Imagine taking a walk through an intact old-growth forest, where ancient pine trees pierce into the sky and the chirping of dozens of colorful birds fills the air. At one point, you might find yourself surrounded by steep green mountains, or wander out onto a deserted beach. It sounds like paradise, but this place is real… and you can find it in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Known for its rich biodiversity, Mexico is home to about 10% of the world’s plant and animal species. There are around 200,000 different species in Mexico, and the country also boasts 34 biosphere reserves and 67 national parks. Most of Mexico’s natural habitat is found in the southern state of Oaxaca, which proudly hosts 133 species of amphibians and 245 species of reptiles. Oaxaca is also a culturally diverse place, where 16 indigenous communities, each with their own traditions, dialect and customs, coexist in social harmony.
The only threat to their well-being, and to the existence of Oaxaca’s unique species, is the rapid deforestation that has been scarring Mexico’s landscapes for the last two decades.
To address the environmental crisis in Oaxaca and other vulnerable places in the world, an international nonprofit has been working with tourism entrepreneurs and local communities to establish sustainable ways of protecting natural habitats and empowering indigenous peoples.
Implementing Sustainable Tourism Practices
The Rainforest Alliance was established in 1987 with the aim to conserve biodiversity and support local communities through sustainable tourism. The organization offers training to local tourism enterprises to equip them with the tools needed to operate sustainably, efficiently and responsibly. There are currently around 300 people employed with Rainforest Alliance, and the NGO has so far worked with over 1 million individuals in 89 nations.
In a recent project in Oaxaca, they partnered with local organizations to hold training workshops for community-based entrepreneurs, showing them how to contribute to a cleaner environment through waste management and efficient energy use. The workshops have also highlighted the importance of working with local suppliers in order to boost the local economy and create economic opportunities for rural and indigenous communities. In San Miguel del Valle, around 3,000 people have benefited from such community-based tourism initiatives. The program has also led to the conservation of 16,857 hectares (16,944 acres) of pristine forest and a main cougar habitat.How do you choose a responsible #tourism operator when #traveling? Click To Tweet
Protecting The Environment
In its mission to spread eco-friendly practices in the travel industry, Rainforest Alliance helps hotels, lodges, tour operators and other tourism businesses achieve and maintain high sustainability standards. This is carried out through training sessions on topics such as cultural and environmental preservation, green marketing and recycling, as well as technical assistance and yearly audits.
In order to qualify for the Rainforest Alliance certification, businesses and hotels must implement a sustainable management plan, commit themselves to protecting the environment and the communities in the area, and prohibit destructive tourism practices or activities, such as poaching and deforestation. Tourism enterprises that comply with the strict sustainability standards set by the organization are awarded the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.
The certification programs designed by the Rainforest Alliance have been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
Building A Sustainable Future For Indigenous Communities
With the help of community partners from around the world, Rainforest Alliance ensures the needs and rights of rural communities are included in local tourism operator sustainability projects. In Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, Rainforest Alliance and their local tourism partners are conserving about 780,000 hectares (1,927,422 acres) of land, an initiative which has also improved the lives of over 2,000 Amazon residents.
Rainforest Alliance aims to establish sustainable livelihoods for people and communities who depend on the natural environment for food, medicine and other basic needs. In Latin America, the organization works with indigenous communities and local enterprises to help them manage their natural resources sustainably and conserve the surrounding wilderness. These initiatives not only help local communities lead better lives, but they also promote responsible tourism in the region.
“In Oaxaca, our work focused on building local capacity and providing a diagnostic tool that community-based tourism operations could use to evaluate how well they were implementing sustainable tourism practices. We hope this work will help communities to implement everyday sustainable practices in their tourism operations, and, in the long run, result in better management of the destination as a whole,” explains Ronald Sanabria, senior vice president of sustainable tourism at Rainforest Alliance.
A Costa Rican Case Study
Very often, local communities and small businesses in rural areas know a lot about their trade, but have limited experience in tourism management. In the town of Santa Ana, Costa Rica, pottery making is a main tourist attraction, as demonstrated by the 60+ pottery shops lining the streets. One of these potters is Mario Hernández, whose father was the first to open a pottery shop in Santa Ana back in the sixties. The trade has since spread throughout the country, becoming an important cultural heritage in Costa Rica and providing a sustainable income for the many families who practice the craft.
To help potters in Santa Ana boost rural and community tourism in their hometown and therefore maintain a sustainable income, Rainforest Alliance have invited them to workshops in marketing, conservation, customer service, cost-cutting and sustainable tourism practices. Following these training sessions — offered to more than 600 entrepreneurs and 140 tourism businesses across Costa Rica — the Hernández family is now better equipped to protect the land around the clay pit and help reforest the surrounding area. The family is also planning to build eco-friendly cabins for tourists, while they continue to promote local history and biodiversity through their tours.Are your #travel choices having a positive #impact on the communities you visit? Click To Tweet
How You Can Contribute
If you’re worried about greenwashing or potential eco-frauds, purchasing products or services that carry the Rainforest Alliance seal is a way of ensuring that you are truly traveling sustainably and responsibly. To make this choice easier, Rainforest Alliance have put up a directory of certified hotels and tour operators in Latin America and the Caribbean.
What NGO’s, hotels, airlines or tour operators do you know focused on protecting biodiversity and assisting indigenous communities through tourism? Please share in the comments below!
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