is known as a prime destination for those seeking nature travel.
This is due in large part to the reputation gained by Costa
Rica over the past 20 years. Yet there are few efforts at
developing the region for passionate eco travelers.
The status is unclear of the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance
and the Mesoamerican
Biological Corridor. These efforts were initially well-funded,
yet neither organization has developed an effective communications
infrastructure -- meaning that it remains a challenge to find
out what these organizations are doing, who they recommended
as local operators or guides.
Cynicism arises from the fact that in the 1990s several Central
American countries set up their own national ecotourism associations.
Unfortunately, many of these have been created in government
conferences, often at the urging of international development
agencies. Few of which show a long-term commitment to ecotourism
for example, funded and promoted several ecotourism associations
throughout Central America, most of which existed solely on
paper and disappeared within a year of their creation. Like
"paper parks," "paper ecotourism organizations" give the illusion
of action and coordination, but lack substance and continuity.
Some operators prefer to work within existing organizations.
In terms of national ecotourism organizations, it is interesting
to note that Costa Rica, the country with the best reputation
for ecotourism practices and destinations does not have a formal
ecotourism group. Says Amos Bien, the owner of Rara Avis Lodge:
"We've always been too busy to start a national ecotourism association,
preferring to work within the sub-commissions of the Environmental
Secretariat or the Costa Rican Tourism Institute instead."
What is the role to be played by the national governments?
In 1999 the Costa Rican Tourism Institute launched a certification
program for hotel sustainability. The program's reputation is
mixed. Some tout its usefulness and others consider it an example
the practice of giving a positive public image to an environmentally
for example, offers a great deal of potential in the field of
ecotourism. The past few years have seen a number of new developments,
but few have taken off. Obstacles, however, include a lack of
coordination in-country and throughout the region. It remains
a challenge to get current information from the government tourism
institute, let alone details about eco-friendly tourism services.
South America's best source of responsible tourism information
is the South
American Explorers, with clubhouses in Quito, Lima, Cusco
and Buenos Aires. Travelers have access to well-stocked libraries
and trip reports compiled by fellow members.
In Ecuador a national ecotouurism association (ASEC),
works on policy issues. However its communication, or lack thereof,
frustrates members and travelers.
In Brazil operators complain that the national government confuses
authentic small-scale 'green' tourism with corporate concerns.
Certification efforts have only confused matters.
"There's no participation by anyone who can even remotely
claim to represent tourists,"
says Bill Hinchberger, editor & publisher of BrazilMax.
"Many of the participants at the meeting that created the
Brazilian Sustainable Tourism Council (Conselho Brasiliero de
Turismo Sustentável) spent much of their time dissing
tourists. Now, many tourists deserve to be dissed, but not by
certification groups that need to attract their support."
"Even responsible tourists are unlikely to pay attention
to certification. And if they don't, there's no point to this
exercise," added Hinchberger."This is partly a marketing
problem, but marketing seems to be at most an afterthought in
all the certification schemes I've seen.