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Aboriginal Tourism: Prospects for the Development of Diverse and Sustainable Indigenous Enterprises in the Americas

Chaired by Bernardo Peredo and Thomas Thornton

April 4 – 6, 2017

Aboriginal Tourism: Prospects for the Development of Diverse and Sustainable Indigenous Enterprises in the Americas

The emergence of ecotourism in developing countries in past decades raises hopes of integrating sustainable development of local communities with environmental conservation. It is considered that ecotourism may help protect rain forests and traditional cultures while also meeting economic and social needs of local residents. Already, aboriginal tourism has developed on a significant scale in iconic ecosystems rich in biological and cultural diversity, both in developing regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and in developed countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Recent academic and policy literature argues that successful aboriginal tourism operations depend on the degree to which local governance factors —including ownership, land tenure, participation, decision-making processes and revenue sharing arrangements— ensure that indigenous communities have managerial control over operations and benefit flows. However, too often, the synergies between ecotourism, local development, culture, and nature conservation do not emerge because communities are not fully involved in the design of projects. Yet, even when they are involved, it is often only as cultural performers or exotic attractions rather than managers or owners.

Under what conditions do aboriginal tourism ventures develop into sustainable enterprises, delivering economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits? Seminar co-chairs Dr. Thomas Thornton and Bernardo Peredo organized this seminar to address this question and to contribute to the emerging literature on indigenous rights and self- determination. In addition, seminarians exchanged knowledge of best practices and lessons learned from well-known indigenous and ecotourism organizations in Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and the United States, and addressed the challenges that aboriginal tourism projects and ventures face in different indigenous communities.

Key questions emerging from the seminar needing further exploration include:

  • What are the current best practices of aboriginal or indigenous tourism for local development, biocultural diversity and sustainability? How do the lessons from these successful models apply to other indigenous entrepreneurs and leaders and their communities participating in the ecotourism industry?
  • What role does indigenous entrepreneurship play in indigenous tourism in diverse cultural and ecological systems and social networks? How is it supported?
  • What are the important challenges and opportunities for expansion, systems change and sustainability trends of indigenous tourism projects and ventures?
  • How do various tourism enterprises support and maintain key indigenous and communal values through their development and operations?
  • How would you like to see your tourism operation develop in the future to become more sustainable?
  • How are limits to tourism and the saturation thresholds of visitor impacts monitored and assessed?

Members of the seminar included leaders of indigenous tourism organizations who will take the questions and ideas resulting from the participants’ discussions for dissemination throughout the Americas and to the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University in England, which funded the original research.



Bernardo Peredo, Chair
Honorary Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment

Thomas Thornton, Chair
Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment

Johanna Dybdahl
Cultural Director, Icy Strait Point, Hoonah, Alaska

Kurt Holle
Manager, Rainforest Expedition (RFE), Peru

Amanda Stronza
Associate Professor and Co-Director, Applied Biodiversity Science Program, Texas A&M University and Ecoexist Project

Samuel Wulzermann
School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Generous funding provided by the National Science Foundation