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GOVERNMENTAL IMPEDIMENTS TO SMALL-SCALE ECOTOURISM

Planners in some countries recognize the potentials of small-scale ecotourism and work hand-in-hand with us small operators. The planners in other countries see ecotourism as just another activity requiring regulation. In yet other countries the leaders regard our industry with suspicion, and in some they cause our small businesses to suffer or be impossible to conduct because of their interference.

What a shame that in Cuba officials continue to make it impossible for self-employed individuals to offer personalized tours of that country's amazing natural areas.

In Guyana a certain official told a struggling ecotour guide that "the land belongs to all the people, and you should not make money from it."

In Thailand, entry fees for certain parks are often set at ridiculously high levels for foreign visitors.

In any number of countries, to acquire the proper licenses and certifications the guide must bribe at every level.

Nor are such problems restricted to small "developing" countries.

In Australia, what could be more interesting and rewarding than having Aboriginal people guide ecotours in the homelands their communities have lived in for millennia? Yet official pressure is put on traditional Aboriginal people wanting to be guides in their homelands to complete formal tour guiding courses, to take existing first-aid courses, to submit business plans, form associations, etc. -- all very discouraging to traditional people. EarthFoot host Denise Goodfellow, a well-known author, one of Australia's top birding guides, and experienced in training Aboriginal rangers and tour guides in the past (for government departments), wants to train members of her Aboriginal family in guiding, but authorities tell her she is not properly accredited to teach anyone.

Why is it that among EarthFoot's more than 200 hosts, not a single host lives in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway or Finland, despite these countries' tremendous natural attractions? From what I can determine, it is because becoming a local guide in these countries requires such an investment in formal training, insurance, and paperwork, that it's simply not worth the effort.

A prospective guide in Alaska, USA wrote us about guiding in Alaska:

"If you operate as a for-hire individual, before you can even think about talking to a possible client one needs:

- an Alaska Business License ($100)
- $300,000 minimum liability insurance ($2500 cost)
- a drug and alcohol testing program ($500 cost)
- permits from Local, State, Federal & Private entities (as many as 20 and ranging in price from $350 each to $5000)
- commercial vehicle insurance ($3000 if guest rides in your car)"

Even in countries where officials encourage citizens to become ecotour guides, there is usually a lack of legal protection. A prospective guide in Brazil, who assures us that "No operator in Brazil and most of South America is insured," wrote:

"... a cruise ship (big one) operating in the Amazon with American passengers ... launched a small boat to visit a local village. The boat overturned and hurt several passengers ... thank God none seriously. But, when the ship returned to Manaus several days latter ... there were literally hundreds of lawyers from the United States waiting at the dock ... they had read the story in the International Press. There are now several million dollars in lawsuits pending ..."

It is apparent that very small scale ecotour operators are obliged to submit to rules and regulations that may be appropriate for large operations, but not for us and our kinds of programs.

Maybe if enough stories such as the above are gathered and presented publicly, we can help officials understand our situation.

If we get enough material, we can brainstorm about what to do with it.

Finally, this month, September, EarthFoot associate Sibylle Riedmiller plans to attend the WORLD PARKS CONGRESS in Durban, South Africa, where she will speak on this very topic, with an emphasis on problems in developing countries. If you have experiences you wish to relate to her, to help her make her point, you may want to contact her directly at sibylle@chumbeisland.com

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