Tourism | October 14th, 2009

A success or too much of a good thing?  Tourism is providing an economic incentive for protection, and overall the impacts of tourists are well managed.  But there are some worrying trends.

One is the temptation to shift away from focused, small scale, ecotourism to a wider range of tourism ventures, and larger scale enterprises.  Of particular concern is the debate over allowing large cruise ships to visit and run their own operations in the islands – something that must not be allowed.

Maintaining a net positive effect of tourism will not be possible if the government does not have a clear, well designed and strongly enforced strategy. 

It is vital that the controls on tourist numbers aren’t eroded.  The Galapagos will benefit most if with a tourism model focused on relatively small numbers of visitors for whom this is a special, highly valued event.

Tourism should remain focused on national park values, rather than trying to provide a wider range of activities that could be done on the mainland.  We note, for example, that the National Parks Service, tourism agency and Spanish aid agency have just launched a guide to tourism in the rural zones of Floreana and San Cristobal.  The aim is to support the development of tourism operations within the agricultural zone on the islands. While a movement from uneconomic and unsustainable agriculture to tourism is desirable, it isn’t desirable to start encouraging people to go to the Galapagos to experience a coffee farm or “homestay” type experience that they could have anywhere in tropical Latin America.

It is also vital that the emphasis on well-trained guides, under national park agency supervision, continues.  Tourists need to leave the Galapagos better informed than when they arrived, and take away with them accurate messages about the threats to the islands and the need for conservation.