Indigenous tourism and social and environmental entrepreneurship

The research project "Linking indigenous entrepreneurship and environmental enterprises in sustainable tourism: Best practices in social entrepreneurship" will identify best practices and lessons learned in the development of indigenous ecotourism from a social entrepreneurial and cultural-institutional perspective.

Dr Thomas Thornton (ECI) and Dr Bernardo Peredo (School of Geography and the Environnment DPhil alumnus and Visiting Research Associate) will examine:

  • how indigenous social entrepreneurs are transforming systems and practices in order to: reduce root causes of poverty by rebalancing benefit flows in tourism
  • how marginalisation and environmental deterioration is being reduced in the indigenous communities by revaluing ecosystems in relation to cultural services in ecotourism projects
  • how successful indigenous tourism enterprises are embedding sustainability into their business models through specific institutional strategies.

For more than two decades, ecotourism has sought to address environmental and social ills, and in recent years community-based tourism and ecotourism specialists have tried to help local communities develop their own enterprises in both indigenous territories and buffer zones to protected areas. Yet these efforts have not always generated sustainable results.

This project will examine three successful indigenous tourism enterprises in South America (Bolivia: San Miguel del Bala; Peru: Posada Amazonas; and Ecuador: Kapawi) and three in North America (Mexico: The Indigenous Tourism Network or Red Indigena de Turismo; Icy Strait Point in Alaska; and Canada). All of them are recognised as pioneers in indigenous ecotourism. The project will also analyse additional perspectives from other countries promoting indigenous tourism in South America.

The proposal builds on doctoral research on indigenous ecotourism, governance and development in the Bolivian lowlands by Dr Peredo, and on research into indigenous-state relations in Alaska and beyond by Dr Thornton. The project will compare a set of established indigenous tourism projects and enterprises, using a social entrepreneurial lens, to analyse how these enterprises are addressing social, economic and environmental challenges in the indigenous communities where they are being developed.

The research will produce one practical handbook for indigenous entrepreneurs and practitioners and will produce academic papers for a journalís special edition on indigenous tourism. The project includes field research in indigenous territories and indigenous ventures and enterprises in six countries and had the significant collaboration and participation of various indigenous leaders, entrepreneurs and organizations in the different countries along with postgraduate students at the Environmental Change Institute.

Country Case Studies

Project details