From the archives
by Diego Andrade Ubidia
Ecotourism can be understood as the use of natural areas in order to understand local culture and natural history with safety measures in place that minimize negative impacts on the ecosystems and on the local cultures. Also this type of tourism must generate economical opportunities for the conservation of these natural areas that benefit local people and communities with the commitment of ecotourism operators and visitors.
With this conceptual framework, the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association (ASEC) was born in 1991 as a private non-profit organization with a specific mission: “to foment the harmony between the Society, the Tourism and the Conservation”.
Currently ASEC has 77 members that represent all the social actors of ecotourism in Ecuador: indigenous and local communities, private tour operators, NGOs, universities, local governments, the Ministry of Tourism, clean energy companies and private persons. Our statistics show that together these members manage approximately the 75% of the incoming tourism in Ecuador.
One of the main objectives of ASEC is to generate a process that contributes to the sustainable development of ecotourism in the country. At the same time ASEC generates tools that strengthen the daily work of its members.
In the last years, ASEC has developed different actions in Ecuador to reach these objectives and recently, together with the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador and the support of CARE ECUADOR generated a participative and representative process for the development and implementation of a legal framework for ecotourism services. The project: “Policies and Strategies for the sustainable development of Ecotourism in Ecuador.”
One of the problems that ecotourism has in the country is the lack of a legal framework adapted to the necessities of its activity and its actors.
This process started in 1998. Therefore ASEC through a national calling grouped all the social actors of ecotourism for a consulting process all around the country. The result is the document: “Policies and Strategies for the Community Participation in Ecotourism”. This document gives a reference framework for community participation in ecotourism and defines the role of the different stakeholders in the activity in the country and also recognize the communities as real actors in the development of ecotourism. Also this document was the base for later processes, in the private and public sectors, conformed basically by tour operators – communities (private), the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment.
In October 2000, with the economical support of CARE Ecuador and the political support of the Ministry of Tourism, ASEC started a consulting process for the elaboration of the “National Ecotourism Regulation”. The aim of this process was to recognize in a national scope the role of the ecotourism actors and to give them a legal frame. This process had three components:
1. Economical impact in the national economy of Ecotourism
Although the stakeholders and authorities always knew that ecotourism was an important economical component in the tourism industry of Ecuador, there was no real data of its impact in the economy and in the conservation processes.
This study demonstrates to the public and private sector the importance of ecotourism in the national economy. Not only the economical generation but its impact in the conservation and management of the natural resources.
Also demonstrates the direct support to the generation of economical resources in our economy and its daily implications in Ecuador. One of the main conclusions of this study is that every year, for the last seven years, the 62% of the tourism income , is generated by ecotourism and nature tourism.
2. Ecotourism Regulation
Ecuador’s ecotourism lacked a legal frame that allowed its sustainable development and at the same time strengthen the SMEs (small and medium companies) and community based ecotourism operations that operate in natural areas.
After one year of a consulting process, Ecuador has a legal framework that recognizes the importance of SMEs and mainly recognizes the ancestral way of organization of the local and indigenous communities .
Also the National Ecotourism Policies are proclaimed, and the role of the public and private sectors are defined. The regulation consists of 34 articles, which give to the Ecotourism activity a legal frame and its application, divided in the following way:
- Permanent Policies
- Introductory dispositions
- General Principles to intersectorial agreement
- Legal frame
Permanent Ecotourism Policies
The Permanent Ecotourism Policies will be coordinated by the Ministry of Tourism, with the support of the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association and will follow the next policies and principles that will be permanent:a. To establish the coordination and the harmonization of the different interests and actions of the actors involved in ecotourism;
b. To incorporate and to recognize the cosmovision and the culture of the local communities in the development of ecotourism products. Also to recognize their form of organization and management in the formulation of policies related to the planning and the promotion.
c. To formulate on the base of an intersectorial and multidisciplinary participation the development plans of the ecotourism sector, the definition of the criteria of conservation of the related natural areas. Also to define the models of participation of the local communities in the management and operation of the ecotourism activities; the levels of responsibility of the natural and legal persons, the public and private sector (with or without profit purposes) and the level of participation of the non – governmental organizations.
d. Support and promote the development of the administrative tools that are necessary, such as an integral public registry of the activities define as ecotourism in the national territory.
e. To promote the formulation of a Code of Ethics and guidelines to orient the development of the ecotourism activity.
f. Establish the zonification of the national tourism space, in order to define the ecotourism areas in Ecuador.
g. To promote the certification of the national ecotourism operations in natural areas on the base of a commitment with the conservation and a sense of social responsibility.
h. To guarantee the conservation of the Ecuadorian natural resources though the application of these ecotourism policies and the mechanisms provided by the Ministry of Tourism. These mechanisms are of fundamental importance for the survival of the local communities and the sustainability of the ecotourism activity in Ecuador.
i. To encourage the reinvestment of the economic benefits generated by ecotourism in the management and control of the natural areas. Also in the improvement of the quality of life of the local communities. j. To strengthen the local communities in the establishment of management tools for the natural resources of ecotourism and conservation activities that are developed within the natural areas. k. To promote training activities focused to members of the local communities that develop activities qualified as ecotourism. In these processes an exchange of knowledge between the communities and the other actors of the activity must exist. The implementation of the ecotourism activities in Ecuador belongs to the private sector, through the natural persons, legal companies and communities; according to the national regulations and policies, technical normative and this legal figure.
Coordination of Ecotourism Policies
The Ministry of Tourism together with the Ecotourism Association, will guard for the fulfillment of the ecotourism policies that are obligatory.The Ecotourism Policies will be obligatory in the national scope. Here the roll of the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment are defined, with respect to ecotourism activities developed in natural areas and the National System of Protected Areas (SNAP).
Planning of the Ecotourism activities
Public Planning and the planning of the Ministry of Tourism includes the objectives for the sustainable development of ecotourism.Public Planning in protected areas will be coordinated between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment with a participative process.
The planning will be developed on the base of a national consulting with the social actors of ecotourism.
The public planning and the private execution can be developed only in the projects that are in an ecotourism framework and will be authorized by the competent authority (Ministry of Tourism).
The institutional structure
Determination of Institutional Competitions will be in coordination between Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Environment.
Advisory Ecotourism office of the Ministry of Tourism
The advisory ecotourism office in the Ministry of Tourism will work according to the guidelines given by the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association — ASEC, and ASEC will be the permanent Ecotourism adviser of the Ministry of Tourism.Other topics in the regulation:
- Declaration of natural areas for effects of ecotourism activities.
- The exercise of ecotourism activities
- Specialized functions of the Ministry of Tourism
- The ecotourism companies
- Specific forbids
- Ecotourism activities executed by the conventional private sector
- Ecotourism activities executed by the part of the private community sector.
- Procedure to obtain the special category. This section of the ecotourism regulation recognizes the private community companies. Also the ecotourism certification and the mechanisms of legalization for the communities. The special permission of operation as well as the benefits that will obtain the registered ecotourism companies
- Responsibility in the execution of activities described as ecotourism in agreement with the national legislation.
- Civil responsibilities of the ecotourism companies
The technical norms
Once emitted the ecotourism regulation by the national government, the Ministry of Tourism altogether with ASEC, through a ministerial agreement, will develop and implement the corresponding technical norms in a limit of 180 days.
The local communities will register in the Ministry of Tourism their operation permits and this procedure will be public.
a. The resources given to the Ecotourism Advisory will be within the institutional budget (Ministry of Tourism); b. The resources that are generated by the maintenance and disposition of information of the data base of ecotourism activities in Ecuador; c. The resources that are generated by the Registry and/or Certification of sustainability of the ecotourism companies; d. The resources that are obtained from international cooperation; and the established in the corresponding laws. General and transitory dispositions. In a determined term, the technical norms will be developed with the advisory of ASEC. The Ministry of Tourism will establish the necessary conditions for the promotion of the registered operations.The communities will be able to legalize their operations according to this Regulation.
This section gives the definitions for the different tourism activities developed in Ecuador:
- Nature Tourism
- Community Tourism
- Tourism in Protected Areas
- Tourism Activities
- National Areas that belong to the Government
- Natural Areas
- Legal person
- Natural Person
- Competent Authority
- Technical Norms
- Administrative authorization
- Ecotourism company
- Local Community This Regulation will be a national law since its publication in the National Registry of the Presidency of Ecuador
3, Ecotourism Advisory in the Ministry of Tourism
This will be a technical unit for which the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association will be responsible.
Guidelines for the Ecotourism Advisory office
- Implementation of the National Ecotourism Regulation
- To advise the Minister of Tourism
- To advise the regional offices of the Ministry of Tourism
- Guide the sustainable development of ecotourism in Ecuador
- To be an interlocutor between the private and public sectors
- Inter-institutional coordination in the ecotourism matter
- To promote the ecotourism activity in Ecuador and abroad
- Generate updated information about ecotourism
- To develop plans and projects related to the ecotourism
- To assure the long term continuity of the process At the moment, the Ecotourism Regulation has been sent to Ecuador’s President, and he is expected to sign the Presidential decree in which this Regulation will become a National Law.
This document is a translation of an original work in Spanish. Diego Andrade Ubidia is the Executive Director of the Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association — ASEC.