Participatory Ecotourism


The national park model is only partially effective in protecting biodiversity. Adjacent land areas usually attract increased development that detrimentally impacts migratory patterns and creates a biodiversity “island” effect. Unilateral protection of critical habitat tends to engender conflict and accelerate environmental degradation. These unintended effects are often attributable to the disruption of pre-existing patterns of resource use and migration.  Climate change further exacerbates these disruptions; hence, there is a critical need to implement solutions.

Economics and conservation are interconnected. The preservation of ecological systems is directly linked to resident population levels, the number of tourists in a region and resulting effects on local cultural patterns. The Institute’s form of participatory eco-tourism is a charitable activity to preserve critical ecological processes in local and regional landscapes.  Equally important, participatory eco-tourism is an incubator for bottoms-up, stable economic development.  Revenue flows from eco-tourism and its offshoots serve to build local, cooperative financial markets. Managed through participatory decision-making, these revenue streams can fund locally beneficial ventures to also grow meaningful local employment. Locally derived seed capital ensures the proving ground for sound business design that can then attract outside investment and on reasonable terms.


Through epi’s form of participatory eco-tourism includes ‘voluntouring.’  Locals and visitors learn from each other, form bonds of friendship and may partner on mutually beneficial activities including economic ones. Voluntouring encourages cross-cultural, cross-regional and cross-national friendships. Voluntouring spurs exploration of mutually beneficial micro and regional enterprise, which over time may lead to bottoms-up, cross-boundary business development.

epi is part of the principled transformation of tourism into a beneficial verifiable form of ecotourism – one that is also more meaningful, connected and enjoyable for the “ecotourist.”  We propose participatory approaches to achieve this transformation.

Ecotourism –Old Form

The “Out of Africa” experience.  Low-key, green and comfortable base camp set up for outsiders/ tourists to partake of surrounding natural beauty. For many ecotourists, each such experience is sought after in a string of experiences over a lifetime, sampling the widest possible range of settings.


Ecotourism – Emergent form

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is adopting the following definition of ecotourism:  "Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples."


The Institute’s charitable participatory eco-tourism program is not a business, but rather a vehicle for charitable, volunteer-based, economic development and conservation.

The Institute targets earned income strategies that supports conservation objectives through voluntouring and locally-owned results management. epi builds participatory ecotourism incubators and  attracts resources to support economic development that is locally-beneficial, sustainable and participatory.

The Institute’s form of participatory eco-tourism is a charitable activity achieved through:

1. Partnering with communities and conservation organizations;

2. Raising awareness about the disadvantages of conventional tourism and eco-tourism;

3. Building capacity for participatory eco-tourism through community assessment, participatory evaluation, workshops, and demonstration projects; and,

4. Managing a web portal that links participatory eco-tourism partners, promotes best practice and creates incentives for online posting of appreciative eco-tourism reviews to drive the expansion of and demand for verifiable ‘participatory’ eco-tourism.

The community does not pay Institute staff for our services; rather the Institute’s participatory economic development work is solely funded through proceeds from the Institute’s PAR education program, hosting of online stakeholder involvement, and grants. The Institute will not work directly in the eco-tourism trade or help eco-tourism businesses other than when it directly benefits broader community and conservation objectives as determined by a local leadership committee through consensus-based participatory decision making.