People in the beating heart of the Amazon : The impact of indigenous tourism on local community members and their natural environment in the interior of Suriname

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Tourism to the interior of Suriname is relatively new. It started 15 years ago and the local industry is still growing. The tours take place in a unique natural setting and in villages with Maroon and Native American people. As tourism in the region becomes more popular, cultural and natural problems probably arise. For instance, due to tourism cultural traditions change and the amount of garbage produced increases. Nature and cultural aspects should therefore already be taken into account in tourism policies. In addition there is an economic aspect that needs attention. Tourism to the interior is often organized in package tours, and these are, in general, organized in Paramaribo. They take 3 to 5 days in which tourists visit different villages. Sometimes tourists stay at a lodge, owned by local owners, while in other cases they visit the more luxurious resorts owned by tour operators in Paramaribo. A value chain analyses follows the money spend by the tourists. Applied in this research suggests that there is not much difference between what local people may earn in the first situation, i.e., local people own a lodge, as compared to the second one of the luxury resort (that often claim to be ecotourism and have local employees) in the hands of the Paramaribo tour companies. There is also not much difference in how local people perceive tourism around these two kinds of accommodations. In spite of this local people want to participate in tourism and even see a lot of opportunities in this sector, but ultimately many members within the community hardly profit. However, local people are concerned that tourists profit economically by the photographs they take and supposedly sell. In order to accomplish a more fair division between the local community and Paramaribo, between communities and between community members tourism must become more pro-poor and community based (at least more driven by local people). This first of all means a rise in knowledge and spread of realistic ideas for local community members. Second, tourists need to be informed about the situation in the tourism business to make better informed choices, and third, the tourism industry itself needs to make a fairer division between the profits between local communities and the tour operators in Paramaribo. Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and (semi-) government institutions could channel these activities and provide support to achieve this goal. How to improve the local situation is dependent on the local setting (in this case the interior of Suriname), however solutions for improvements can always, in every setting, be found when taking into account all the actors involved in tourism and their role in the industry. The economic, socio-cultural and natural impacts described above are often interconnected. Improvements of these impacts are thus also interconnected. For example, the behaviour of tourists can be improved if tourists get information on the local economic benefits, cultural and social circumstances and natural surroundings and economic benefits may improve because sustainable tourism is becoming more popular.
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