Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

James Burchfield

Commitee Members

Daniel Spencer, Keith Bosak


community-based ecotourism, ecotourism, Guatemala


University of Montana


Community-based ecotourism (CBE) has become the newest buzzword in development circles for its purported ability to provide alternative income generation for families and incentives to protect natural resources. Organizations such as the World Bank, World Wildlife Federation and USAID have supported these small-scale projects across the globe. However, there has been much debate over the efficacy of these projects. They are often developed, managed, and even owned by NGOs, not by local communities. Economic benefits resulting from the project are often directed toward one or two people in prominent positions within the community and not evenly distributed. The increase in use of natural areas due to ecotourism activities can have more damage to the environment than had tourists never been introduced to the area at all. Community-based ecotourism, while conceptually promising, has faced barriers that have been insurmountable in some cases. This thesis explores common elements of community-based ecotourism projects through a case study of four projects distributed throughout Guatemala. These four cases represent different project design and management strategies, levels of community management and ownership, levels of involvement with NGOs and support from the local community. Using criteria identified by William Hipwell (2007) in his research of Taiwan aboriginal ecotourism, I evaluate the efficacy of these cases. These criteria are (1) tourism activities must be small enough to be managed solely by the community without outside support; (2) a broad representation of community members must be actively involved in the project; (3) the project must benefit the community as a whole; (4) the project must improve the quality of life for community members across the board; (5) it must result in increased awareness of conservation values; and (6) it should facilitate the maintenance or enhancement of the local culture. Through a combination of in-depth interviews, participant observation and document reviews, this thesis argues that community-based ecotourism projects in Guatemala often struggle even when meeting the criteria above. This occurs when the distribution of benefits is shared between too many community members so that the benefits are diluted. In order to increase economic benefits under these situations, further emphasis must be placed on increasing tourist numbers, which can lead to further environmental degradation and community conflict. These projects also suffer from a lack of community capacity in the form of local leadership, which keeps them dependent on NGOs and outside organizations. I argue that the problems facing these and perhaps other, community-based ecotourism projects are due to the lack of incentives for local leadership and a distribution of benefits too wide to truly benefit anyone. To remedy this, I offer the example of Plan Grande Quehueche as a model of small-scale ecotourism that equitably distributes benefits to an entire community and exemplifies excellent local leadership.



© Copyright 2008 Kassandra Lynne Miller