Planning for Community-Based Ecotourism in Panama
With the abundance of natural attractions, it may come as a surprise that most of the 2.3 million annual visitors to the country rarely venture outside Panama City. However, until recently, Panama had not actively developed or promoted tourism in its parks, protected areas, and more rural areas. Sustainable Travel International partnered with the Republic of Panama Government to use this opportunity for tourism development as a means to increase conservation and create benefits for local communities.
Benefits of Ecotourism
Rural and Indigenous Communities
In Panama and elsewhere, responsibly developed ecotourism holds the potential to stimulate local economies, benefit indigenous communities, and combat rural poverty. By creating alternative livelihoods for communities in and around protected areas, ecotourism presents an opportunity for indigenous people support themselves and their families as tour guides, food service providers, or handicraft vendors.
Biodiversity and Conservation
Because tourism often flourishes in biodiversity hotspots, ecotourism also has the unique ability to contribute to the protection of some of the earth’s most valuable natural areas and ecosystems. The revenues from park entrance fees and tourism concessions provide added funding that can be channeled into conservation activities and park maintenance. In addition, the income generated by ecotourism provides an economic incentive for local people to protect the natural environment so that it remains a valuable tourism asset. By educating travelers on the ecosystems they visit and their role in environmental stewardship, ecotourism can also increase traveler activism and support of conservation.
In 2015 and 2016, our team worked with local stakeholders to analyze regional opportunities and challenges and map out a country-wide action plan for developing ecotourism in Panama’s protected areas. The resulting plan includes specific strategies for developing ecotourism in a manner that will enhance protection of Panama’s sensitive habitats and wildlife, promote inclusion of rural and indigenous communities and local culture, and foster capacity building and skills development. In March 2016, the Government of Panama and private sector officially adopted the plan and implementation is already underway.