Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Network

Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Network

Ecuador
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Provide sales, marketing and management services to an alliance of high-quality sustainable tourism initiatives that may vary in size, structure and product offerings…but share a common ethos, captured in the following mission statement: identify and promote businesses that value and support biodiversity conservation, cultural preservation, and social responsibility through tourism.

About You
Organization:
Tropic Journeys in Nature
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Jascivan

Last Name

Carvalho

Country
Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Tropic Journeys in Nature

Organization Phone

593 2 2225907

Organization Address

La Niña 327 y Reina Victoria

Organization Country

, P

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

Innovation
What makes your innovation unique?

Ecuador, on the cutting edge of ecotourism, has yet to comprehensively develop and promote natural destinations that benefit one of the most important species in any ecosystem – the humans that live there.

Ecotourism is only sustainable when it benefits the rural communities that call parks and protected areas their home. Ecotourism has the power to create local economies that depend upon the preservation of natural resources, rather then their extraction. It is not an economic panacea, but it is an increasingly proven approach to diversify and reduce destructive activities such as unsustainable agriculture, hunting, and fishing.

The justifications of a role for communities in managing and benefiting from tourism destinations are many. For product quality, nothing compares to the stories and knowledge a local guide or elder can share with clients. For sustainability, no one will defend the destruction of a forest more fiercely then the people who live there. For a value proposition, few high-quality destinations boast local ownership and management…an increasingly important driver in the way travelers select the places they go.

For the past years we have seen community tourism initiatives come with enthusiasm and high expectations of this green business but after a while without a proper link with the market, (usually grants are available for training courses and little equipment) we expect to continue growing as a platform for initiatives that are ready to be marketed and sold globally. We believe that a simple but innovative aproach towards sustainable tourism and development could make a difference to many local initiatives.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

As I mentioned we have already put into practice what we preach, i.e. a partnership with the Huaorani people lead to the establishment of Huaorani Ecolodge (www.huaorani.com), an innovative model of ecologically friendly development that is sensitive to local traditions, and is co-managed with the Huaorani themselves.

The lodge was opened in January 2008 after a tourism association was formed by the five indigenous communities involved in the project. Consolidating the project involved training community members elaborating plans to produce and sell crafts (using the available funds mentioned previously). After consultations a site was chosen and a Lodge planned and built. Community members now work in the Lodge and participate in its management as well as providing services such as laundry, carpentry, and local produce for meals. It is expected that the Lodge will become fully managed by the community within five years.

Where we made a difference: a well thought through marketing and sales strategy was put into place and as a result in its first year of operations the initiative won the LATA award as ‘Best Sustainable Tourism Project in Latin America 2008. Not satisfied with success, we won again in 2009 and as a company Tropic was garlanded as one of the best adventure company on Earth by National Geographic Adventure as well being recognized as a highly commended tour operator for cultural engagement by the Virgin Holidays and Responsible Travel awards. But it is not only the awards. We have been busy, all over the news (check our facebook, twitter and blog, and web page www.tropiceco.com), and what is more important, selling packages and taking people to the Lodge. And we are happy to say that at this point of the year, (June) we are already at the break-even point and expect at least another 150 clients to travel with us by the end of 2010. At the moment the operation is at the point of becoming self sustaining (and this at the beginning of only our third year of operations).

We now have proof that tourism can make a difference. This is not only a matter of the number of jobs and the resources coming into the Huaorani community, but also of work with the communities in setting up and formalising a conservation area of some 60,000 hectares. What pleases us most is that there are now many other indigenous groups and local communities excited about the idea of using tourism as a tool for conservation and development. The experience with the Huaorani project, amongst others, has put us in a privileged position, and we are keen to provide our know how and support to other similar initiatives, but there is a significant amount of work involved and resources to be invested.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

We have already mentioned a few, but let’s start with more questions: with all of the benefits and opportunities of community-based tourism, the question arises as to why there aren’t more quality community tourism destinations in Ecuador Why do Ecuadorian inbound operators still fail to diversify and differentiate their products, and continue to offer the same, tired “gringo trail” itineraries? Why are the lessons learned and best practices put into place in the few thriving community tourism destinations not being translated into new successful ventures?

There are a number of reasons.

Tour operators recognize that investing in new ecotourism products, particularly in isolated areas, is considerably more expensive, risky and labor intensive than selling easily accessible products, even if they are overrun with visitors. Most large inbound operators also lack the time and interest required to foster and develop community-based products. Finally, many community tourism destinations simply lack quality. From lodging to customer service, to attention to detail – the expectations of international clientele are not being met.

But from our perspective the biggest challenge for establishing new sustainable community tourism products is that they require highly specialized resources in order to develop. Without experience in creating trust and dialogues with rural and indigenous communities, customized training programs to develop practical, and critical, customer service and tourism operations skill sets, and investors who demand both financial and social return on investment this type of tourism initiative is difficult to sustain. Unfortunately these are all resources that most inbound operators lack.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

1. Define new protected areas and communities ready to operate within them.
2. Establish alliances and evaluate commitment and interest from the local people to work on the developments with us.
3. Evaluate potential sources of grants for these communities.
4. Establish a strategy and business model which allows Tropic to act as a direct sales representative to individual network members.
5. Develop the technological tools for the commercial platform.
6. Establish the criteria for the Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Network and expand its membership.
7. Provide management services (advisory board for communities) including specialized operations manuals.

What usually prevents a small operator from taking the first steps is funding, so in order to define new initiatives we have invested a great deal of our own scarce resources, to the point where we have often questioned the viability of the strategy, the years of meetings, travel, conversations, plans, and more meetings. Fortunately, with the support of USAID and its local counterparts we have been able to establish a strong base on which to launch operations. What we need to do now is connect these operations to the market and for this we need more powerful tools, such as investing on a website that actually sells, promotes, and enables clients to contact us, etc. Without this type of instrument we will not be able to bring in the number of customers necessary to sustain initiatives, and as a result to inspire communities to commit to their initiatives...

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Year 1
Develop the previous steps described, starting by defining the right commercial platform and web technology that will allow us to bring clients to ecotourism destinations.
Develop a strong brand that communicates the high standards and unique qualities of the Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Network members and their tour products

Year 2

Operational:
Hire a Sales Manager to coordinate sales and marketing activities.
Procure investment for the equipment required for the company to connect sites and communities with main urban areas.
Finalize product development with the communities.
Start operations.

Year 3
Develop a set of quality, social, and environmental criteria with which to assess potential members/tour products and to certify those that meet said criteria.
Certify five to ten Ecuador Sustainable Tourism Network members whose products will be promoted and sold through the sales network.
Generate enough sales revenue to pay for 100% of annual operational costs

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

No

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

It is not our goal to influence but it will be always our aim to demonstrate how the private sector can support the state actions in each tourism destination and thus contribute to sustainable development.

Sustainability
What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

No

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

No

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

No

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

One of the most important lessons learned in these past two years of international crisis is that small, recently established social tourism enterprises are fragile, and could be at risk without strong partnerships. It is also apparent that the strong partnerships that our not-for-profit arm has with conservation and international organizations are of limited value if we now fail to expand. We need to develop good partnerships with other enterprises and angel investors that can help us take our initiative to the next level. This will be our focus in the next few years. Our goal: to have a truly sustainable social business model.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Tropic is self funded, it exists for and by promoting and selling ecotourism programs in various parts of Ecuador, mainly via its commercial channels and relationships with international operators. The strategy works but is limited. The problem with our model and lessons we have learned during the financial crisis, is that we have found ourselves completely dependent on international operators and their ability to overcome the situation. Since 2008 our sales have dropped considerably (as with to most of operators) but in our particular case this implies not only internal impacts(which fortunately have been minimal) but also reducing our capacity to support community tourism operations process of development. Our main goal is now to improve our own independent capacity to reach the market, and we are keen to find new, alternative and more efficient ways to reach our audience. We strongly believe that the internet is the way forward, using websites with new technology,, social media, etc., and everything being used all over the world whose availability is presently limited in a country like Ecuador, and even more so for small enterprises such as ours.

This is what Tropic is all about. We want to show that environmentally sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism could be a viable business model. Over the years the company has consistently partnered and promoted just these kinds of tourism initiatives with indigenous communities, some of which, such as the Huaorani Ecolodge, have received international recognition and awards.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Over the past few years I have worked with great many organizations (national and international NGO's, cooperation agencies, communities, local governments, etc.) and it is my experience that many have failed to develop their small tourism enterprises for lack of expertise in various areas. Worse still, almost all fail after investing enormous amounts of money.

After countless visits to different sites all over the country and talking to people of many different cultures and languages, after experiencing the value of the country’s many different ecosystems, and after many, many hours of conversation but unfortunately little action, I realized that it was (and still is) the moment to do something.

I realized it was the moment to move to a new way of working with communities (i.e. to WORK with communities – not simply help or give away tools or aid, or provide training to poor communities that in practice are richer than all of us).

I realised that what was needed was a model that would provide efficient and effective tools for working within the business of tourism. I realised that to be successful, to support conservation, education, health... our model would also have to concentrate on the most fundamental aspect of this type of activity - REAL TOURISTS.

Here in Ecuador there are real needs: every day more communities find themselves under pressure, more species are becoming endangered and more protected areas are under threat. They are all looking for paths to sustainable development. Meanwhile, the entire world is concerned about climate change, finally waking up to the real threat it represents, and now beginning appreciating the efforts local cultures are making to protecting natural and cultural resources. My philosophy is that tourism has a role here, that it can support local efforts and help provide solutions to these problems; in ecotourism there is an opportunity to bridge these two worlds.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

While at University I began working part time with an uncle, combining theory with the practical aspects of the business; I was training to be an executive with the idea that I wanted to make things happen. The goal was always to work in tourism so I decided to study business as that would give a macro perspective. After a few years abroad, and after winning a scholarship, I came back to Ecuador to work in an industry that many say is the future for our small, but extremely bio-diverse, country. I was delighted when I was given an opportunity that many would dream of: to manage a business connected to what I love and studied for: ecotourism. A number of years later, although I should stress that I am still young, I am now the company’s General Manager as well as the Executive Director of an ecotourism Foundation I helped to create. And if that isn’t enough, from time I also work as a consultant on projects I think will strengthen my ability to achieve my goals and support the kind of tourism we need. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to develop some practical and theoretical skills: the ability to create projects around development opportunities and to conceive of businesses and make them happen; the capacity to strengthen alliances amongst actors from different sectors and to articulate proposal with regards to specific needs. I prefer to operate with a focus on Rights and an emphasis on biodiversity and ethnic cultural diversity. I believe that I have an advantage here: a deep knowledge of the tourism business and its multiplier effect, its value chain, and how the business activity can be linked to an effective model for promoting conservation, improving economic benefits for local communities and supporting protected areas. My motivation is challenge, the search of chances to improve my knowledge and provide opportunities to support development and conservation.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

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