BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia is home to the most diverse species of birds on earth, with more than 1,900 species from the coast to the forest. Most recognizable of these are parrots. But what do parrots have to do with poverty?
The answer is ecotourism. According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
There are nearly 12 million people who live in rural areas of Colombia. While the national average for poverty in Colombia is 30.6 percent, about 75 percent of rural Colombians live in poverty or extreme poverty.
In these rural areas, the main industries are agriculture, artisan enterprises, tourism and environmental ventures. In Colombia, travel and tourism account for more than 1.2 million jobs and 4.6 percent of investment. This year USAID partnered with The Audubon Society to bring more ecotourism to rural Colombia.
The Audubon Society, founded in 1896, is a nonprofit organization that works to conserve bird populations, biodiversity and the environment through science, advocacy and education. Through its partnership with USAID’s development efforts, Colombia’s birds are being brought to the forefront of ecotourism in Colombia. This could improve the lives of the impoverished in the rural regions.
Drawing on the expertise of the Audubon Society and local group Calidris, USAID is sponsoring five project sites in the northern part of Colombia. Together these projects make up the Northern Colombian Birding Trail Project. The project aims to teach local Colombians how to develop and maintain the project on their own and expand its appeal to tourists.
To do this, USAID, the Audubon Society and Calidris are currently training 30 local people from three communities. With the bird guide curriculum that the organizations established, the local people are learning how to lead bird tours in English and care for and manage the trail.
The organizations are also training local business operators on how to create a sustainable business model, build customer service skills and successfully market the Northern Colombian Birding Trail to prospective tourists.
In addition to the guides and business operators, the Northern Colombian Birding Trail Project will also help other small local enterprises throughout the trail. During the 14-day tour, tourists will lodge at locally-owned hotels and dine at locally-owned restaurants.
Tourists also get the chance to support indigenous populations. In Colombia, tens of thousands of indigenous groups continue to be internally displaced due to conflict and land acquisitions, leaving people in poverty. Along the trail, tourists will have the chance to purchase crafts from the indigenous Wayuu people, who are known in the region for their colorful bags, or “mochilas.”
The latest trends show that the tourism industry in Colombia is on the rise. This rise is correlating inversely with the decline in poverty. With ecotourism being a relatively new concept, The Northern Colombian Birding Trail Project could set precedent for an industry boom in all parts of the developing world.
Sources: Audubon 1, Audubon 2, Audubon 3, Colombia Bird Fair, The International Ecotourism Society, The International Fund for Agricultural Development, Northern Colombia Birding Trail, UN, USAID, World Bank, World Travel & Tourism Council