EarthTalk: How to save the Earth while on vacation

Community-based tourism helps preserve local environments by supporting residents

The sun sets over the Amazon River in Brazil. Areas across South America have adopted sustainable community-based tourism.

Q: What is “community-based tourism,” and how does it purport to safeguard pristine places?
Erin O’Neill, Tukwila, Wash.

A: Community-based tourism refers to situations in which local people – usually those who are poor or economically marginalized in very rural parts of the world – open up their homes and communities to visitors seeking sustainably achieved cultural, educational, or recreational travel experiences.

Under a community-based tourism ar­­range­­ment, unique benefits accrue to both traveler and host: Travelers discover local habitats and wildlife and learn about traditional cultures and the economic realities of life in developing countries. Host communities accrue lucrative revenues that can replace income previously earned from destructive resource extraction operations or other unsustainable economic activity.
Locals earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, or food and service providers – and at least part of the tourist income is set aside for projects that benefit the community as a whole. Just as important, says, which promotes community-based tourism in a partnership with nonprofit Conservation International, the communities become “aware of the commercial and social value placed on their natural and cultural heritage through tourism,” thus fostering a commitment to resource conservation.
Travelers indulging in a community based tourism trip might follow a local guide deep into his tribe’s forest to spot wildlife, eat regional delicacies, watch and even take part in celebrations of local culture, and sleep on straw mats at the homes of local families.
In many cases, local communities partner with private companies and nonprofits that provide money, marketing, clients, tourist accommodations, and expertise for opening up lands to visitors.
In 1997, ecotravel operator Rainforest Expeditions wanted international visitors to learn about threats to the rain forest. Natives in Peru’s Esé-eja community of Infierno wanted to generate income without destroying their rain forest home, central to their subsistence lifestyle. So the two joined forces. To this day, the resulting Posada Amazonas lodge offers visitors an exotic way to learn about rain forest ecology directly from English-speaking Esé-eja staff, who in turn earn a living sharing their local knowledge and traditions.
Another example is the partnerships that the nonprofit Projeto Bagagem (Project Baggage) has forged with several Brazilian communities to bring in tourist dollars to support sustainable choices. One-third of the cost of every Projeto Bagagem trip goes to the villagers and another one-third to a local nonprofit.
Last year, the group won a Seed Award from the United Nations and the nonprofit World Conservation Union for its efforts to translate “the ideals of sustainable development into action on the ground.”
Contacts: Rainforest Expeditions (, (; Projeto Bagagem, (

Got an environmental question? Write: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or e-mail:

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