Social Impact Design

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The double-edged sword of Eco-Tourism

Basic sanitation projects are skipped with tourism as the towns priority

Eco- tourism, a budding field in my community, is the idea of developing “off the beaten path” tourist destinations in areas that are breathtakingly beautiful, remote and relatively undeveloped. These areas are often designed to create minimal impact on the environment, making them ECOlogically friendly. Not only is it a great way to revitalize a community, but it is a platform which the community can spring from. How else can we make our lives better? What new habits can we form to create an inviting community?

Canchaque (left) and bamboo structure housing tourist shops (right)
 With that in mind, I was recently asked by my municipality to help them develop an eco-tourist destination in Aguas Blancas, a small community 2.5 hours hike up the mountain from Canchaque. The project has money budgeted to build a camping area, BBQ picnic zone, bathrooms, changing rooms and possibly a fishing pond.

At first, I was thrilled at the opportunity to expand my design skills in such a variety of new program types. Better yet, they want most of it to have a natural aesthetic, using locally grown bamboo.

Rustic latrine
But then I started asking a few more questions about the project. It’s great that they are going to develop this community to attract tourists. The area is in desperate need of economic stimulus. Being so remote from Canchaque, they lack almost all of the essential infrastructure: bathrooms, sewage system, improved cook-stoves, pavement/roads, health post. Some homes do not even have electricity or running water.

An hour hike through mud with a teacher

I almost assumed that there was a social portion of the project, but when I inquired about how the community was going to be improved, I was told that a few selected houses were going to be polished up, just in case people didn’t feel like camping.

I understand that the creation of a tourist destination demands various services (shade, seating, bathrooms), but when I saw the budget, and saw the need of the community, I was frustrated that almost nothing was earmarked for the community itself. Shouldn’t basic sanitation, water and ventilated cooking be prioritized over a fishing pond and picnic tables?

Tune in next time to see how we are fixing this problem!

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