Community-based Ecotourism: The Case of Infierno

Today we had a meeting with Javier Gordillo, an independent researcher and consultant on ecotourism who has worked with the community of Infierno and the Posada Amazonas project for many years. He offered his opinions about the success and drawbacks of this project and its impact on the future development of ecotourism.

Posada Amazonas is a community-based ecotourism project co-managed by the community of Infierno and a company called Rainforest Expeditions. It was built on a 2000-hectare portion of the community that has remained uninhabited since 1976. This area had been used essentially for timber extraction, hunting, and farming. Opened in 1996, Posada Amazonas is a 30-bedroom jungle lodge equipped with some modern hotel supplies and offering expeditionary, cultural and recreational activities associated with rainforests. During his lecture, Gordillo talked about the managerial development of the lodge and compared the differences before and after the initiation of the project. In his opinion, the most important factor that makes Posada Amazonas stand out from similar projects is the meaningful and substantial participation of the Infierno community. In this process, both Rainforest Expeditions and the Infierno community have undergone major changes.

Gordillo emphasized that other than tangible benefits like increased income, there had been a considerable shift in thinking within the community. In the eyes of a conservationist, some changes are really favorable. The community members now favor ecotourism over other livelihoods and they regard nature as their main resource. In the eyes of a public policy student, the growing capacity of self-organization is even more impressive. Not only do they recognize themselves as an important partner in the project, they know how to defend their interests and resort to other financial assistance directly. However, as Gordillo says, every rose has its throne, their shift in thinking may sometimes bring trouble. One thing that worries me is the cultural impact. Although everything in the lodge was built and managed by the community, the actual lifestyle within the community itself is different from the western lifestyle of the lodge. You can notice the influence from the tour guides very vividly. Since the guides are in close contact with tourists and many of them can speak English and other languages very well, they seem to act like they’re from the modern world. They wear cool outfits like the tourists and have some cool modern gadgets like a fancy Swarovski binocular or a mini iPad. But these are the least of my worries because even without the project, the cultural impact would happen anyway and could be worse than the present situation. What confused me was that there was little attention to the younger generation in this project. One of our guides, Oscar, told us that his knowledge of and enthusiasm for nature was passed down from his parents, similar to the other guides. However, with parents working more intensively, the younger generation has fewer opportunities to know about the jungle. Moreover, with the introduction of the modern world by the tourists, youngsters especially the children, might look forward to leaving their community in pursuit of the modern life. Something must be done to help youngsters grow a sense of belonging to their community and acknowledge it. Otherwise, I can barely see a future for this project, especially when knowing that in five years this lodge will be fully in the hands of the community.

In the end, the project is a business. Posada Amazonas has been very successful as a win-win model for earning profit and achieving conservation at the same time. In the future, when the community is on its own, maybe it can ask for help from an NGO in terms of involving young people in developing a sustainable future for the community.

– Xiaoli Mao

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