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Toledo Ecotourism Association, Belize - Overview
The TEA was set up in 1989 by a group of indigenous Mayas and Garifunas who acknowledged the potential for tourism in Toledo and wanted their communities to benefit from small scale tourism initiatives. Under the oversight of an ex-patriot American, Chet Schmidt, they developed a “village guesthouse and eco-trail program” [TEA brochure, 2002]. The organisation slowly grew (and later shrank) and now has approximately two hundred members who collectively offer village stays in basic ecolodges in nine different Mopan Maya, Kekchi Maya and Garifuna villages.
The TEA office in the district capital Punta Gorda attempts to distribute tourists equally to all of the villages. Within each village, various families participate in the ecolodge guesthouse program by preparing meals for the guests, looking after the ecolodge, acting as guides and being story tellers, dancers and musicians. A rotation system operates in each village: “Once a family has performed a service, such as cooking, they take another turn only after every other family has taken their turn so that the benefits are spread as equally as possible” [TEA brochure, 2002]. The same rotation system operates with the guides who offer a variety of eco-tours around the village, through the rainforest or in canoes. All participants in the TEA program are members of the indigenous Maya or Garifuna communities. Approximately 80% of the total money spent by tourists remains in the village. The TEA has won two international awards for it’s achievements – the 1996 “TO DO award for socially responsible tourism”, presented at the International Tourism Exchange tradeshow in Berlin and the 1999 “Conde Naste Honorable Mention for Eco-tourism Concept”.
Fig. 3 demonstrates the TEA’s structural organisation:
TEA Executive Chairman, P. Ack
Local TEA Chairmen in each of the nine villages
Local TEA Guides Local TEA food providers Other services provided
by local TEA members
e.g. craft sellers, dancers,
Community Ecolodge in Ecuador at Piedra Blanca