Ecotourism in Belize

"An Evaluation of Rural Ecotourism Initiatives in Toledo District, Southern Belize"

From the author: the following is a slightly edited copy of a dissertation on ecotourism in Belize written and researched in 2003. I've published it online for anyone who might be interested - and also to highlight the cause of the near-exemplary Toledo Ecotourism Association, the Belize Government's corruption and interference with eco-tourism initiatives in Belize, the continued marginalization of indigenous peoples in Belize, and the ongoing and inappropriate use of the term "ecotourism" to describe any form of travel or tourism related to nature. The associations analyzed have no affiliation with the Piedra Blanca Community Ecotourism Project or this website. Copyright © 2003 C.L. Hardyment (Piedra Blanca volunteer eco-tourism consultant - email). No plagiarism please.


Eco-tourism initiatives in Toledo District, Southern Belize, were visited and the extent to which they adhered to various ecotourism principles was evaluated. The environmental, economic and socio-cultural impacts of ecotourism in the region were assessed through observation and interviewing local residents and guides. The differing ideologies and practices of two eco-tour operators – the Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA) and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE Tours) – are compared in this study. The results show two very different attitudes as to how to practice ecotourism. Most notable are the greatly different levels of local participation and the resulting distribution of economic benefits: while the Toledo Ecotourism Association village guesthouse programme results in benefits for entire Maya village communities, TIDE-tours sees economic benefits going to a much smaller group of tour guides. The power relations within these two organisations are evaluated and the extent to which these relations affect the future prospects of both organisations is assessed. While the Toledo Ecotourism Association's power hierarchy is democratic, politics and the abuse of positions of power has resulted in friction between members that threatens the programme’s long-term sustainability. TIDE’s attitude towards conservation and local participation is more neo-colonialist, with the ecotourism department organised by a Westerner and funding obtained from "First World" development agencies.

Subsequent sections:

II. Ecotourism Definition - an extensive evaluation of the theory and academic literature on ecotourism.

III. Aims - the aims of the dissertation.

IV. Overview of Eco-tour Operators in Southern Belize
IV.I. Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.)
IV.II. Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE Tours)

VI. Environmental Evaluation - ecotourism or jumping on the ecotourism bandwagon?
VI.I. Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.)
VI.II. Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE Tours)
VI.III Local Protected Areas

VII. Economic Evaluation - how do these tourism initiatives benefit the locals of Toledo/ Belize ?
VII.I. Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.)
VII.II. Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE Tours) - advantages and disadvantages of ecotourism.

VIII. Socio-Cultural Evaluation - sensitive, marginalizing, or a case of zooification?
VIII.I Toledo Ecotourism Association (T.E.A.)
VIII.III. Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE Tours)

IX. Role played by Education - educating the ecotourists, and the Belize's government role.

X. Evaluation of local power relations
Local participation - Toledo Ecotourism Association, power abuses & problems - Power and its abuse - the ultimate hindrance to successful ecotourism?
Local participation - Toledo Institute for Development and Environment: neocolonialism? - The Nature Conservancy & who really benefits from ecotourism in Belize?
The proposed "Toledo People's Eco-park" and the Belize government's influence on ecotourism - Corruption, greed and the hijacking of best practices - questions about the Belize governments' attitude towards ecotourism and indigenous peoples rights.



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