Adventure tourism could help save Ecuador’s Amazon

Jul 30, 2021 | 1 comment

Ecuador’s remaining pristine landscapes are great for adventurers. (Photo by Mark Fox)

Author’s note: Time is running out for Ecuador to save its Amazon rainforests — areas which have 10,000 times the biodiversity of the Galapagos islands. Ethno-ecologist  Adam Gebb looks at the problems and possibilities in a seven-part series. This article explores Ecuador’s big opportunity in the international adventure tourism market

By Adam Gebb

The natural wealth of Ecuador, its cultures and super biodiverse landscapes, are a treasure trove that could bring immense income to this small country. But action has to be taken now to protect the country’s natural bounty before it’s too late.

Indigenous communities are planning for adventure tourism. (Photo by John Keeble)

The large-scale conservation that is needed to save Ecuador’s biodiversity from extermination is completely in line with what is needed to compete in the global adventure tourism market. Gorgeous giant landscapes with volcanoes dropping into the Amazon are very hard to beat and it’s the indigenous territories that have maintained areas that are roadless and pristine.

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The defining elements of adventure travel are nature, culture and physical activity all of which Ecuador can easily supply.

According to Trip Savvy, adventure travel has increased by 65% a year for more than a decade and currently brings in $263 billion a year in sales globally. https://www.tripsavvy.com/the-adventure-tourism-boom-3252455  This is a major opportunity for Ecuador to build a much larger and more sustainable economy that will support many more of its people.

The Oxford Business group reports that in Peru adventure travelers spend more and stay longer. https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/analysis/destination-exploration-officials-are-striving-promote-adventure-and-nature-tourism-while-working The country is working to diversify its offerings beyond Machu Pichu.

Indigenous nations have a fascinating and long history to share. (Photo by Adam Gebb)

Ecuador should be doing the same to get more travelers to visit the mainland as a part of trips to the Galapagos Islands. This EXCITING country still has a real competitive advantage in the adventure tourism market at a time when many other parts of the world are losing the far smaller biodiversity they have.

Step one for all areas of high biodiversity is to require environmental reviews before roads are built. Biodiverse landscapes are much easier to protect and extremely expensive and difficult to resurrect. As we have described in this series, landscape connectivity is a requirement for maintaining biodiversity. Governments love to claim that new roads will help the economy but we are seeing the opposite in Ecuador. Within 15 years of a new road construction, most areas see the extermination of local ecosystems and resultant poverty. New roads that fragment a country’s remaining wild lands are only going to reduce an area’s long term economic potential.

Getting the government on board is key. The indigenous nations are already very eager to conserve and they know that their cultures and rainforests are interdependent.

Clean rivers support people and attract international travellers. (Photo by Adam Gebb)

Most countries would benefit from encouraging their indigenous populations to do conservation land use planning for biodiversity protection and eco-tourism. Authentic experiences are a key part of adventure tourism and this is an area where indigenous communities have real opportunities as they often hold both high biodiversity and unique cultures.

Nations that want to succeed in the booming adventure tourism market have to protect their national parks and conservation areas. The United Nations Environmental Program reports that Costa Rica’s investment in the creation of a national conservation system–today valued at US$1.2 billion (Umaña, A., 1996)—has helped Costa Rica develop a strong image as a nature-oriented tourism destination. https://gates.comm.virginia.edu/com386/2005/ecotourism.pdf

The international news showing oil drilling in Yasuni National Park is terrible for Ecuador’s tourism image. I have interviewed many Europeans who think there is little to see in Ecuador. While a small but rich segment of these travelers go to the Galapagos Islands, many others travel through South America for months but take flights between Colombia and Peru to skip Ecuador completely. This misperception can be corrected.

Earning a living from an intact ecosystem is immensely more sustainable than destroying an ecosystem for short term gains. With the international adventure tourism market likely surpassing a trillion dollars a year in the near future, the choice is clear. Conservation and tourism create large economies whereas natural resource extraction creates poverty for the majority.

Healthy ecosystems and vibrant cultures that work together to build an adventure tourism economy are powerful economic cards that many tropical countries should be playing. Adventure tourism can create roadless economies that extend socio-economic benefits into remote areas. Guided multi day trips into roadless areas are a very hot topic around the world and there is  a long list of jobs that come with it such as construction of huts, refuges, trails and bridges, and the cultivation and preparation of foods. Classes can be offered in ecology, ceramics, basketry, native culture and spirituality, to name just a few.

Sangay Volcano attracts people from all over the planet. (Photo by CuencaHighLife)

Classes taught to adventure travelers also strengthen cultural identity by giving the passing of cultural wisdom an economic payback. Parents in indigenous communities want their children to be able to make the crafts that they grew up with so these classes benefit foreigners and locals alike.

The economy and jobs associated with adventure tourism can be directed to strengthen native culture with careful planning. Conserved areas also double as source areas for sustainably harvested foods, medicines and fibers that are the mainstay of indigenous nations.

More tropical countries could be offering adventure tours that cross biodiverse landscapes that took millions of years of evolution to create and fuel the revival of native cultures that have been around for thousands of years. Where both native culture and biodiversity endure there will be more economic opportunities and the quality of life will be highest that our planet can offer.

In the next and last article in this 7 part series we will explore how consumer trends are affecting the conservation of biodiversity and culture and how western nations are driving the collapse of the world’s remaining functional ecosystems.
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Adam Gebb is Executive Director of the Andes Amazon Conservancy.

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