural histories, myths, outsiders, and heightens risks ofsongs, dances.
feelings of inferiority or thedesire for expensive modernitems carried by tourists community members, significance ofdependable outside ‘friend’organisation 3.2.4 Broader contributions to poverty elimination and anticipated impacts Community-based ecotourism promises social, economic, cultural benefits that can result fromeffective protection and marketing of intact natural environments through community-organisedtourism activities. Tropic’s philosophy and commitment to market community-based ecotourismprojects to high-end clients has effectively opened up new links to this difficult to reach marketsegment. Tropic actively encourages its clients to develop ongoing relationships with thecommunities they visit and has raised funds from clients to invest in community infrastructure andtraining programmes. The relationships developed, and the experiences shared between clients andcommunities, have tremendous educational potential that can promote international awareness ofpro-poor tourism initiatives in the client’s country of origin. Perhaps Tropic’s biggest potential toenact change, and to move pro-poor initiatives closer to the centre of tourism development, is thecompany’s desire to provide intense educational experiences capable of altering tourist’s attitudestowards communities, and the ‘poor’, who are traditionally on the margins of mainstream tourismdevelopment. Each visitor that Tropic brings to community tourism projects represents anothersmall, but critical step in increasing the demand for socially and environmentally responsibletourism with its strong implicit pro-poor objectives.
Community-based tourism projects which Tropic supports and markets, also have incrediblepotential for biodiversity conservation and cultural empowerment in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Tourism is starting to emerge as a strong counter-current to the expansion of the oil and loggingindustries in the region. Where community tourism programmes are successful they have thepotential to protect large areas of tropical forest from incursions from these industries andencourage indigenous communities to value their cultural traditions. Community tourism projectsmay enable local communities to reduce their dependency on hunted meat and their impact onendangered animal populations. These projects can also foster community cohesion andorganisational capacity. Unfortunately, it is still unclear how sustainable the market for theseprojects will be in the future. Tropic and others, particularly community programmes, have sufferedfrom poor marketing performance and this remains a critical barrier to achieving goals. While somecommunities may be able to operate successful tourism projects, certainly other alternatives need tobe developed.
Tropic and others will have greater potential to generate financial benefits for communities if theycan design a marketing system that can attract or create larger groups of four of more passengers.
Due to fixed costs for guides and transportation, larger group sizes will enable both Tropic and thecommunities to become more profitable. Tropic also needs to develop a standard assessment formfor community visits, to be completed by both guides and clients so that communities receiveconstant feedback in order to continue to independently improve and market their products.
In order to become more effective in working with communities, Tropic is currently looking forfurther opportunities to attract outside assistance for capital investment, and for the comprehensivecommunity training programmes needed in order to continue improving programme design,monitoring, and marketing.
4. Review and lessons
4.1 Different views on Tropic’s initiatives
We invite tourists to our community. Tropic has prepared us – we have learned how to manage andrun tourism, how to prepare for the tourists, and the important objectives. Now we need to worktoo. We are still Huaorani – we have forest, animals. We maintain our culture and we want to invitetourists to come and visit and respect us and hopefully we will all make friends. We don’t want tolive with the oil companies in our territory. We want to work with Tropic, walking with care andcaution so we don’t get off track. With the money from tourism we buy medicine, rice forcommunity work parties or ‘mingas’, school materials, and for emergencies. Before, we neverworked. Now we need to work and control tourism. When I was a young boy I never thought ofstudying, did not know what it was to write. Now, I have finished studying to be a nurse and I willwork to help our people who suffer.
David, 23 years old from Quehueriono
To work in tourism we need to be responsible and control it well, so we can have contact with the
world, exchanging ideas and cultures. We have been thinking many things about the future – where
will we be able to feel Huaorani, where will we be able to remain Huaorani? We have a big territory
that we want to defend because it is our land, our life. For this reason we want to organise for
tourism because we need healthcare, education and we also need to gain more skills for tourism
because we still don’t earn very much from visits. We think tourism is good because with it there is
lots of training, courses, and we can build many things. We think that instead of going to the Oil
Company we want to organise tourism. Tourism does not destroy or hurt our land. The land –
without hurting it, without hurting it – that is why we fight. We do not want tourists just for the
money, but we want them to come and get to know our community, our culture, and our forests
where we have many things. It’s important for us to have many friends to help us defend our
territory and we trust them to help us. It’s important for the community itself to manage tourism
because with that we can advance and have more work. If we don’t do this then tourism will also
bring problems so we must manage it well. That is good.
Moi Enomenga, Huaorani leader and coordinator for Tropic
We do not want any more oil companies. Our ancestors died fighting to defend our lands and ourhomes and now they come and destroy them. I like tourism – they come, they don’t destroyanything, and then they leave. But they need to ask for permission before they come, they need torespect us.
Mengatohue, a highly respected elder and shaman, former resident of Quehueriono
We are losing hope. This is one of the only communities not involved with the oil companiesbecause Moi told us that tourism was the best option. Now we are here waiting. We are the onlycommunity that has received benefits from neither oil companies nor from tourism.
Beatrice, Quichua woman married to a Huaorani and resident of Quehueriono.
Tropic’s intentions, especially Andy’s original ideas were top notch, but the reality of changing that
into an offering on the market and meeting the expectations of what the community wants and
needs are very different. As far as their targets, student groups are a good idea.
Randy Borman, de facto chief of Cofan community and initiator of their community project of Zabalo
Tropic tried to work with the Huaorani with good intentions and good ideas. Tropic is the onlycompany who has worked in the territory that has given the Huaorani space to be active participantsin the program. Quehueriono never managed the benefits from Tropic’s project very well and forthat and other reasons there was a big division in the community. The Huaorani communities stillhave not learned how to manage or work well with community projects. They might be able to builda cabaña, but who in the community is going to be able to manage it? Huaorani Project Coordinator for Denmark’s Project Ibis
The major impacts on the Huaorani are the oil companies and the missionaries. Tourists are a fairlyminor impact. In fact, tourists might even be an effective conservative force as they like to seetraditional dances, handicraft skills, etc. Tourists promote the idea that the traditional culture or atleast aspects of it are valuable. On the other hand, they also promote the commodification oftraditional culture and changes in reciprocity exchanges. With the Huaorani, a lot of those changesare going on anyway with the oil companies and the missionaries. The indigenous people are stuckin a social environment where everything is commodified – that is just the way it is. The onlyserious question is whether the traditional culture has any value at all. Tourism is one of forces thatdoes assign it a value. Compared to what an oil company does, tourism on the scale that it ishappening now is fairly benign. The Huaorani are very sexy group for tourists. They have beenfamous in North America ever since they killed the four missionaries in 1956. In Europe they arevery high profile because they are supposed to be ‘natural men’.
Cultural anthropologists currently working with the Huaorani
The communities are screwed up with traditions and tourism. Tropic did not help them at all. Thecommunity wanted to work, be paid but not be bothered with doing too much stuff likemanagement. Their attitude toward money is the result of the oil companies and missionaries. Theydid not receive adequate training the first time around. Another big problem is Moi – he is like a bigchild. He is a bit lost and too ambitious with not much practical follow through. There is nothingthere. The community is impatient and on the ‘edge’.
A critic and coordinator of ecotourism projects
Comments from clients
We thought the trip was outstanding because of the opportunities we had to see wildlife, learn aboutthe traditional uses of plants, and have some exposure to the Cofan people. We really enjoyedinteracting with the Cofan people and the chance to taste traditional Cofan food. The local guide,Mauricio should be declared a national treasure – we are very fortunate to have had the chance tospend time with him and experience a traditional Cofan.
American couple who travelled to Zabalo in April 2000
My experience with the Huaorani was one of the best experiences of my life. I hated to have to go.
The days I had were simply much to great to describe. Moi made me feel more like a friend thanjust a tourist. In fact, I can say the same about all of the community members. Although we couldhardly communicate verbally, we had a lot of fun together and I always felt really integrated. We had excellent service all around – good equipment, two great guides, and a good cook. I want toshow the world what a great experience this was and deep in my heart I hope to find more peopleinterested in the people and landscape of Ecuadorian Amazon. I feel like I need to do something tohelp the Huaorani and their battle against the oil companies. Maybe I can help make a website orsomething.
German tourists who visited Quehueriono and Huentado in December 1999
My trip to visit the Huaorani was the most exciting excursion I have ever experienced in Ecuador.
With this trip my long-lasting desire to explore a part of the jungle was fulfilled. Your flawlessorganisation, your professional guidance, and your superb contacts with the Huaorani made thispossible. Your program not only enabled me to get a taste of the endangered wildlife, but alsoallowed me to have close contact with the people who are so desperately trying to protect their landand search for better ways to survive with their culture, after all of the damage done by the‘civilised’ nations.
English tourists living in Ecuador at the time of the trip in January 1998
4.2 Reflections on this PPT initiative
Tropic’s pro-poor tourism initiatives are diverse and tactfully placed within increasingly populardiscourses such as ‘environmentally and socially responsible tourism’, ‘ecotourism’, and‘community-based ecotourism’. By establishing connections at all levels, including governmentministries, national and international conservation and tourism organisations, members of thenational and international press, high-end clients, and, most importantly, directly with communitiesand their leaders. Tropic provides the links capable of moving pro-poor initiatives more to theforefront of tourism development in Ecuador and the international marketplace. In Ecuador, Tropichas indeed been an innovator among private sector tour operators, particularly its commitment topackage and sell both independently-run community ecotourism programmes, and its own Huaoranicommunity project. In order to avoid over-dependence on projects with strong pro-poor elements,which do not, and should not, provide high profit yields, Tropic has successfully been able toremain profitable. It has done this by creating diverse packages, often combining trips to theGalapagos Islands, Ecuadorian Highlands, and cloudforest, with indigenous community operationsin the Amazon. These more conventional products and private sector partnerships have been able tocarry Tropic through difficult years for tourism in Ecuador and the Amazon. A challenge for thecompany will be to channel money earned back into a carefully-planned Huaorani project to makegood on the international acclaim it has generated for the company and fulfil the expectations of thehopeful communities.
Tropic claims to be ‘pioneering ecotourism’ but needs to market more consistently, with moreconsistent and cohesive community responses in order to reach the level of success it aims for.
Tropic’s small size limits its ability to finance comprehensive and ongoing training programmes inthe communities in which it operates. Without sufficient training and orientation, particularly inmanagement, the services that communities are able to offer private sector partners can beunpredictable. Inconsistency on the part of the community can quickly lead to problems inmarketing and sales for the company, starting a potentially catastrophic cycle. Tropic’s small sizeand commitment to limit passenger numbers makes it especially susceptible to these fluctuations. Italso makes it necessary for the company to develop linkages with non-governmental organisations,government ministries, and committed individuals who together can help the communities whereTropic cannot. The relative inexperience and only recent integration into the market economy ofmany indigenous communities in the region adds to the difficult challenge of training andorganisation strengthening necessary for sustained success and involvement in the tourism industry.
Tropic’s experience demonstrates that the success of private sector-community partnerships oftendepends on a precipitous balance between the abilities of both the company and the community todeliver the services to which they commit. Before a private sector partner initiates a relationshipwith a local community, it is essential for the company to analyse the level of commitment intraining and orientation needed for the community to be able to provide what they promise. Withoutmore comprehensive and ongoing training programmes for communities, private sector partners arelikely to struggle to achieve success in pro-poor initiatives. As with Tropic, many small privateoperators lack the funds needed for a more complete investment in capable personnel, lastinginfrastructure, and training for the communities. Linkages with, and assistance from, a third party(non-governmental organisation, government ministries, indigenous organisations, researchers) incommunity training and orientation may prove critical for these small private sector partners. Ofcourse, with the involvement of other organisations, the relationships between stakeholders canbecome more complex. Some private operators may be hesitant to accept outside assistance becausethey may lose their ‘edge’ with the community, risking possible cuts in profit margins and loss ofcontrol. This is not the case for Tropic, which is currently updating a business plan for its Huaoraniprogramme. The company is actively seeking investors and arrange partnerships with organisationswho actively support initiatives such as theirs, and who may be able to provide the needed capitaland community training.
Tropic has learned that working with communities does not just require careful planning, butconstant diligence in maintaining the community as informed and active participants in the project,even through difficult times. Financial constraints have prevented the company from investingmoney in associated programme, as they would have liked. Tropic dedicates much effort and timeto its social principles, due to the commitment and creativity of its founder, managing director, andstaff. This commitment has been the focus of its marketing strategy and is essential, not only for themarket viability of the company, but also for the sustained confidence of the communities withwhom it works. Tropic’s approach is unique in the region and receives criticism as well as praisefrom other operators in the area. The manager and owner of a competing operator who works withthe Huaorani comments that Tropic talks too much about its ideals and awards while failing toprovide the community with sufficient tour groups or economic benefits.
The wide-range of relationships that Tropic has developed relate to the specific situation andevolution of ecotourism, and community-based tourism, in Ecuador and its Amazon region – aprocess in which Tropic’s founder, Andy Drumm, has been a key player. Certainly, facets ofTropic’s operation (e.g. selling independently-run community tourism projects, mixing communityprogrammes with mainstream attractions, developing linkages with a wide range of stakeholders,expansion of market to include the high-end segment) may indeed be replicable by other smallprivate operators committed to pro-poor and related alternative tourism discourses.
4.3 Reflections on the PPT research
This case study demonstrates how a small, committed private tour operator can work at variouslevels to encourage pro-poor tourism initiatives through its support and marketing of community-based ecotourism projects. This case offers important insights into the importance of marketing andwhat can happen with community projects when private partners do not, or are not able to, meetcommunity expectations. Tropic’s strategy to package community projects with other conventionalattractions proves both appropriate and necessary to help attract the high-end market often left outof other community and pro-poor tourism initiatives. This case study presents a unique viewbecause it offers an independent analysis in the hope that the lessons learned will enable othercommunities and organisations, including the private sector, to continue to work through theobstacles without losing their commitment to poverty alleviation through tourism. Tropic has demonstrated that existing ‘ecotourism’ and ‘community-based’ tourism frameworks canincorporate pro-poor elements that have the potential to transform direct cross-cultural experiencesinto powerful educational processes that confront class and poverty issues.
Tropic has demonstrated with some success, that while pro-poor elements may be difficult toimplement, the results certainly make the effort worthwhile, considering the overall livelihoodimprovements that are possible. While the economic benefits may not seem robust, the communitieswith whom Tropic works have received significant livelihood improvements that range fromimproved access to communication and healthcare to technical support and connections with othercommitted individuals. Tropic’s ability to maintain a positive relationship with many indigenouscommunities highlights the diverse ways that a small private operator can overcome financial andstaff limitations to impact on the livelihoods of the poor. Nevertheless, Tropic was able to send over120 passengers and deliver economic inputs of well over $20,000 into Amazon communities.
Additionally, Tropic’s clients spent thousands of dollars on local handicrafts, donated radios,educational supplies, and provided funds for medical emergencies in these same communities. Inthe Ecuadorian Amazon, where many ‘poor’ communities are indigenous people who derive theirsustenance directly from the forests, these diverse improvements in livelihoods, specifically thoseinvolving environmental protection and awareness and cultural empowerment, should not beunderestimated, as they reflect a considerable benefit in light of Tropic’s financial constraints.
In this vast area where communities are remote and have a history of exploitative practices withincultural tourism, ‘trickle down’ strategies are less appropriate since they place considerableleverage in the questionable hands of independent private ‘jungle tour’ operators catering to a stillgullible army of budget travellers.
The work for this case study was completed with formal and informal interviews with AndyDrumm, Sofia Darquea, Randy Borman, Moi Enomenga, Lucia – Projecto Ibis, ecotourismconsultants, community residents both in the field and in Quito, and with others. Economic data wasprimarily based on accounts and records supplied by Tropic and through interviews with RandyBorman.
The Principal author, Scott Braman is completing a year of community ecotourism research inEcuador financed by the US Government sponsored Fulbright Scholarship programme. Themajority of Scott’s work has been with the Huaorani.
ASEC (1998) Politicas y Estrategias para la Participacion Comunitaria en el Ecoturismo. Quito: Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association (ASEC).
Drumm, A.F. (1990) An Integrated Impact Assessment of Nature Tourism in Ecuador’s Amazon Drumm, A.F. (1998) ‘New Approaches to Community-based Ecotourism Management –Learning from Ecuador’, in Lindberg, Epler Wood and Engeldrum (eds) Ecotourism – A Guide forPlanners and Managers Vol II, The Ecotourism Society Epler Wood, M. 1998, Meeting the Global Challenge of Community Participation in Ecotourism: Case Studies and Lessons from Ecuador. America Verde Working Paper No.2, The NatureConservancy Lindberg, Epler Wood and Engeldrum (eds.) (1998) Ecotourism – A Guide for Planners and Managers Vol II, The Ecotourism Society Smith, R. 1995 Crisis Under the Canopy. Quito: Abya YalaWesche, R. and Drumm, A.F. (1999) Defending Our Rainforest: A Guide to Community Based Ecotourism in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Quito: Accion Amazonia.


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