From the archives

More than 170 people from around the globe took part in the NGOs in Tourism and Conservation Conference that took place online in October and November 2002.

The NGOs in Tourism and Conservation Conference examined the role of non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Participants reviewed how stakeholders interact with other sectors including business, government, academia, media, and the general public.

Two of the immediate products of the conference were an index of ngo/non-profit players and a summary of key points.

The NGOs in Tourism and Conservation Conference was’s 11th online event and co-sponsored by, International Centre for Ecotourism Research, Latin America Bureau, Mexicanwave, Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Sources, and Travelmole.

Reflect upon the following questions:

What is the role of NGOs in the tourism and conservation?

How are the leaders of tourism and conservation projects within NGOs treated by their internal organization?

What are the best-case examples of collaboration among NGOs and other stakeholders?

What criteria are used to evaluate NGO work?

Do non-profits compete unfairly with for-profits in sustainable tourism operations?

How are effective are NGO websites?

To whom are NGOs accountable?

Have NGOs/non-profits changed their operations in the past five years?

What future changes are likely?

Jan 2002: NGOs in Tourism and Conservation Conference Announced; Forum established
Jan-September 2002: Background readings published
October 8-11: Conference opens
November 4-8: Conclusions
Late November Administrative Matters; Final Observations
2003: Presentation of Key Comments

NGO Landscapes: Conservation in the Maya Biosphere – Juanita Sundberg

Membership Based Sustainable Ecotourism – Jim Dion

Mark Dowie
Conservation Refugees, MIT Press, 2009
– The hundred-year conflict between global conservation and native peoples.


Thanks in advance to everyone (individuals and institutions alike!) for assistance in developing this event. For promoting the event, special thanks to our co-sponsors as well as Green-Travel

John Shores, Consultant, USA
“The actors and policy framework for sustainable tourism is constantly changing… What is the optimal niche for each NGO type … so that the evolution of the whole be steered towards sustainability?”

Salum A. Madoweka, NGO Chairperson, Tanzania
“We have provided technical help in the mountain communities of Nogutu and Ruvuma village in the morningside areas to start Eco- Tourism projects which are running well.”

Alessandro D’Agostino, Tour Operator, Honduras
“All my efforts to cooperate with NGOs, have been unsuccessful… What is missing from working together with mutual benefits?”

Douglas Trent, Tour Operator / NGO Founder, USA / Brazil
“I created the Focus Conservation Fund when I realized that I could do more with a non-profit to save biodiversity than I would ever be able to do with my tour profits”

Jennifer Morfin, Coordinator of NGOs, Mexico
“IMAC’s mission is to help Mexican organizations to link with each other to conserve nature through intra and inter-institutional learning”

Sven Zoerner, NGO Director, Honduras / Germany
“Part of our project is to create awareness and to create conditions,where nature conservation can become a major interest for investors in tourism business.How profitable can sustainability be?”

Sergio Salazar Salvati, Tourism Program Director of NGO, Brazil
“WWF-Brazil works with tourism where there are threats to the environmental conservation of a region, or where its implementation may help in the search for better environmental and social conditions.”

Jacqui Knight, NGO CEO, New Zealand
“It seems like the Ministry for the Environment doesn’t see the need to encourage business excellence, and the Conservation Department doesn’t think about people getting into the business of conservation – and I haven’t got onto the subject of the Tourism Department yet!”

Richard Tuck, Non-Profit Tour Operator, Nicaragua
” I think that MEDA (international NGO) and the Conservation NGOs (local) with which we are working, provide needed services that Government cannot or will not provide, because of lack of money, corruption, lack of effort, lack of resources, lack of information, etc. … (There must be) a way to form a virtual group where people like Mr. Trent can “be able to help communities” through free consultancy work”

Diego Andrade, Director of Ecotourism Association, Ecuador
“Few of the (NGO) coordinators understand how the tourism industry works.. On the other hand, the tour operators don’t have a conscience … There is a divorce between tour operators and community- based ecotourism projects.”

Walter V. Bishop, NGO Secretary / Tour Operator, Mexico
“We have been involved in tourism and conservation for some time and are very worried by the direction alternative tourism has taken. How much are communities willing to pay or how much should they pay, for the apparent positive aspects of tourism”

Reng Yu, Tour Operator, Bangladesh
“The larger local NGOs (of which Grameen Bank claims to be the largest NGO in the world) build ‘smart’ skyscraper buildings and engage in common ‘business’ such as property development, high interest banking, sweat-shop garments, international communications, etc. with money collected from poor villagers. To the best of my knowledge, no NGO in Bangladesh yet have any ecotourism projects or do they fund any”.

Nigel Dudley, Consultant, UK
“A current project with IUCN The World Conservation Union and Cardiff University is looking at how and if the six IUCN protected area management categories have been used to help make policy decisions about protected areas”

Paap Kolar, Adventure Tourism Association Official, Esthonia
“My latest project was the development of an adventure trail concept called Safari Park. Since there has been lack of state and local understanding and support to implement such new idea on public lands, this project was successfully accomplished with private financing on private lands with support of NGOs.”

Graeme Brown, Aid Agency Worker, Cambodia
“Northeast Cambodia is seen as one of the un-opened areas of the world and many people want to cash in on the money that tourists bring…We are desperately searching for resources (to develop more capacity to manage tourism) as private companies are approaching both government and communities with sometimes obviously undesirable proposals. Maybe we need NGOs to go back to being civil society … rather than being part of the business sector?

Fito Steiner, President & Coordinator of various local and international NGOs, Honduras
“Pico Bonito Foundation operates with an annual budget of 100,000 dollars a years, which is a ridiculous budget to manage the second largest Park in Honduras, all our employees are underpaid, and they work weekends, holidays and extra hours to manage the park, without counting the numerous hours that volunteers put in the foundation, in Latin America if you are a board member, you don’t get paid, you donate your time, and also money to the organization…the salaries in Pico Bonito range between 119 dollars a month for a secretary, 239 dollars for an administrator, 359 dollars of a forestry engineer at charge of Forestry Management and 500 dollars for the executive director”

Angelique Fransen, Indigenous Tourism Association Officer, Australia
“For Indigenous tourism operators to gain WAITOC’s accreditation, they have to undertake the existing mainstream program together with WAITOC’s program. The main two criteria is that the product offered is delivered by an Indigenous person and that the content of the product is authentic and culturally appropriate. One operator has successfully undergone the whole program to date.”

Rodulfo Araujo, Director of Mountaineering Association, Webmaster, Mexico
“We have lost two high altitude huts in the past two years, apparently due to inexperienced use of a stove. This is telling us that the former objective of saving lives in the mountain is no longer valid, and that we should now save mountains from crowds of poorly prepared intruders.”

Victoria Schlesinger, Travel Writer, USA
“A year ago the (World Wildlife Fund’s membership travel) program contracted with a variety of US-base tour operators to take members of the organization on domestic and international trips, a business model used by many non-profit affiliate programs. I often found working in the travel program frustrating because furthering ecotourism development seemed to be a tangential goal at best. Fund raising and cultivating donors were the main objectives.”

Alessandro D’Agostino, Tour Operator, Honduras
” A couple of years ago, I had dinner with a donor. He had came from USA to evaluate a project and he was telling me about the poor results he had encountered. As a member of my local NGO, and as a proud “new” Honduran, I was ashamed. He told me not to worry too much, that they are accustomed to seeing those kind of results. Generally about 20% of the donations take form. The remaining 80% covers the administrative charges in an NGO, or otherwise gets lost.”

Ron Mader, Journalist, Webhost, Mexico / USA
“As a journalist, I’ve interviewed people who head NGOs around the world. I’ve met the some of the finest human beings I know, and some of the most corrupt. It is difficult it is to generalize about this niche and the need for evaluation is great…How do we evaluate the various players working in this field regardless of their nomenclature?”

Altaf Hussain, NGO Worker / Anthropologist, Pakistan
“Communities living in the area (Northern Areas of Pakistan) are economically at the same level just trying to survive they were 30 years before. Tour operators and hotel owners (outsiders) are earning a lot of money from tourism and taken out all as their income.”

Carlos Libosada, Academic, Philippines
“I distinctly remember once time, about ten years ago, when I introduced myself as a tourism officer in an NGO gathering – somebody stood up, pointed his finger at me, and said, “enemy.” Nowadays, you could hardly get that kind of reaction… But I have also observed that many local NGOs (at least in the Philippines) are still in quandary whether to accept profitability as one of the main outputs in their (ecotourism) projects rather than the usual social justice and environmental conservation”

Erlet Cater, Academic, NGO Board Member, UK
” I know of at least one (ecotourism) project which is faced with competition not only from unsustainable operations (and hence lower operating costs) but also from donor-funded activities where little or no management costs are passed on to visitors. Can we argue that the latter is truly sustainable?”

John Shores, Consultant, USA
“NGO’s at these different levels will have different purposes, scopes, functions, and constituencies. How success is evaluated, and who does the evaluating, will obviously differ. Just as a for-profit enterprise must satisfy its constituency or go out of business, an NGO must keeps its constituency happy or it will fail. In both cases, the long-term constituency is whichever group or entity is willing to pay the bills.”

Jean Mc Neil, NGO Officer, UK
“We began working on tourism because we became increasingly convinced that tourism was a development issue itself, as well as how it affects what are traditionally understood as development issues – economic inequality, individual rights, issues of gender, race, ethnicity and, of course, politics.”

Jerry R. A-Kum, Academic / Consultant, Suriname / Guyana
“There have been complaints from local communities that NGO’s are not truly beneficial to them. By which it is meant, that the level of leakages is extremely high. There is more money spent for example on getting foreign expertise involved, whilst at the same time the same experts will utilize local people for getting the right information.”

Carlos Libosada, Academic, Philippines
” Conservation information should be shared, not sold. Why not make a (sponsored? :>) site available for the NGO’s to upload whatever information they can share.”

Ron Mader, Journalist, Webhost, Mexico / USA
“I don’t think we need a new initiative. I think we need to find support (both moral and financial) for the sites that already focus on this niche.”

Graeme Brown, Aid Agency Worker, Cambodia
“I see donors in general being more interested in their visiting projects and getting out of their offices. As a result, I see a lack of accountability amongst NGOs. Even when they do good work generally they do not co-ordinate. They aim to promote community management but fail to be a coherent community.”

Antonis Petropoulos, Director of international ecotourism club, Greece
“What is the best way, (i.e. without risking legal suits) to shed light at the financing, the motives and the alliances of the major NGOs involved in tourism and conservation projects.”

Leon Dempers, Travel Director of National Conservation NGO, South Africa
“(WESSA raises) desperately needed funds for conservation projects from commission earned by acting as the middleman between ecotourists and the safari operators or establishments best equipped to satisfy their specific needs. We do not compete with for-profits as we are marketing their products into niches which they might otherwise find difficult to approach.”

Eleni Svoronou, Director of Capacity Building Program, Local branch of International NGO, Greece
Our role then (1991) was to help in the start up of the ecotourism in the selected protected areas where we worked. Also to help the local community take over the management of the ecotourism establishments and services. Our role (today)… is to offer capacity building on the difficult aspects of ecotourism.

Diane Jukofsky, Director of Communications & Education Director of International NGO, Costa Rica / USA
We are also strong believers in the important role communications plays in conservation, and I concur with previous comments that NGOs need to do a better job at sharing information about their work.

Miriam Geitz, Tourism Project Officer for International NGO’s Arctic Programme
As we work in eight different countries, approaches change less over time than from location to location. I think that it is crucial for an NGO to know what its core competency is – and stick with it. I think a lot of failures could be avoided if people would recognize that despite their knowledge about tourism, their real expertise is conservation.”

Graeme Brown, Aid Agency Worker, Cambodia
(In Ratanakiri in Northeast Cambodia)…A lot relies on big money and maybe there needs to be a lot more focus on civil society so that, when the international agencies are leaving, civil society can moderate government. We need someone to be taxing the hell out of tourism in general then re-directing the funds to efficient NGOs (and government agencies) with a capacity building and social role … in perpetuity.

Rodulfo Araujo, Director of a Mountaineering Association & Webmaster, Mexico
Why don’t many NGOs in Mexico cover tourism and conservation? Because NGOs governing tourism are made by tourism operators themselves. Most have concluded that this is not the gold mine they once believed it was going to be. Conservation does not rank high in the survival list.

Douglas B. Trent, Tour Operator / NGO Founder & Director, USA / Brazil
“We have a long history of providing significant financial assistance … Nonetheless, in Focus Tours, as well as in other tour operators that are not community-based, an average of around 80%, I would guess, of the profits end up with the tour operator. If it didn’t, the tour operator would probably go out of business. The tour operator has significant costs to be paid with that approximately 80%. The second largest amount of profit, roughly 18%, goes to the city where the tour participants start their tour. This leaves, of course, around 2% in the hands of the local community, if there is one.”

John Shores, Consultant, USA
As rural tourism of all sorts becomes more common, I envision that development NGO’s will become the promoters of community-based tourism. The conservation NGO’s can then step back and resume their conventional role as advocates for conservation. …it strikes me as more than a bit ironic that a group that should be promoting empowerment at the local level is creating this behemoth of an organization that tries to do everything.

Ron Mader, Journalist, Webhost, Mexico / USA
If we wish to see environmental conservation and local development succeed, we need to be diligent in our fact-checking. That’s easily said … but who funds independent evaluation of conservation projects or tourism projects?

Angeles Mendoza, Academic Researcher in Protected Area Management, Canada / Mexico
Through my experience in adventure sports and outdoor recreation in the past ten years, in both, Mexico and Canada, I have seen a spectrum of attitudes in the relationship among NGOs in environment and conservation. Two aspects where there is room for improvement are the evaluation of environmental impacts and performance evaluation.

Victoria Mailhos Auersperg, Farmer, Co-founder of Rural Tourism Association, Uruguay
In those 15 years of evolution, I heard about everything: people who aren’t in the business and know everything, politicians who don’t understand us and just before elections want to do something with us, but they don’t pay attention to our demands; lots of consultants who know exactly what we need, and want to assess us, but we are who have to pay to the banks all the money they say we have to ask (including their salary) without assuring us the revenues … I see each farm as a little National Park or reserve, but receiving little practical help from the government. I like very much the term NGI (Non Governmental Individual) referred by Ron. I personally feel like a NGI because everybody in my association waits for what I do.


After the conference concluded, we asked participants to participate in an online poll via the Yahoo Groups website. Here are the results:

POLL QUESTION: Are you interested in reading a summary document from this event?

– Yes, 13 votes, 100.00%
– No, 0 votes, 0.00%

POLL QUESTION: On a scale of 1-10 (with “1” being the least and “10” being the most), how USEFUL was this conference?

– 1, 0 votes, 0.00%
– 2, 0 votes, 0.00%
– 3, 1 votes, 7.69%
– 4, 0 votes, 0.00%
– 5, 1 votes, 7.69%
– 6, 1 votes, 7.69%
– 7, 1 votes, 7.69%
– 8, 4 votes, 30.77%
– 9, 2 votes, 15.38%
– 10, 3 votes, 23.08%

POLL QUESTION: How often did you visit the conference center page during the event?

– Never, 2 votes, 22.22%
– Once or twice, 1 votes, 11.11%
– Weekly, 4 votes, 44.44%
– More than once a week, 2 votes, 22.22%

POLL QUESTION: How did you learn about the NGOs in Tourism and Conservation Conference?

– , 7 votes, 70.00%
– Conference Co-sponsor , 1 votes, 10.00%
– Word of mouth , 1 votes, 10.00%
– Other , 1 votes, 10.00%


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