The regions where CEN works offer tremendous natural beauty. The communities are rich with local knowledge and a strong appreciation of natural and cultural heritage. Tourism offers economic opportunity, generating a continuous flow of investment and visitors and contributing to overall regional development. Practiced carefully, tourism can also help the communities preserve their culture and environment.
Small scale, slow growth, and local management are key to creating sustainable economic opportunities through community-based tourism. Programs founded on these principles provide environmental benefits and reduce poverty and unemployment. Local management tends to be more positive because residents have a vested interest in the well-being of their community, and they are therefore more accountable to environmental protection than multinational corporations. Smaller-scale ecotourism operations can also be marketed to a different kind of tourist than large-scale packages. Hence, the development of facilities and infrastructure does not need to conform to corporate Western tourism standards and can be much simpler and less expensive to produce.
Our primary objectives for supporting communities’ tourism initiatives are to help them become more self-reliant and to build sustainable livelihoods while maintaining their unique culture and preserving the environment. We are also working hard to ensure that the tourist activities the communities decide to pursue are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable.
Establish Community Goals — We encourage each community to reflect upon their goals, explore whether and how tourism can help them meet these objectives, and to develop a plan for achieving these goals.
For example, the community of Xixuaú already has a well-developed ecotourism business and largely supports itself on visits by international film crews and tourists who use the community as a base camp to explore the pristine surroundings. Another community, Suruacá, on the other hand, is more cautious toward promoting open tourism but is interested in using tourism as a way to facilitate stronger relationships with visitors. We encourage this community-wide dialog by helping residents hold meetings and workshops on the subject, as well as by helping communities with tourism experience, like Xixuaú, share their learning with those considering tourism, like Suruacá. We supported just this kind of cross-community dialog by sponsoring a visit by a Xixuaú resident to Suruacá.
Build Community Capacity to Manage — We build community skills to manage the development of tourism in the communities by strengthening the basic skills of a cross section of the community’s society, and helping to develop existing community institutions.
Build Livelihoods — We mentor residents to establish locally based, family-run tourism-related businesses. CEN’s efforts aim to involve communities in all aspects of the development of tourism programs with the goal of building self-reliant tourism ventures. We help the communities and residents develop economic activities such as handicraft production and guided tours, which complement community goals and build sustainable livelihoods.
Train Entrepreneurs — We facilitate training to help community entrepreneurs improve the quality of their products, manage their businesses better and market their products effectively.
Attract Tourists — We organize visits of a manageable number of visitors so residents can learn from the experience and increase their income without overwhelming their way of life. These visitors will also become partners in the process and have the opportunity to participate in real experiences in the special communities they visit. CEN also works closely with the communities to market their tourism product with local and national tourism agencies, government agencies and others to increase the number of visitors to their communities.
Our Eixo Forte / Juá Community Tourism Project is a broad initiative to bring community-based tourism to 16 impoverished communities in the Brazilian Amazon, offering many opportunities to improve their livelihoods, without abandoning their culture and traditional way of life. Although each community’s needs and aspirations are unique, we believe many of the lessons we learn from this project will be applicable in other parts of the world, and we plan to replicate this work in other communities.