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Role played by Education in Ecotourism - the TEA & TIDE Tours
IX. I. Guide training
In the rest of Belize , a person can show tourists around only if they have had official training from the Belize Tourist Board (BTB) and have obtained their official tour guide licence. However, this official training is expensive, costing approximately $2000 BZ ($1000 US), which is completely out of the price range of most of the Maya people. Recognising this problem, when the Toledo Ecotourism Association was created they persuaded the government to permit a different type of guide to operate in Toledo – what is known as a “site guide”. Without this concession made by the government, the TEA would have been unable to use local villagers to show tourists around. These site guides are specific to the TEA programme and everywhere else in Belize a tour guide needs an official BTB licence. However, the BTB is now increasingly reluctant to issue these site-guide licences to the Maya people. This is a real problem for the TEA programme as it relies on using local guides so that the local community can benefit from tourism. This is just one of the problems faced by the TEA that is caused by the government (more are discussed in Section X).
Eco tour guides need to have had training in conservation if they are to fully respect the environment in which they operate and subsequently inform tourists of local conservation issues. All TIDE guides have official BTB tour guide licences and have had extensive training in conservation issues. It is the TEA’s policy to also independently train their site guides in conservation issues, but only about 60% responded that they had been trained in conservation issues (see Appendix A). A few of the TEA members also teach their communities about the importance of conservation which is likely to increase local support for the protected areas. Following Hurricane Iris, which flattened much of the rainforest in Toledo , the TEA has also trained some members in reforestation techniques and provided them with mahogany seeds (although a lack of funding meant that only a limited amount could be bought).
TIDE also provides training for the local Maya guides, many of whom are participants in the TEA programme. However, this training is generally inappropriate. TIDE guide Roberto Echeveria told me how he was teaching some of the Maya guides so that they could obtain their official BTB tour guide licences. He believed that what he was told to teach them was on “too high a level” for them – he acknowledged that teaching them about the intricacies of photosynthesis and making them learn chemical formulas was wholly inappropriate considering that many had never been taught science before.
TIDE has also held workshops to teach TEA members how they believe tourists should be interacted with – how to greet them, how to talk to them, how to cook for them etc. Whether they should be told to change their manner and put on a false front in the first place is debateable. In a sense, TIDE is trying to “Westernize” these Maya guides. However, Mowforth and Munt [1998, p.112] speak of “…the need to educate the local populace of the destination communities about the tourists” so that “…misunderstandings (can) be eliminated (and) feelings of aggression prevented”. Three of the TEA members in San Jose informed me that they had received this TIDE training in 2000, but had never received the certificate they were promised by TIDE. They believed the training was a waste of time and money: they were each charged $10 BZ ($5 US) for half a day’s training, and had to pay transportation costs in addition. While the TEA has provided free training for their guides in the past, TIDE has supplemented this by providing further training for an extortionate charge (in relative terms) – one person taught 30 local guides for half a day, giving TIDE an income of $300 BZ ($150 US). This profiteering is inexplicable for an organisation that is supposedly meant to be helping the local community. Given such practices, TIDE doesn’t seem worthy of the award recently given by the UN for “outstanding efforts for poverty reduction (and biodiversity conservation)”. All the TEA members questioned about this training felt that they had been “ripped off” and it is therefore unsurprising that they had very negative opinions of TIDE.
IX. II. Information provided to tourists
Whelan [1991, p.15] believes that “Eco tour operators must instill a conservation ethic for environmentally sensitive travel in their clients if they are to continue bringing visitors to fragile sites.” This education of tourists can occur before, during or after the trip – ideally all three [Wight, 1994]. TIDE appears to make no effort to instill such a “conservation ethic” – no such information is given before any tours and education during the tour I took was non-existent (although this may vary depending upon the guide and tour taken – a limited budget meant that I experienced only one tour).
In comparison, the TEA provides tourism guidelines before the trip and involves education during the trip. The TEA brochure is given to all tourists before they visit any of the villages, telling tourists to:
- buy locally made souvenirs
- only go on tours endorsed by the local people
- always ask before photographing people
- not give money or sweets to children as it encourages begging
- respect local etiquette and wear appropriate clothing.
All these guidelines are important to the TEA programme – they encourage tourists to spend and therefore add to the village’s income, help to avoid any offence that might be caused by tourists and minimize any annoyances for tourists in the future. All are important if the program is to remain successful and popular. The various TEA guides also provide educational information throughout the trips, informing the guest about local wildlife and the uses of various plants found throughout the rainforest. However, little specific information is provided about conservation issues, although an attentive tourist would leave with an understanding of the great importance the local population attaches to the environment due to its usefulness to them – for food and medicine (and also tourism).
Unlike TIDE, the TEA therefore does instill a “conservation ethic”, although this is done indirectly – the local people never really use the word “conservation”. Such a conservation ethic and educative input is important if ecotourism ventures wish to credibly distinguish themselves from traditional types of mass tourism that usually pay little regard to conservation issues and the environment.
Eco Tours and adventure travel in Ecuador at Piedra Blanca