Davos Agenda

This is how to leverage community-led sustainable tourism for people and biodiversity

An aerial view of a river running through the rainforest: Sustainable tourism projects can bring vital economic resources to create jobs and infrastructure.

Sustainable tourism projects can bring vital economic resources to create jobs and infrastructure. Image: Unsplash/Adam Śmigielski

Rebecca Reichmann Tavares
President and Chief Executive Officer, Brazil Foundation
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  • Sustainable tourism serves a greater demand for people to do less harm when they travel while providing local communities with economic resources.
  • Community development ventures with Indigenous peoples have several promising benefits, including elevating digital inclusion and sustainable energy sources while preserving local culture and art.
  • Garrido’s Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon is one case where sustainable tourism has generated 18 local positions and thousands in annual revenue from craft sales.

Environmentally conscious travellers seek unique experiences, hoping to limit their impacts on the ecosystems of local communities and avoid exacerbating existing social inequalities. Some even wish to work side-by-side with local people in development or housing projects or to help restore natural biodiversity by planting or lending technical expertise. All want to minimize their harm.

At the same time, vulnerable youth in destination countries need alternative opportunities for local employment, especially in isolated communities such as the Amazon and other at-risk biomes. Sustainable tourism projects can meet their needs by bringing vital economic resources to create jobs and infrastructure, valuing traditional practices and respecting the local knowledge and traditions that keep communities intact – essential for stewardship of regional biodiversity.

When developed with environmental and socially sensitive goals, tourism brings infrastructure, security, improved local governance and new jobs. Small and medium enterprises in the travel industry draw on locally sourced supply chains and human resources to prevent economic collapse in remote regions. The Goa Roadmap statement on tourism from the Group of 20 (or G20) recognizes the “crucial role of tourism and culture as means of sustainable socio-economic development and economic prosperity.”

In Brazil, Indigenous, quilombo, riverine, family farming and “extractivist” peoples can especially benefit from infusions of tourism resources that convey broader solidarity with the cause of maintaining their way of life.

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Sustainable income generation

The sustainable tourism industry can be part of a global solution by combatting the devastation of natural resources and further encroachment on Indigenous lands by private interests (e.g. agro-industry, mining, cattle and timber industries), which destroy human habitats and biodiversity in traditional communities. Moreover, sustainable tourism can address the exploitation of local communities already present in much of the commercial tourism industry, including unfair labour conditions, sex trade and dangerously inadequate sanitation and waste disposal.

Many commercial travel ventures have taken up some of these concerns with adventure travel but community development ventures in partnership with people indigenous to the locale are even more promising.

In partnership with leaders and residents, sustainable tourism can invest in much-needed energy and information infrastructure to provide tourists with educational and nature experiences, exposure to traditional art, culture, music and sports, local cuisine and simple locally produced food, lodging and hospitality.

Sustainable tourism projects can create viable income generation opportunities, employment and new economic and cultural vitality. They can connect isolated communities to the larger world through digital inclusion and energy independence. In the end, traditional communities sharing their greatest strengths with the industry will be recognized as the most trustworthy stakeholders to safeguard their ecosystem and its people.

Garrido’s Lodge – Brazil

The Foundation for Amazon Sustainability (FAS) has worked in the Brazilian Amazon region for over 15 years to support environmental and economic sustainability in partnership with local populations. FAS has demonstrated that small businesses and solutions for green energy, led by local people, can be sustainable and inclusive.

For example, Garrido’s Lodge (Pousada do Garrido), a community enterprise located in Tumbira, 60 kilometres from Manaus on the banks of the Rio Negro, provides basic hotel amenities, guided outings on the river and in the rainforest and locally sourced authentic meals to Brazilian and international travellers. The enterprise has generated 18 direct employment positions for local youth and women. And women’s local handicrafts have generated another $11,000 in sales in 2022.

Roberto Mendonça is the manager of the restaurant at Garrido’s Lodge and describes his journey from logger to environmentally sustainable restauranteur:

“I grew up in the rainforest and logging was the only way to feed our large family. The logging business is controlled by outsiders with money who couldn’t care less about the people or our environment. The logging businesses not only destroy the trees and the ecosystem here in our home, Mother Nature, but they destroy the souls of our people...

“With the training I got from FAS, I now understand how to sustainably source the materials we used to build the Lodge and the food and amenities that we provide to travellers who come here to learn about our way of life in the rainforest. And we are helping the whole community to protect our way of life.”

"Amazonian and remote communities around the world hold enormous potential for safeguarding the lives of Indigenous populations..."

Rebecca Tavares, President & CEO, Brazil Foundation

Safeguarding communities through sustainable tourism

Leaders of the Tumbira community were among the first graduates of FAS’s business incubator. They have established the Lodge to host eco-tourists and have brought solar energy, satellite internet service, virtual classrooms from kindergarten to high school and a health clinic to the village.

Tumbira’s community council develops leaders who make decisions about the education and health infrastructure, as well as energy and sanitation maintenance challenges; as a result, they have become stronger as a community. The local economy has flourished as well. The Lodge alone generated a profit of over $80,000 in 2022, a significant stimulus to a formerly declining economy.

FAS reports that Amazonian community-based businesses in their network generated over $20 million in gross revenues last year for local populations, with $3 million coming from community-based tourism businesses and $17 million from Amazon bio-economy production and supply chains.

FAS executive director and founder Virgilio Viana observes that “Tumbira and other sustainable tourism projects demonstrate that Amazonian and remote communities around the world hold enormous potential for safeguarding the lives of Indigenous populations, for stewarding humanities’ treasured biodiversity and for creating economic dynamism – especially in regions where exploitation of people and nature was once the only economic alternative.”

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Related topics:
Davos AgendaSustainable DevelopmentTravel and Tourism
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