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.
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