Study of a self-assessment system for the ecotourism group in Curuçá: Accounting for tourist opinions while maintaining initial goals - PDF

Study of a self-assessment system for the ecotourism group in Curuçá: Accounting for tourist opinions while maintaining initial goals Karina Hope Costa Vassar College Environmental Studies Advisor: João

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Study of a self-assessment system for the ecotourism group in Curuçá: Accounting for tourist opinions while maintaining initial goals Karina Hope Costa Vassar College Environmental Studies Advisor: João Meirelles of Instituto Peabiru, Belém, Pará An Independent Study Project for World Learning - School for International Training Study Abroad Brazil Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology Fall 2008 Gustavo Negreiros Ph.D. Academic Director Abstract Community-based ecotourism can be a potential tool to both promote empowerment and conservation of the local environment. One of the main goals of community-based ecotourism is to ensure that participating communities take an active role in the development and management of ecotourism activities. One way to measure if their goals are being reached is through a system of assessment, through which an ecotourism community will be able to account for the opinions of the tourist, the guide operators, and the local community. The general objective of this paper is to determine how a community-based ecotourism group can account for the opinions of all those involved while still working to maintain their goals. The ecotourism group of Curuçá, Brazil has been chosen for the research site because it is in early stages of development but has already handled several practice tours. The researcher used participant observation and semi-structured open-ended interviews to complete the research. In the group interview, the group spoke, without prompt, of their desire to spread environmental awareness to other members of the community. Important connections were also made between the promotion of culture, the building of environmental consciousness, and environmental preservation. This then suggests another approach to the conservation of the local environment the building of cultural self-esteem. Both goals of ecotourism, environmental protection and empowerment, were exemplified in the interview. While this project was approached with the potential of creating a system of assessment that would assist the group in understanding the social impacts of ecotourism, it is clear that the timeframe and the context of the group itself have hindered that goal. The most significant lesson overall however is that more research needs to be put into understanding how a community-based ecotourism group can measure themselves in order to improve, grow healthily and avoid the prospect of failure. Resumo Ecoturismo de communidade pode ser uma potencial ferramenta para promover a capacitação ea conservação do meio ambiente local. Um dos principais objetivos do ecoturismo de communidade é assegurar que participam comunidades ter um parte activo no desenvolvimento e gestão das atividades de ecoturismo. Uma forma de medir se os seus objectivos estão a ser alcançado é através de um sistema de avaliação, que uma comunidade ecoturismo será capaz de contabilizar os opiniões do turista, o guia operadores, e da comunidade local. O objetivo geral deste trabalho é o de determinar como um group de ecotourismo de comunidade pode representar as opiniões de todos os envolvidos, simultaneamente, continuar a trabalhar para manter os seus objetivos. O grupo de ecoturismo Curuçá, o Brasil foi escolhido para a pesquisa no site porque ele está fases iniciais de desenvolvimento, mas já tratou várias práticas turísticas. O pesquisador usado observação participante e entrevistas semi-estruturadas aberto de entrevistas para completar a investigação. Em entrevista ao grupo, o grupo falou do seu desejo de difundir a consciência ambiental a outros membros da comunidade. Também foram feitas ligações importantes entre a promoção da cultura, a construção da consciência ambiental, e preservação ambiental. Isto sugere, em seguida, uma outra abordagem para a conservação do meio ambiente local, a construção da auto-estima cultural. Ambos os objetivos do ecoturismo, a protecção ambiental e de capacitação, foram exemplificados na entrevista. Embora este projecto foi abordada com o potencial de criação de um sistema de avaliação de que o grupo iria ajudar na compreensão dos impactos sociais do ecoturismo, é claro que o contexto do próprio grupo ter impedido que a meta. A lição mais importante porém é que mais global de investigação deve ser posta em compreender como uma comunidade baseada no ecoturismo grupo pode medir-se a fim de melhorar, crescer saudável e evitar a perspectiva de fracasso. Acknowledgements I would like to think my advisor, João Meirelles, for opening the Instituto Peabiru doors for me and for taking the time to help. I would also like to thank Gabriela, for being the wonderful enthusiastic woman that she is and helping me out, even while back in the States. I would also like to thank everyone in Curuçá for being so warm and taking the time to show me around, feed me, and let me stutter along in Portuguese. Specifically I would like to thank Xavier and Liliana at Casa de Virada, and Charles, Branco, Moreno and all the other Tapiaims. I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors with the ecotourism project. Thank you! Table of Contents 1. Introduction and Justification Objectives Background of the Research Ecotourism in Curuçá Map of Curuçá Activities of the Group Methods Responses and Results Environmental Consciousness Promotion of Culture System of Assessment Analysis Conclusion Appendix A Literature Citied... 25 1. Introduction and Justification Since the 1970s, ecotourism has grown in popularity as a potential solution to many of the problems conventional tourism havocs on host countries, such as the disenfranchisement of local peoples and the depletion of natural resources. As defined by the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism philosophy generates responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people. Today ecotourism, is viewed perhaps more then any other global industry as a tool for both conservation and local community development (Honey 14). This stems from the hope that well-planned tourism could provide both economic and political incentives for conservation, as well as bring additional benefits to local communities (Salam et al. 56). While there are many potential benefits from ecotourism, ecotourism is still not a panacea; it should be integrated with conservation management and community development in order to be effective. It should be understood then that the development of a conservation system calls for a fundamental understanding of the connection between the target area, adjacent ecosystems, and local people. Many conservation organizations and NGOs use ecotourism as a method for preserving wildlife and their environmental, the international leaders being The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the World Wildlife Fund (Lash and Austin 16).These organizations are successful links to communities because of highly trained field staff who continually dialogue with communities by understanding expectations from the start and assisting where change is necessary (Lash and Austin 16).There is a separation here though between those organization that first work the conserve the environment, those that wish to build harmony between local people and protected areas, and those that see ecotourism first as an economic venture. The way these three types of groups approach ecotourism is different and can have a great effect on the development of the project. Ecotourism certainly can be a potential tool for communities, especially traditional communities, to both promote their own empowerment and conservation of their local environment, but it must be well planned and community-based. 1 An emphasis then should be placed on the idea of well-planned tourism because the way in which ecotourism is approached is critical to its success in terms of promoting the well being of both local peoples and their environments (Scheyvens 1999, 246). Scheyvens highlights then that a community based approach to ecotourism recognizes the need to promote the quality of life of people and the environment (Scheyvens 1999, 246). A community-based approach then understands that the local community can be empowered when given the opportunity to decide which forms of tourism and conservation programs they want to be developed in respect to their needs and desires (Scheyvens 1999, 246). This involves strengthen local social organizations so that the traditional communities are not lost in the margins of society. Community-based ecotourism can then be defined as when local people are involved in all aspects of the conservation and development process, both as principle actors and prime beneficiaries (Lash and Austin 5). From this, Marris (2001) identified three main goals to communitybased ecotourism: 1. to make a viable tourism business which contributes to local economic development in a way that minimizes negative impacts on the natural and cultural attractions upon which the tourism is based; 2. to actively contribute to the conservation of both the natural environment where the tourism is taking place and to the conservation of the cultural heritage of the communities; 3. to ensure that participating communities take an active role in the development and management of ecotourism activities (Marris 5). The third goal is of specific importance here because participation specifically empowers communities and people to take an active role in managing their resources and controlling the activities that affect their lives (Pleno 138). As Pleno (2006) discusses, knowledge, confidence, power, skills and access to knowledge are all important elements of empowerment (Pleno 138). Ecotourism has been shown to empower local communities by giving them a sense of pride and awareness of the importance of their natural resources and control over their own development (Scheyvens 2000, 233). Scheyvens (1990) has additionally developed a framework linking ecotourism and empowerment/disempowerment through economic, social, psychological, and political 2 means in order to understand the connection between the two. Pleno s study also found that ecotourism improved the environmental consciousness of local women, as well as that of the local community as a whole. This improved consciousness has been shown to provide a jump-off for further conservation efforts and reinforce the ecotourism industry. This also reaffirms the initial concept behind ecotourism that protected areas would only survive if the people in and around these fragile ecosystems saw some tangible benefits from tourism (Honey 13). Many studies then have promoted this connection by showing that it is difficult to protect the flora and fauna unless there are economic benefits to the country as well as to the local people, while also demonstrating how community involvement in conservation activities contributes to a local conservation commitment (Salam et al. 56). Indeed more and more people are beginning to understand how conservation of fragile ecosystems and beneficial community development can go hand in hand. Furthermore, this community-based approach to ecotourism is unique in that it accounts for the perspectives of all members of the community, even those not directly involved in the project; and like all ecotourism ventures, it strives to not only entertain the tourists, but also educate them in an interactive way. Thus a successful ecotourism project benefits the lives of all involved. All of this is easier said then done however and it is a consistent challenge for small community based ecotourism projects to meet the needs of the tourists while not compromising their own goals. Often in conventional tourism, communities that did not develop a means to regulate tourism development consequently felt they had lost the ability to determine their own fate (Lash and Austin 5). This has led to a growing set of cultural impacts, socio-economic inequities, and environmental problems worldwide these are the very reasons ecotourism was started (Land and Austin 5). This frustration is one of the aspects of mass tourism that ecotourism strives to better, making it critical to understand. Unfortunately, there is a large lack of research focusing on how a community can continually monitor their venture in regards to their own goals, positive and negative effects on the community, and tourist satisfaction. Without a means to assess themselves, an ecotourism community will not be able to account for the opinions of the tourist, the guide operators, and the local community. 3 Such a system of assessment then should reflect the community-based perspectives of the group, as well as those of the tourists that visit. Examples of components within such a system are visitor feedback questionnaires and self-evaluation forms. Without a system of evaluation, the group has few means to adjust problems within itself, let alone factor in the goals and desires of the general community and the tourist. An evaluation system then will help the group make improvements, generate statistics to gage their work, and form a structure for accountability. While many outside certification programs offer their methods as a way to help operators and the public in most cases, their cost is not feasible for small businesses found in community-based ecotourism, especially for the initial evaluation, training and set-up. While these kinds of outside systems may not be feasible, they do yield incalculable benefits and teachings for creating such a system. One of the most thorough theoretical guides, the World Wildlife Foundation s (WWF) Guide to Community-Based Ecotourism, describes specific qualities an ecotourism group should strive to achieve for performance monitoring, but never details how to initiate and facilitate such practices. Such WWF suggestions are: 1. Ecotourism projects should be designed and managed for long-term viability and success; 2. Regular monitoring and feedback to assess success and identify weaknesses that may need to be adjusted; 3. Simple indicators; 4. Cover economic performance, local community reaction and well being, visitor satisfaction and environmental changes; 5. Monitoring should be kept simple and should be obtained from visitors, tour operators, and local people (Denman 20). It should be noted that monitoring then is more then surveys, it is a way of learning how a system is changing and helps to measure progress and identify problems (Marris 8). Such systems of assessments have clear goals and objectives and should be able to identify key direct and indirect indicators which are simple and not time consuming to measure (Marris 11). Indicators then are the measurement tools while the method is the techniques used to measure; these are the components of a system of 4 assessment that help a community based ecotourism group achieve their goals. Examples of monitoring techniques are visitor feedback questionnaires, forms for recording observations of the ecoguides, and workshops and discussions with participating communities (Marris 11). Change actions Make new actions Take no action Monitoring Evaluation Evaluation Monitoring Change actions Make new actions Take no action Figure 1 Monitoring Cycle Designing a community-based ecotourism self-assessment system requires, first of all, to initiate a long conversation with the community itself so that all positive and negative aspects are understood. Each community is different and each community needs their own specific system that will help them evaluate their own attitudes, awareness, sensitivities, and constraints (Lash and Austin 7). Such a system needs to be simple, concise, thorough and repeatable. It also needs to provide immediate results because those without economic security do not have the means to wait on a nine-month study. Such a system would also require minimal training, which can hopefully be facilitated by a partner business venture or NGO ideally already involved with the community and with long-term intentions (Lash and Austin 32). It is their social responsibility, and likely in their financial interest, to tailor this system for the community. They are already familiar with the community, understand the background, and have built rapport (Lash and Austin 5 32). Such a tailoring process through should always be participatory and collaborate, which is reflexive of the ideals and goals of community-based ecotourism. Additionally, without this ability to meet their own goals and needs while still maintaining tourist allure, a project may fail. Many community-based ecotourism groups have failed because blanket formulas are used to help a community establish ecotourism, but leave the community dry as they have no system to assess themselves. Some fall short because they were not established correctly while others are unsuccessful because they have no means to account for changing trends and attitudes. While it is agreed that the project s development needs to be examined to understand why some fail and some succeed, any project that ignores follow up data will likely fail as well. Not all projects are created sustainable at first, and even if they are, changing political, economic, environmental, and social factors need to be accounted for. While it has become increasingly apparent that a project needs a clear method to be able to account for the perspectives of all involved, there is very little academic research and almost no tested theory on the potential for a community to self-assess their progress after their venture has begun. Economic, environmental, and social impacts are all important qualities to assess, but it is social impacts that are of particular concern here. A truly empowered and self-determined community should have the capacity to assess themselves because a community should be able to determine their own future and adequately be able to analyze the sustainability of their own project. 6 2. Objectives The general objective of this paper is to determine how a community-based ecotourism group can account for the opinions of all those involved while still working to maintain their goals. Specific objectives are: To look beyond the lack of research that examines local ecotourism groups themselves and look at the perspectives and goals of an ecotourism group. This involves directly identifying the goals and perspectives of the group in regard to ecotourism. To determine what steps a small community-based ecotourism group can take to meet the needs and desires of the tourist, to ensure economic security, while still maintaining their own goals and meeting the needs of the community. Finally, to propose a system of evaluation for the ecotourism group that could account for the perspectives of both the ecotourists and the ecotourism guides. This system will clearly only be the groundwork, and it is expected to be an evolving idea that changes with the needs and growth of the group. 7 3. Background of the Research The ecotourism group of Curuçá, Brazil has been chosen for the research site. It is an ideal location for studying the creating of assessment systems because it is in early stages of development but has already handled several practice tours. 3.1 Ecotourism in Curuçá A significant portion of the Municipality of Curuçá in Pará, Brazil is occupied by the Federal Conservation Unit, Reserva Extrativista Mãe Grande de Curuçá (translated as Big Mother Extractive Reserve of Curuçá the one who provides everything) which is composed of 52 thousand hectares. The area between Belém, Pará s capital and São Luiz, Maranhão s capital, is home to the largest continuous stretch of mangrove on the planet. It hosts 75 traditional communities for 6,000 families, most of whom live below Brazil s poverty line (under US$ 3/day). The reserve itself is additiona
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