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The Best Community Travel Abroad Resources

By Ron Mader

Community ecotourism ought to be a redundant term. After all, one of the obligatory components of responsible travel and ecotourism is local participation. But until recently international banks and national tourism ministries have promoted development of "traditional tourism" operations, such as all-inclusive megaresorts that cater to the sol y playa crowd. If locals or communities were involved in the process at all, it was usually as contracted labor.

Now monies are flowing to grassroots efforts, and community-based tourism operations are increasing around the globe. New synergies have arisen that connect localities with regional and international tourism partners. Consider for example the pioneering work of Mexico's Balam Consultants, which assists communities in developing their own tourist operations.

What Is Community Tourism?

The most popular image of community-based tourism is a rural village far from the beaten path. Examples include: Mexico's El Cielo, and communities in the Sierra Norte, the COOPRENA network in Costa Rica, and Santa Lucia in Ecuador.

However, there are also flourishing urban community-based projects. Examples include: San Nicolas or Axosco, located in Mexico City; Canada's Toronto Ecotourism Association, which supports environmental education and restoration through the publication of a city green map and guidebook; and Mexico's Oaxaca City, a popular destination on the tourist trail, has strengthened its community ties through its Oaxaca Options speaker series, which brings locals together with travelers to discuss the pros and cons of tourism (for details go to planeta.com/oaxaca.html).

For More Info

Independent travelers seeking community-based experiences should consider the following resource when planning a trip: The Good Alternative Travel Guide.

Ron Mader lives in Mexico and hosts the award-winning Planeta.com website, www.planeta.com.