Ministry of Environment launches ‘Green Tourism Initiative’ in National Protected Areas in Panama

On the occasion of the World Earth Day, the Ministry of Environment of Panama launched the Green Tourism Initiative, one of the strategic priorities of Minister of Environment Mirei Endara.

D01A1460Endara noted that this Green Tourism strategy has several components that aim to develop a shared national vision and to prepare an action plan that will allow ecotourism to be a driver of economic growth and social inclusion, as established by the Strategic Governmental Plan 2015-2019.

To achieve this goal, the Minister stressed that it is crucial to have the support and involvement of key stakeholders in the public and private sector, NGOs, community groups, municipalities and volunteers, including their partner implementing institutions, the Tourism Authority of Panama and the National Institute of Culture.

As part of this initiative the Ministry of Environment issued a Decree, which supports the development of a National Action Plan for the Development of Ecotourism in Protected Areas of Panama. This reaffirms the commitment of the Government of the Republic of Panama to implement the components of the Green Tourism Initiative, said Minister Endara.

President Varela explained that the signed Decree promotes sectorial integration of the Ministry of Environment, the Tourism Authority of Panama and the National Institute of Culture in terms of ecotourism with the goal to develop, together with the civil society, communities and private companies a national vision towards a green, responsible tourism aligned to national and international standards.

“This way, we will promote a sustainable economic activity, valuing our natural resources, and promoting prosperity with equity,” stressed the President.

An Action Plan will be elaborated with support of Sustainable Travel International, “through a participatory process that should lead us to create a country brand for our ecotourism products, which will generate demand parallel to the increase of Panama´s ecotourism products “, said president Varela.

The president highlighted that “The action plan’s primary goal is to generate welfare for communities and organisations within and adjacent to protected areas.”

Minister Endara mentioned that some of these actions will be supported by the ECOTUR-AP project, funded by the Global Environment Fund (GEF) through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

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Interview with Annie Young J. – Director at EcoCircuitos Panama

Questions by  Hedda Rumohr Berge

Norwegian journalist

HRB: What do ecotourism stand for?

AYJ:  Well there are so many different academic definitions…Ecotourism is a form of nature-base tourism.  But the one that I like refers to the concept that ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well being of our local communities. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas in order to enjoy and appreciate nature and also cultural features from the past and the present.  It is also a form of tourism that promotes conservation, has low negative impact from visitors and provides economic benefits to locals.

HRB: Where do it come from?

AYJ:  Ecotourism is a sub-component of the field of sustainable tourism.  If you want to know a bit more of sustainable tourism in Panama, I invite you to learn from our Association:  www.aptso.org  (Asociación Panameña de Turismo Sostenible).

Ecotourism is connected to the conservation movement. It provided a highly source of revenue to natural areas that need protection.  I worked as a volunteer in the some local NGOs when I was younger and it was a good dynamic: conservation plays an important role in the promotion of ecotourism and both can work together.

Some good resources:  The Sustainable Travel International and the Ecotourism Society.  Both organizations offer important guidelines to the private sector that promotes ecotourism.

HRB: When did Panama start ecotourism?

ACY: I started learning about ecotourism in Panama in the early 90s when the conservation movement started growing here.  I had the opportunity to be a volunteer for ANCON, a local NGO that promotes conservation of land and also worked for The Panama Audubon Society, that promotes conservation for bird’s habitats.  These two experiences give me an important insight on how the conservation could be linked to the outdoor travel.  As volunteers we visited different areas in Panama to promote conservation and environmental education.  We did field trips with donors to see bird’s habitats to National Parks, private reserves, indigenous communities, and this was my first experience as an ecotourist.

Ecotourism is a niche market that is growing… sadly not so rapidly in Panama.   Some countries, some companies and some destinations have developed ecotourism policies and we should learn from those experiences.  We need to create policies in Panama for sustainable tourism.  We are on the race but a little behind.   Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and USA are interesting examples and we can learn from the good experiences.

HRB: What kind of people travel like this? and why should we?

ACY:  I feel that people today want to travel responsible and also want to receive guidance.  The ecotourists wants to behave responsible when travel: how can negative impacts be minimized while visiting sensitive environments and cultures?  How can we interact with local cultures without affecting them?  How can we contribute to the conservation of the visited areas?

People and travelers that are sensitive to these issues are the ecotravelers.  And to me those travelers are very important because they will demand sustainable services and with this demand good offer will arise and more conscious companies.  Ecotourism can be a highly effective tool for conservation, but it depends on committed tour operators, service providers that also want to work for the future generations.

HRB: Is the ecotourism growing? Or can it be only a trend?

ACY: It will keep growing if we have travelers behaving in a responsible way and committed with the principles of sustainable tourism. It will keep growing if more companies embrace a responsible approach in tourism and work not just for today.   Sustainable travel and ecotourism are the only way of traveling in our current world.  If we want to keep it for the future generations, this is the best way!

Annie Young J. founded EcoCircuitos Panama  in 1999. She is in charge of the Marketing and Sales Department and continually researches and creates new programs and adventures. Annie has a degree in Social Communication with an emphasis in Journalism from the University of Panama, a diploma in Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability from Stanford University in California and a Course on Environmental Management of International Tourism Development from Harvard University. She is the President of APTSO (Panamanian Association of Sustainable Tourism) and is committed to the conservation and social development of Panama through the promotion of sustainable tourism.