Ecotourism in Amazonian Peru: Uniting Tourism, Conservation and Community Development

By Hill, Jennifer L.; Hill, Ross A. | Geography, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Ecotourism in Amazonian Peru: Uniting Tourism, Conservation and Community Development


Hill, Jennifer L., Hill, Ross A., Geography


ABSTRACT:

With reference to two ecotourism enterprises that operate within Ta m bo pata, Peru, this article evaluates key principles necessary to enable the successful achievement of ecotourism in a little-developed tropical forest region. In so doing, it highlights the intricacies of the relationship between ecotourism, environmental conservation and local community development. Principles are identified as i) empowering communities by integrating them in an ecotourism venture; U) exchanging knowledge between a community and tour operator; Hi) managing forest resources jointly between a community and tour operator; iv) minimising local economic leakage; v) educating tourists through interpretive programmes; and vi) minimising environmental and wildlife disturbance. The article offers cautious optimism that the tourism enterprises are consciously helping to protect the rainforest of Ta m bo pata, while meeting the socio-economic needs of the local communities.

Introduction

Ecotourism has been defined as 'environmentally responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people' (The Ecotourism Society cited in Western, 1993, p. 8). Ecotourism should involve local people, feed economic profit into local environmental protection, and contribute to the maintenance of local species diversity by minimising visitor impact and promoting tourist education. The challenge is to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors seeking an intrinsically environmental tourism experience, while minimising the costs and enhancing the benefits associated with natural area tourism (Boo, 1990; Cater and Lowman, 1994). As such, ecotourism is being promoted by governments and the tourism industry alike as a sustainable alternative to mass tourism, despite criticisms that it can be just as damaging to the natural environment and local cultures (Wheeller, 1991; Conservation International, 1999; Kruger, 2005).

Peru is the third largest country in South America, comprising three distinct physical regions: the western desert coast, the central mountainous inter-Andean region, and the eastern lowland tropical forest which occupies the upper reaches of the Amazon River (O'Hare and Barrett, 1999). Here, we investigate two ecotourism enterprises operating within the Department of Madre de Dios in south-eastern Amazonian Peru. We evaluate key principles necessary to enable successful achievement of ecotourism in a little-developed tropical forest region and thus highlight the intricacies of the relationship between ecotourism, environmental conservation and local community development.

Study area

South-eastern Peru is a hotspot of biological diversity and this is reflected in its status as one of the most protected regions in Amazonia (Phillips, 1993; Myers et al., 2000; Hill and Hill, 2001). This article makes reference to the Tambopata National Reserve (TNR), created in 2000 with an area of 274,690ha, and the Bahuaja Sonene National Park (BSNP), first created in and subsequently extended in 2000 to an area of 1.1 million ha (Figure 1). Unlike National Park status, the National Reserve designation officially permits sustainable use of forest resources into the future (Matsufuji and Bayly, 2006). The TNR and BSNP together support 1300 bird species, 200 mammal species and approximately 10,000 plant species (INRENA, undated). The key attractions for tourists include relatively abundant populations of monkeys, macaws, giant river otters and harpy eagles.

In 2006 over 40,000 visitors passed through Puerto Maldonado on their way to the Tambopata rainforest (Kirkby ei al., 2008). While the key motive for visiting the area is to experience an exotic location relatively close to Cusco, tourists have also expressed an interest in learning about the forest ecosystem and its conservation (Kirkby, 2002). Increasing numbers of visitors to the region have prompted a rise in the number of eco-lodges along the Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers: from 14 in 1998 to 37 by 2007 (Kirkby et al. …

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