The Batwa Trail, located in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, offers a nature walk tour that introduces visitors to the Batwa culture.
Batwa are indigenous communities who previously inhabited the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks in Uganda. A marginalized hunter-gatherer tribe, the Batwa have a wealth of knowledge about the forests and maintain a rich non-destructive heritage with the forests. The current population of Batwa people in Uganda is estimated at only 6,705. In the 1990s, when the Uganda government creation the Mgahinga and Bwindi national parks to protect biodiversity and endangered mountain gorillas, the Batwa people were evicted from the forest. They now live in adjacent agricultural communities as landless squatters.
On June 27, 2012, the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, USAID Mission to Uganda, Uganda Wildlife Authority and other private and public sector representatives commissioned several new developments for the Batwa Trail. These planned improvements include a shorter trail, artistic cave shelter, lunch shed and improved solar lighting worth over $31,000.
Roughly 2,500 tourists visit Mgahinga Park each year. In addition, 206 tourists have visited the Batwa Trail. Over a 2-month period, Batwa cultural trail had registered 22 (6.3% of all tourists) paying tourists. With investment in volcano hiking infrastructure and increased marketing, tourism numbers are expected to increase 50% by 2014.
There is great optimism that this revamped trail, a unique initiative that allows the Batwa tribe access to the land from which they were evicted in the 1990s, will allow tourists to explore the cultural site of Africa’s last forest people and add about $12,500 a year to the tourism revenue with 50% of it going to the Batwa people.
This project has been jointly developed by Solimar International under USAID STAR, the USFS, the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Greater Virunga Trans-boundary Collaboration (GVTC), United Organization of Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), and Kisoro District Local Government.
Earlier this week, Ashley discussed our efforts in Uganda to boost conservation through tourism in national parks. One place where we have worked to accomplish this goal is in Rwenzori. Here we developed new tourism products to boost visitation and revenue, which is vital to conservation. Increased tourism has also helped provide new sources of income for the local community.
The Rwenzori Mountains, the fabled "Mountains of the Moon," lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park was established in 1991 and was recognized as aUNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 and as an international Ramsar Wetland site in 2008. The national park hosts a variety of species of wildlife that include 70 mammals and 217 birds, including 19 species that are endemic to the region, as well as some of the world’s rarest plants.
The Rwenzoris are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination that offer multi-day treks around and up to the mountains peaks, which are among the highest in Africa, and one of only three locations that hosts glaciers on the equator. For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring communities also offer nature walks, cultural performances and accommodation. Despite this, the number of visitors to the region is limited, due in part to limited tourism activities and facilities offered in the area.
To address this gap, Solimar’s USAID-funded project “Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift” with support from US Forest Service, and in partnership with ECOTRUST, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Geolodges, worked to improve the tourism products being offered in and around the mountain to promote greater visitation to this incredible destination.
The New Rwenzori Mountains Visitor Information Center is a multi-function facility next to the National Park, providing information and services for visitors to the region. The Center offers information about the history and ecology of the mountains and their people; it also has space for UWA briefings and registration before entering the park, a restaurant and a craft shop. The Visitor Information Center will allow people traveling to the region to learn more about the National Park and the mountain, its people and their culture.
Solimar and our partners supported the Visitor Center through funding and technical assistance in the development of the building and the interpretive information within it. The Visitor Center is also paired with a private lodge concession that offers accommodations and a restaurant in partnership with the local community for travelers to the park.
The New Mahooma Nature Trail is a 28 km loop-trail starting and ending at the main entrance to the park. Solimar, with support from the US Forest Service and in partnership with UWA, developed the trail as a way to diversify the options available to visitors to the region, which before hand only offered long treks into the park. The trail traverses the lower slopes of the mountains culminating at Lake Mahooma where the trail joins the existing ‘Central Circuit’ trail to return to the park gate. The entire circuit could be completed in 1-2 nights, or parts of it as a day hike.
We hope that the addition of these new tourism products will help increase tourism to the mountains. And even more importantly, help increase revenues for the people of the region as well as support the park in their ongoing conservation efforts.
In the previous couple of blog entries, we focused on some of the work Solimar has been doing in Uganda to improve parks and other protected areas through tourism initiatives. In this post, we will follow the same protected area theme but take a closer look at the approaches we follow when addressing the business of protected areas. Some might think that "business" and "protected areas" should not be used in the same sentence, but the reality is that the majority of protected areas around the world rely on tourism for a good portion, if not the majority, of their revenue, which in turn helps manage and conserve important landscapes and precious resources.
Tourism is often the financial backbone behind protected areas and we have worked around the world helping protected areas enhance the benefits they can derive from tourism. Although each destination is different and needs its own specific strategy, we tend to take four approaches that support protected areas through tourism:
- Creating partnership programs to support protected areas
- Tourism product development in protected areas
- Community linkages with, and benefits from, protected areas
- Linking markets to protected areas
Each of these approaches, whether integrated or implemented on their own, help increase revenue for protected areas and enhance protected area conservation and law enforcement activities. The following paragraphs give a brief overview of each of the four approaches and how they enhance the business of protected areas. For more detailed information, check out our Destination Development and Marketing Case Study.
Protected areas are utilized by a broad array of people and organizations, many of which rely on the protected areas for their income. However, these stakeholders are often underutilized as a resource for the benefit of the protected area. A protected area partnership program protected area partnership program establishes a network of public and private sector stakeholders with common interests to support the protected area both financially and through in-kind contributions. The approach we take is to stimulate collaboration and communication among stakeholders through quick catalytic activities (such as cooperative destination marketing). These help build momentum behind the group and establish long-term collaborative partnerships.
Many protected areas also require improvements to their tourism infrastructure, products and services so that they can attract more visitors, attract a specific segment of visitors, keep visitors in the region longer, or drive visitation to new areas of the protected area. To improve the tourism assets of the region, we take an approach that works with protected area authorities to evaluate the conservation, management and resource needs of the destination. Based on this tourism assessment, we identify which opportunities can address the goals of the protected area. Throughout this process we also work with the tourism market to help identify, refine and validate opportunities that fit with market needs and then develop new products or enhance services through the protected area managers themselves. The goal is not tourism for tourism’s sake, but strategic tourism assets that help achieve the long-term conservation goals of the protected area.
Communities are a part of the broader ecological landscape around protected areas and are therefore an important part of the overall business approach for protected areas. If neighboring communities benefit from visitors to the protected area then their relationship with the protected area improves. We have a comprehensive tourism enterprise development program that is explained in detail on our website, but the essence of the goal is to work with communities in or around protected areas that have an interest in tourism, a willingness and capacity to host visitors, and viability in the tourism market to create a business that is owned by the people of the community. Depending on the situation, the tourism facility can be run by the community or as a concession to a private sector operator. Either way, the objective is to go beyond just employment to tangible ownership of business assets that link the community to sustainable benefits from the park.
To successfully utilize tourism as a tool for protected area management, marketing and market linkages are vital. However, this is often an activity that is marginalized within protected area management practices. To drive people to protected areas and to keep them there for longer, they need to know about the destination and what to do within it, but this is not a task that one person or organization can achieve. Cooperative marketing, leveraging partners that also have a business interest in the protected area, helps to expand the market reach of the destination and build collaboration among regional partners.
For protected areas, a mix of traditional push marketing (sales manuals, print collateral, etc.) and inbound (pull) marketing (web-campaigns, social media, news stories, etc.) helps to build awareness about the destination with travelers and the tourism trade, and then drives travelers interested in the protected area to the travel trade to make the sale. Media, past travelers, travel trade partners and others are all utilized to increase the visibility of the protected area and track that back to actual visitors to the region.
When combined, these four approaches help to improve the business of protected areas, using tourism as a tool to increase revenues that in turn help to manage and protect these valuable natural assets. To learn more about Solimar’s approach to tourism in and around protected areas download our case study on destination development and marketing.
I’m not a biologist, but my basic understanding of an ecosystem is an interconnected system of organisms that rely on one another to maintain their existence as they continuously transfer energy from one organism to another. It's nature's way of sustaining life.
But what does this have to do with tourism? Aside from our focus on developing tourism in a way that protects and promotes the delicate ecosystems within a destination, there is also an interesting comparison between an ecosystem and all the moving parts of a destination. We believe that tourism, conservation and local economies can be and should be approached in a similar holistic, ecosystem way. Rather than focus on only one aspect of a destination, we need to look at the entire ecosystem - how tourism, conservation and local economies interact, what needs they have, and how they can support one another to benefit the entire destination.
Just as energy and nutrients drive the biological ecosystem, money and experiences drive the destination ecosystem. Money helps fund peoples desire to travel, and money is transferred from a visitor to a tourism business in exchange for a unique travel experience. Conservation areas and local economies receive money from travelers and travel businesses (gate fees, hotel stays, guided tours, etc.) and use it to sustain their conservation activities and livelihood. This, in turn, helps protect and enhance the destination so that travelers continue to be inspired to travel to it, maintaining the flow of money to support the destination.
Just like the biological ecosystem after which it is modeled, the destination ecosystem is a delicately balanced system relying on each component to work together to sustain the destination. If done well, tourism, conservation and local economies can sustain themselves; but when done poorly, the system collapses. Biologists realized this long ago and take an ecosystem approach to the areas they study and manage. However, for a destination, such an approach is often lacking, which results in damage to the destination as well as the organizations and people within them.
For example, if park managers decided that they wanted more antelope in their park and supported the growth of the population without looking at the entire ecosystem, they would soon find that their large antelope population had eaten all the grass, and the ecosystem would deteriorate. The same is true for a destination, if the focus is purely on one aspect of a destination like growing the local economy, attracting as many visitors as possible, or conserving the destination, without consideration for anything else, the system will crash and the destination will suffer. Rather than looking at a tourism business or a park or the communities around it in isolation, an integrated approach to destinations and the tourism, conservation and local economic activities within them is vital for long-term sustainability.
Integrated planning, implementation, and monitoring of activities within a destination helps ensure that the balance between all the key players is maintained and that each one can leverage the other for its own benefit and the benefit of the destination. It is only when this integrated ecosystem works together in balance that a destination truly thrives.
Our planet’s cultural and natural heritage sites are irreplaceable sources of travel inspiration. They include destinations as unique and incredible as Peru’s Machu Picchu, East Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the Pyramids of Egypt. These amazing places make up our world’s heritage and often appear on the top of many travelers' “must see” lists.
We’re celebrating heritage this month at Solimar, and what better place to start than by highlighting UNESCO’s amazing collection of over 1,000 World Heritage Sites! Since 1972, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has been spotlighting the planet’s most fascinating—and sometimes most threatened—places and civilizations.
A site is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for many of the same reasons that millions of tourists choose to visit these places each year - they are incredible legacies left from our past and some of the most treasured spots on our planet. Given their popularity, responsibly managing tourism is an absolutely vital component to ensuring that they can be enjoyed by future generations. Developing tourism sustainably protects and maintains heritage sites, improves tourist experiences, and boosts local economies through generating increased opportunities from tourism.
Solimar has had the opportunity to contribute to managing tourism sustainably in and around several World Heritage sites over the years, including:
1) Panama/Costa Rica (La Amistad National Park): Solimar formalized a bi-national sustainable tourism alliance between Costa Rica and Panama to promote and further develop sustainable tourism activities in the transboundary region of Parque Internacional La Amistad. Alongside this alliance, Solimar facilitated the creation of “La Ruta Amistad”, a cultural route linking Costa Rica and Panama, and designed marketing materials to help visitors travel more sustainably. Learn more about our project here.
2) Ethiopia (Konso Cultural Landscape): Solimar created seven community tourism enterprises, which provided jobs and revenue for the communities living in the Central and Southern Rift Valley. Solimar also created a Traveler’s Philanthropy Program to encourage tourists to participate in conservation initiatives and worked alongside government institutions to improve the current tourism and conservation policy environments. Learn more about this project here.
3) Izabal, Guatemala (Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua): Solimar worked directly with local stakeholders to help position Izabal as a world-class, stay-over destination. We established the Izabal Geotourism Alliance, a Destination Management Organization (DMO) comprised of public and private sector stakeholders, and provided marketing services as an incentive to participants, which encouraged the protection of resources like the Quirigua ruins. Solimar also designed the Izabal Conservation Fund, a travel philanthropy fund to support regional conservation efforts. Learn more about this project here.
4) Jordan (Petra and Wadi Rum Protected Area): Solimar is helping to promote and increase Jordan’s competitiveness as an international tourism destination by establishing the proper institutional and regulatory framework that enables a private sector-driven approach to spur tourism growth while preserving the nation’s historic and natural treasures. Solimar is contributing to the achievement of this solution through marketing activities, improved destination management, human resource development and tourism product development. Read more about this project here.
5) Mali (Cliff of Bandiagara/Land of the Dogons): Solimar helped to diversify the economy of the Dogon people by building awareness of Dogon Country as a tourist destination and promoting its many tourism assets while enhancing the capacity of local tourism businesses to service international tourism markets. This has helped to provide the Dogon people with alternative sources of income to their traditional agricultural activities and has allowed them to further develop tourism assets and enterprises. By providing this alternative livelihood, some of the environmental pressures have been alleviated that are associated with a dominantly agrarian society. Learn more about this project here.
6) Montenegro (Durmitor National Park): Solimar worked to expand and more equitably distribute economic benefits through developing both community-based and eco-based tourism experiences with northern communities around Durmitor National Park.
7) Morocco (Medinas of Fez and Marrakech): Solimar linked the craft and tourism markets through the creation of artisan and cultural heritage routes in both Fez and Marrakech. These routes include stops at artisan workshops, increasing awareness of Moroccan culture and craft traditions and helping increase artisans' revenue by allowing them to sell directly to tourists rather than selling through a retailer or wholesaler. Solimar helped to market and promote these routes to the international travel market through online platforms, thus further increasing awareness of Morocco's cultural and artisanal heritage and enhancing both the craft and tourism sectors. Read more about this project here.
8) Portugal (Douro Valley Wine Region): In partnership with National Geographic, the Douro Valley Sustainable Tourism Initiative is promoting sustainable tourism development and facilitating collaboration between relevant business owners, local governments, interest groups, and residents and helping market the region's sustainable tourism assets. Solimar is assisting in the implementation of key Douro Valley Sustainable Tourism Initiative activities such as the establishment of a Douro Valley Geotourism Stewardship Council and the development of marketing tools and strategies that contribute to the ongoing process of promoting this unique region to the world. Read more about our project here.
9) Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwenzori Mountains National Park): Uganda’s national parks and protected areas, particularly these two World Heritage sites, are the country’s main tourism attractions. Solimar worked with a broad variety of stakeholders in the tourism sector to improve the tourism products in these national parks, build strong community enterprises linked to the parks and conservation activities, and invigorated the tourism sector by connecting tourism businesses to international and domestic tourism markets. Read more about our project here.
Conservation projects are currently taking the world by storm due to greater awareness and the unstoppable growth of global tourism. Did you know that tourism is one of the planet’s biggest industries and one of the largest drivers of economic growth all over the world? You may be surprised to learn that tourism is also one of the biggest driving forces of conservation efforts – spurred by the sheer volume of travelers circulating the globe and visiting sensitive natural areas. Conservation programs are being put into place to capitalize on tourism’s economic promise to ensure that natural resources endure for years to come.
What is Conservation?
First, let’s take a moment to define what conservation is. Conservation is the act of preserving or protecting the environment, natural resources, and biodiversity. Oftentimes, we see locations with underdeveloped economies struggle with conservation because resources are limited. An unwitting local population may sometimes exploit the natural areas and wildlife populations in order to make ends meet. It’s an understandable scenario, but with dangerous consequences to the long-term viability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.
Tourism is a solution, not the problem.
How does tourism tie into this, you ask? Well, tourism, when planned accordingly, can actually help developing economies by preserving the resources that communities rely on, rather than depleting them. Tourism generates economic growth by creating sustainable, non-consumptive means of income for the community such as tours. When done correctly, tourism can entice conscious travelers to visit, who in turn bring cash to communities. Tourism also has the benefit of unifying community stakeholders around a common goal with tangible outcomes.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
In many African nations, biodiversity conservation has always been important. In Namibia, we see the effects poaching can have on decreasing the populations of big game animals, like lions, elephants, and rhinos. Of the 1,750 black rhinos that live in Namibia, about 120 were killed in 2014 alone. Local communities have historically felt the need to hunt and kill these animals either for food, or because they believe the animals are destroying their own precious resources, like their grass-filled land, or preying on their livestock. Eventually, though, if populations continue using these endangered species for food, these animals will go extinct, and so will the communities’ food source. Additionally, the illegal export of rare animals to the black market in other areas is a brutal detriment to communities
What tourism has the power to do, is reverse the view that wildlife is a threat and demonstrate that there is an economic value to conservation. Instead of viewing lions and rhinos as a danger to their homes, or the pangolin as a wealth-inducing export, Namibians can let these animals provide for them. People across the world are willing to travel great distances and pay significant amounts of money to see these great creatures. For example, along with continued North American and European travelers, Chinese visitors to African safaris will grow to about 180,000 by 2017. Increased interest has developed in India as well. And as the world becomes ever more connected, through the power of the internet, tourism and a desire to visit these unique locations will only continue to grow. By investing in the conservation of preserving its wildlife, Namibia is ensuring that travelers (and their money) will continue to flow into the country for years to come.
The documentary Virunga, has brought attention to the endangered mountain gorillas residing in the Virunga Mountain Region. On the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of Congo, the mountains are the only place on earth where you can find these magnificent primates. As the documentary highlights, oil drilling has posed an imminent threat to the lives of these endangered gorillas. However, oil is a limited resource, whereas investing in tourism will attract visitors – and funding – for generations to come.
Saving the sea turtles is another great example of how conservation not only benefits wildlife, but the entire world. A sea turtle is worth way more alive to us, than dead. Sea turtles help control the growth of sea grass beds on the ocean floor, which are breeding grounds for many species of fish and crustaceans. Without sea turtles, we would see an incredible decrease in sea grass beds, leading to a decline in the other species who depend on it for their survival. Not only do sea turtles help the marine ecosystem, but they also help recycle nutrients from the water to the land when they lay their eggs along beaches every summer. Without sea turtle eggs, our beaches’ ecosystems would be harmed, sand dunes would erode, and we can say goodbye to the precious, pristine beaches we enjoy today. Solimar has also done some work in the past to save sea turtles on a previous project in Nicaragua.
To do any of the above, conservation is of the utmost importance. Tourism can help ensure sustainable income for the future.
While tourism and conservation make an excellent duo, there are many challenges to overcome predisposed ideas of economic growth in countries where poverty and corruption run rampant. With the right methods and planning, tourism can help preserve beautiful locations, like the Virunga Mountains and Namibia, for generations to come.
Check out Solimar’s latest conservation effort project in Peak Park, Colombia.
Interested in learning more about tourism and conservation? Download our Sustainable Models and Strategies Toolkit!