Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism


Management of Aquatic Resources and Economic Alternatives Project (MAREA)

Managing and promoting sustainable tourism with a focus on aquatic and marine ecosystem conservation in Central America.

  • Client: USAID
  • Partners: Chemonics, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), El Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA)
  • Project Duration: February 2010 – February 2014

The Challenge

Coastal and marine fisheries are responsible for the largest extractive use of wildlife products for food but are difficult to sustain: major threats to the region's biodiversity and ecosystems include unsustainable exploitation of resources, coastal development, and critical habitat degradation. These biophysical threats are driven by a number of social, political, and economic factors - particularly weak governance and regulation. Legitimate institutional capacity is essential for overall conservation and sustainable economic development. To be effective, however, this major shift in fisheries governance should be regionally embraced, as species have no boundaries and their sustainable management depends on the cooperation of nations and their ability to harmonize their policies. Without sound management practices and market solutions that are tailored to ensure sustainability at all levels, both food security and marine biodiversity will be lost.

The Solution

Solimar uses sustainable tourism to foster rights-based and market-based tools and management incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources and ecosystems. Through a partnership with National Geographic's Geotourism Program, a regional website promoting sustainable coastal tourism destinations in Central America has been established. The website,, provides market access for small and mediums enterprises as well as an incentive for those enterprises to adopt tourism "best practices" that mitigate their impact to fragile coastal and marine environments. Within the MAREA project Solimar is also working to raise visitor awareness of marine conservation issues through awareness building campaigns and "codes of conduct" that target issues such as responsible seafood choices and visitor impacts to coral reefs.

In addition, resources for local tourism enterprises have also been developed via the MAREA project to help them improve their products and services as well as their sustainability. A "Tourism Toolkit" covers everything from business planning to operations and management to sales and marketing. In addition, Solimar documented 16 unique "Conservation Tourism Strategies" that guide local enterprises to ways in which they can directly support marine conservation efforts.

Major Activities

  • Incentivizing the Travel Trade through Market Access: developing a marketing initiative to increase demand of sustainable tourism products and services, and willingness to adopt sustainability.
  • Building capacity: creating a conservation model to be integrated into a Sustainable Tourism Toolkit that is used as a guide for the development of marine-based tourism products.
  • Managing relationships: establishing a stakeholder alliance to foster action and communication, to generate support and funding, and to create an agreed-upon set of sustainable tourism best practices.


  • Establishment of the "Go Blue Central America" regional marketing platform to increase demand for Central America's sustainable tourism destinations and products. 
  • Improved sustainability of travel industry through best practices for hotels, dive shops, restaurants, transportation, and other tourism service providers.
  • Creation of 16 "Tourism Conservation Strategies" that integrate tourism development and sustainability.
  • Development of four "Tourism Toolkits": business planning, operations and management, staff training, and sales and marketing.
  • Establishment of a public-private alliance comprised of Central American government representatives, members of the scientific community, NGOs, and the private tourism industry. This alliance will generate support and funding for the conservation of sea turtles through sustainable development.


Project Fact Sheet

USAID Regional Program and Go Blue Central America Case Study

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