This case study illustrates how a small company, driven by motivated individuals, has gone well beyond normal business practice to support community tourism. It focuses on the role of Tropic Ecological Adventures in seeking to establish joint products with remote Amazonian communities, and in marketing other well-established community initiatives.
Tropic Ecological Adventures is a small for-profit company that was established with the specific objective of demonstrating the \"viability of environmentally, socially and culturally responsible tourism\" as an alternative to oil extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It operates tours to natural areas in Ecuador, including the Amazon, usually for small, high-paying groups. It has links with several communities, of which two are the focus of the case study: Tropic has worked with the Huaorani people to develop a joint initiative, bringing tourists into the community for overnight stays and to experience the Huaorani culture and lifestyle. It was marketing the long-established Cofan initiative at Zabalo, though it has recently been forced to suspend these operations due to security issues in this area near the Colombian border.
Although Tropic found that its community-based programmes were less profitable and less marketable than some of its other activities it has managed to successfully address this problem by coupling them with more mainstream packages such as visits to the Galapagos Islands. Unfortunately, however, a decline in tourism in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 1999 and 2000, following kidnappings and political upheaval, has heightened competition amongst tour operators and driven down prices which has undermined Tropic's impact-minimising approach of bringing in small groups of high-paying tourists. A further set back arose from the Civil Aviation Authority's decision to close down the airstrip at the Huaorani site ( due to poor maintenance - a community responsibility). However a new site has been identified and a business plan developed for which external support is being sought.
The case study highlights a number of key issues affecting PPT: the importance of non-financial benefits and the important role that a company like Tropic plays in linking remote communities with the outside world; the limitations of community-based programmes (because of a lack of awareness of tourism in the community, as well as the need for external investment in infrastructure, marketing and training); and the challenges of achieving commercial viability.
London, UK: ODI, PPT Working Paper No. 6, 32 pp.