ISSN 1108-8931


Year 6 - Issue 79 - Apr 06

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The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

Ariane Janér:
Brazil Sustainable Tourism Program, Instituto de Hospitalidade & EcoBrasil
The construction of big resorts or fast growing tourism destinations in previously sparsely inhabited areas can directly lead to "favelization" of the surrounding areas"

Ms Ariane JanerAriane Janér is a Dutch zoologist (MSc Leiden) with a degree in business administration (MBA Delft, who has been living in Brazil since 1988 and working in the area of sustainable development since 1991. She has consulted many ecotourism projects in Brazil and also helps develop practical training courses. Ariane builds on her experience in marketing and finance acquired through a career at Royal Dutch Shell, as a freelance consumer market researcher for Euromonitor, as a financial analyst for Baxter Straub and as owner/director of an ecotourism operator. She is at present responsible for the marketing activities of the Brazil Sustainable Tourism Program (PCTS) coordinated by the Instituto de Hospitalidade. She is one of the co-founders and still actively involved with EcoBrasil, the Brazilian Ecotourism Society.

Instituto de Hospitalidade (IH) is a national, non-profit, non-government organization dedicated to the promotion of sustainable tourism as a tool to promote economic and social development, cultural diversity, and the preservation of our biodiversity. The Institute pursues a variety of projects in partnership with Brazilian, international and multilateral organizations that specialize in educational, labour, cultural, environmental and tourism industry endeavours. Launched in 1997 with support from 32 corporate, governmental and Third Sector organizations, and established in Salvador (Bahia), Brazil, IH has developed, implemented and managed dozens of successful projects throughout Brazil. EcoBrasil was founded in 1993 with a vision for helping develop Brazil as a reliable destination for ecotourism through the exchange of information and developing and participating in innovative projects. Since then EcoBrasil has been involved in many initiatives in Brasil, most recently the Best Practices in Ecotourism Project, created in partnership with Funbio.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB: Prospective eco-sensitive visitors to Brazil grew up hearing sad stories about the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest, the plight of the indigenous and the murder of concerned activists. Can you or the government promise to ecotourists, that beyond decrees to expand National Parks and create more protected areas that the situation has really changed on the ground, in recent years?

Ariane Janér: No, I think nobody can promise that. There are complex forces at play in the destruction and protection of the Amazon. I can point to promising examples like Mamiraua in the Amazon basin (a large scale NGO led project with active community participation), Cristalino Jungle Lodge in the Southern Amazon (private enterprise inspiring government) or ARPA - Amazon Protected Areas Project (a public-private/NGO partnership) and small community initiatives, but unfortunately they are not enough.

We should remember that economic success is measured in GDP and GDP does not differentiate if you generate income by destroying your natural capital or if you generate income by earning "interest" on your natural capital. With China as the next "thirsty" elephant at the world's table, even more forest in the transition zones between the water rich Cerrado and the Amazon is cleared for soy plantations, pushing smaller landowners further inside the Amazon. And Biodiesel, far from being a miracle solution to energy problems, will also stimulate further land clearance.

Unfortunately, the economic contribution of successful ecotourism is very small compared to international pressures for more resources to fuel the world economy. Unfortunate indeed as when you clear the Amazon you will change rainfall patterns in an area that will go from Argentina to the Southern United States. Some scientists have already pointed out that is was no coincidence that there was a record hurricane season in the Caribbean and a record drought in the Amazon last year ....

Don't get me wrong, locally ecotourism can have tremendous impact, but there are just not enough ecotourists to save the Amazon. What is needed for saving the Amazon is the recognition of the ecosystem value of the forest standing and a effective compensation system to make sure that the forest remains intact. For this a paradigm shift is needed in the way the world measures economic progress.

And, of course, we should all be starting to eat less meat so our ecological footprint reduces.

In a 2004 speech Brazilian President Lula stated that sustainable tourism "can lift the self-esteem of communities when they see the value to others of their heritage, culture and way of life". But are there enough tours that really show tourists the real heritage, culture and way of life / standard of living of Brazilian communities, or do tourists still see (& want to see) the glossy Brazil? And how satisfied are you with national tourism policy towards sustainable tourism?

Supply usually follows demand. There are enough tours in Brazil for people who want to go further inside the country and experience an authentic Brazil. However, demand is very small still and some of the suppliers offering special interest tourism are struggling to make ends meet.

Sun & sea is still the dominating segment of tourism the world over, and these beach tourists are the easiest to attract, so that is where the short term smart money is going : a large part of Brazil's growth in tourism in recent years has to do with cheap charter flights to the beaches in the Northeast.

Despite the fact that Lula mentioned sustainable tourism in his speech, the Brazil international marketing plan hardly touches on the subject. There are plenty of people working for sustainable tourism both within the government and in the private sector, but there is no consistent national tourism policy towards sustainable tourism and Brazil as yet is using simple indicators such as number of tourists and tourism receipts to measure success. So the road towards sustainable tourism is a long one.

Even people who have not been to Brazil know about the infamous favelas. Has sustainable tourism, so far been in any way relevant for the people in these favelas, beyond say the creation of menial jobs? Could you mention some successful tourism projects that really made change?

In the first place, it is difficult to generalize about favelas, they are different by suburb, city and region of the country. In Rio, one could argue that they are partly the result of poor housing policies and the "cost" of long job commutes from the suburbs. Part of the people who live in favelas, especially in those with good locations, can be considered lower middle-class. When I recently checked the price of a room in the Rocinha favela (which is all brick and mortar - not cardboard shacks), close to where I live, it was very similar to the price of a one room apartment in the nearby Leblon neighbourhood. I am not trying to say that favelas have no problems (they certainly do and they are especially linked to drug-crime).

In Rio, Rocinha and other favelas have been receiving favela tours for more than 10 years, with direct involvement of the community. And in general I would think that those located close to tourism areas, will have profited from tourism. But the favelas in Rio depend on the economics of a big city not just tourism.

On the other hand, the construction of big resorts or fast growing tourism destinations in previously sparsely inhabited areas can directly lead to "favelization" of the surrounding areas, as tourism planners forget about proper housing conditions for workers and how to deal with tourism related migration (from rural to urban areas).

Was indifference, ignorance, or some other obstacle a bigger challenge when the Sustainable Tourism Certification Program of Brazil (PCTS) was first launched and during its implementation? What would be important milestones and lessons learned so far?

I would say that the main obstacles are a combination of too high expectations (of how easy it is to shift the paradigm to thinking sustainably) and too many agendas (of what people want to use sustainable tourism concepts for).

By studying other programs, we managed to absorb some of their lessons learnt such as having adequate funding, investing in partnerships and international networking and not forgetting how important capacity building and marketing are.

Important milestones were coming to an agreement with the CBTS (Brazilian Sustainable Stewardship Council - an initiative led by the environmental NGO sector) on working together on a developing standards in a modular way, starting with the accommodation sector; linking into international networks (such as the Network for the Americas) and of course developing the standard in a more than a year long participatory process. The standard is now close to being approved as an official Brazilian standard (which will facilitate further government support) and we are implementing by destinations. There are no companies certified yet, as our priority is not certification but creating a critical mass and an awareness of the advantages of sustainable tourism practices. That is where we are now: working with tourism enterprises and destinations to implement sustainable practices.

The most important milestone, however, is still far away and that is making sustainable tourism a mainstream concept. All tourism planners should realize that there is no quality tourism and no sustainable growth in tourism without incorporating sustainable tourism practices.

The stereotypical tourist visits Copacabana, Bahia, the Iguacu falls, the meeting of the waters in the Amazon and lately, perhaps include a Fazenda in the Pantanal. But what proportion of Brazil’s visitors really care about environmental, social and sustainable issues? Is this percentage growing over the years and what in your view could Brazil do for it to grow faster?

Yes, the classic tour of Brazil is Rio, Foz, Salvador & Bahia and the Amazon (and the Pantanal). However, all these wonderful destinations not only have the bog standard product, but also a lot of alternative products for those who want something completely different. Rio is a city with true natural charm and one of Brazil's great adventure centres (hiking, climbing, surfing, sailing, horseriding, biking, hanggliding ... you can do it all in Rio. You can stay in the Copacabana Palace and dine in fancy restaurants or in a B&B in the favela and do volunteer work and everything in between. Both Foz (revitalization of National Park with a host of new activities and products) and Salvador (restoration of Historic Centre and cultural revival) have invested in repositioning their product. The Pantanal probably already rivals the Amazon in number of foreign tourists.

Of course, Brazil does not have a lack of other great places to go. That is the problem with a country the size of a continent. I personally think that Brazil should market itself by region and that tourists should not try to jet all over Brazil to see the highlights, but concentrate on one or two regions.

I don't have any good statistics or attitude research, but I think that most tourists who visit the interior care about these issues. The important thing is that Brazil also shows it cares about keeping itself a wonderful destination.

And what about domestic tourism? Brazil has a growing middle class that likes to explore its vast homeland on weekends, are they adequately eco-minded in your view?

The Brazilian domestic market is huge. With the exception of the Amazon, in most ecotourism destinations you will find more Brazilians visiting than foreigners. According to the first results of the 2006 Domestic Tourism Study (Embratur/Fipe), nearly half of the Brazilian population travels and more than 80% of these travel for leisure reasons. The study also shows that 15% of travellers enjoy visiting natural attractions and 6% (ranging from 3% in the lower income classes to 10% in the higher income classes) of the travellers consider themselves ecotourists.

Since the 80s the environmental (and social) movements have been quite successful in getting eco-messages across: you can see this clearly in the number of serious NGOs, NGO membership, consumption of organic and natural food, recycling, mobilization for environmental issues etc. Of course, in Brazil, consumers have less disposable income and cannot always make the eco-choice even if they would like to. And of course, I would like to see even more people become eco-conscious, but that also goes for other parts of the world.

Private Natural Heritage Reserves (RPPNs) in Brazil, are touted as an alternative solution for large landowners who can get tax breaks in return for (promising to) not to cut down the forest, and engage instead in tourism, pharmaceutical research, and environmental education. Does this just create 'islands' of private wealth in a sea of public poverty and landlessness, or is it actually working? Has sustainable tourism in Brazil stopped the destruction of Brazilian forests or merely decreased the rate of destruction? Can your institution monitor that private landowners stick to their word? And does your institution favour private, public or community ownership of tourism's natural resources?

The view on RPPNs seems a bit distorted to me. In the first place many are relatively small and not created by large landowners. In December 2005 there were 425 registered RPPNs with an average size of 1000 ha (in Brazilian terms this is not a large area). There are a few really big ones (but in areas like the Pantanal or the Amazon, where it makes sense) and a lot of small ones. In the second place the advantages in terms of tax breaks, preferred treatment for financing etc. are not that attractive in practice. In return you need to invest in a management plan and consult with IBAMA (RPPNs are overseen by IBAMA and not by the Instituto de Hospitalidade or EcoBrasil) if you want to do anything in your reserve. All the RPPNs I know were created by serious people or insitutions, who could have made more money by selling or developing their land.

I cannot speak for my institution about favouring a type of ownership. Personally, I believe that there is not one right model, it depends on the local situation. The key thing is that somebody, be it community, private owner, government or destination stewards must feel that you don’t really own things, you just have to take good care of natural and cultural assets, so you can pass them on for future generations to enjoy.

Manaus is historically synonymous with boom and bust, with reference to the rubber rush of the early 20th century, with its magnificent Opera House a testament to past glory. Some say, the story is being repeated, in terms of the Jungle lodges that once proliferated, but are since not faring that well, with tourism in Manaus falling by 40% in recent years. Given that Manaus is at the heart of the world’s lungs, the vast Amazon rainforest, is this development worrying for sustainable tourism? What is wrong? Not enough authenticity? Not enough local participation? Violent crime? Negative environmental publicity? Competition from the Pantanal?

To me the Amazon is not the world's lungs (mature rainforests are not net oxygen producers), but the world's "sponge" (the region is very important for its climate control - watershed - rainfall function). Yes, tourism dropped in the nineties from a high in 1989 and some lodges closed. However, the past few years tourism has been on the rise again and there has been a lot of new investment lately. But, as I said before, growth of beach tourism is stronger.

And yes, competition from other destinations is an issue. Demand is now spread over a greater number of destinations. Manaus does have an image problem as a bit of a tourist trap and an "old destination". The Amazon is huge and there are other great places to go like in the Amazon like Belém, Santarém, Cristalino, Mamiraua, Vale do Guaporé, Amapá, Tocantins and there are more than a hundred eco-destinations to go in Brazil, which are not in the Amazon, but have a magic all their own.

The carnival & beach culture of Brazil is a big attraction; however it also results in sex tourism. Recently there has been a wave of tourist arrests in Natal related to sex tourism. What are your thoughts / actions on this sensitive issue?

True and this is not a new issue. This is one of the "public costs" of attracting tourists with cheap charter flights and it should have been no surprise as we saw this starting in Recife years ago, when they started as a charter destination. As one of the incoming tour operators in Natal explained it to me, the sex tourism is detrimental to her mainstream tourism business, as her market is families with children, who do not enjoy coming face with the sex trade in the same hotels and restaurants they visit.

Brazil already has a National Campaign against Sex Tourism, but actions on the ground have been timid. However, you should remember that prostitution is not illegal in Brazil (though promoting sex tourism and having sex with minors is). The arrests are a sign that the government is clamping down and we hope they keep it up. However, prevention is always better a remedy and thinking sustainable tourism from the beginning might have avoided underestimating the problem.

Even if competition to attract ‘wealthy foreigners’ is fierce and very visible in the world’s large travel fairs, this being a form of economic nationalism, internationalism, cooperation among neighbouring countries is also paramount when it comes to protecting shared resources, reducing poverty and migration. Do any notable cross-border initiatives exist in Brazil in the sphere of sustainable tourism?

I have been to workshops for the greater Amazon region, there are parks like Iguaçu (Brazil) and Iguazu (Misiones, Argentina) or corridors like the Guaporé Valley (Brazil and Bolivia) that form one area. In sustainable tourism we are talking both through the Network of the Americas (led by Rainforest Alliance) and other channels to neighbouring countries, but I think there are so many urgent things to do nationally (plus frequent changes in government policies in other countries) that it is more talk than action at the moment. But I personally would love to see cross-border tourism development like training, cross-border parks and itineraries take off.

And finally, Brazil is the birthplace and an enthusiastic host to World Social Forum meetings, (themselves a form of social tourism). So, do you see Sustainable Tourism in Brazil remaining politically neutral, concerned with environmental conservation, or do you feel it will become a movement ‘for another tourism’?

You might find it interesting to know that there is another World Forum in Brazil: the World Tourism Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development, which will hold its 3rd annual summit in Porto Alegre at the end of this year. The Instituto de Hospitalidade coordinates this event for Brazil's Ministry of Tourism and the UN.

Coming back to the Sustainable Tourism Program : our standards consider 3 dimensions : environmental, social-cultural and economic. The idea behind the program is that there is no quality tourism without sustainability inside. We believe that all types of tourism should adopt sustainable practices and therefore our program is politically neutral. Personally, I think a movement for "another tourism" is important for the diversity and evolution of tourism.

ECOCLUB: Thank you very much

For more information contact Ms Ariane Janér by email
Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here


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