2010 Innovation Award Finalist: Rios Tropicales
Organization: Rios Tropicales
Nominated by: Julie Thorner (Organization Category)
The El Tigre Community Sustainable Tourism South-South Project
El Tigre was awarded a grant from Fundecooperacion for this project in August of 2008. Project construction began in February of 2009. Project construction on the last Phase 1 initiative was finished in April of 2010.
The project to help develop El Tigre into a sustainable community tourism destination met the goals of the Programme for South-South Cooperation (PSC). These goals include: Sustainable tourism, Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, Access to Sustainable Energy and Efficient Energy Use, Sustainable Chains of Production and Consumption, and Gender Equity. The three guiding principles of successful PSC project candidates are Equality, Reciprocity and Participation.
What is the El Tigre South-South Project?
The El Tigre South-South Project is an international collaboration between the Republic of Costa Rica and the Kingdom of the Bhutan. The immediate project players are the small rural community of El Tigre, and the newly created Association of Bhutanese Outfitters in Bhutan. The official PSC project title was: Rural Adventure Tourism Enhancement and Sustainable Community Development in Bhutan and Costa Rica.
How The El Tigre Project Started:
Bajo del Tigre, also called El Tigre, is a small rural community of 100 members (25 families) located in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica, two miles from Rios Tropicales’ eco-lodge on the Pacuare River.
The community has been serving lunch out of the homes of various families for the past couple of years to tourists who hiked and rode horseback from the adventure company eco-lodges to the town. Once there though, there was nothing for the tourists to do but have a meal and plant a tree at the nearby Rios Tropicales rainforest reserve. El Tigre resident Javier Mora manages this reserve for Rios Tropicales.
El Tigre community members had limited job opportunities in the town or related to the revenue potential of the nearby large adventure rafting industry. Several entrepreneurial residents wanted to offer more things for tourists to do and see, to support their community in sustainable, environmentally responsible ways, and create jobs and income for their families. Rios Tropicales had been involved in the community in various ways for years.
The Connection With The Kingdom of Bhutan
To qualify for a grant through PSC, however, the El Tigre community had to have a partner in either Benin or Bhutan, in order to meet the reciprocity and international collaboration guiding principles of the PSC. As it turns out, the Kingdom of Bhutan wanted to develop sustainable adventure-based tourism, specifically white water rafting, in its country.
Costa Rica has a very successful adventure tourism industry that has been operating since the early 1980s, and the country’s leader in sustainable adventure tourism is Rios Tropicales. On the reciprocal side, Bhutan has considerable experience in sustainable community development. Bhutan is sharing its lessons learned from its own successful sustainable tourism communities for the benefit of the El Tigre community in Costa Rica.
Thanks to the leadership of Rios Tropicales, El Tigre was able to apply for a PSC grant with the nascent Bhutanese Outfitters Association. Rios Tropicales provided strategic consulting to El Tigre residents about financially viable adventure tourism attractions. Rios Tropicales Co-founder and President, Rafael Gallo, managed the overall project and implementation in El Tigre.
El Tigre Becomes A Model Sustainable Tourism Project
The Year 1 initiatives (Phase 1) of the El Tigre South-South project provide income, jobs, education, and international collaboration for the community. The project funding was the critical support for the sustainable development of existing hobbies/interests into attractions and entrepreneurial activities that can generate revenue for operator/owners.
These community members benefit economically, socially, and educationally from their efforts, including increased self-esteem, retention of jobs and decreased rural flight. As most attractions involve the women in the families as co-owners and managers, the children experience gender equity through entrepreneurism first hand. They see their parents successfully co-creating and managing rural, sustainable businesses.
El Tigre Phase 1 Attractions:
1.Butterfly Garden: A popular attraction, with commercial applications possible.
2.Serpentarium: An educational snake exhibit of local rainforest species.
3.Orchid Garden: Expansion of a small private orchid garden into a robust attraction.
4.Agua Dulce Internet Café: Offers sustainable revenue source and international collaboration opportunities.
5.Environmentally sustainable bathrooms at the Bajo del Tigre School.
6.Expansion of the Tilapia sustainable fish farming project.
The El Tigre Project Results So Far
Rios Tropicales, as manager of the overall project for Fundecooperacion, along with the El Tigre community project managers and owners are pleased to report that Phase 1 of the South-South project has been completed on time and on budget. All attractions are now open and have been receiving a growing stream of tourist visitors from the adventure outfitters operating on the Pacuare river.
El Tigre’s elementary school, Escuela Los Angeles, became eligible for, and was awarded, the Costa Rica Blue Flag for Educational Centers as a direct result of this project. El Tigre is working toward becoming eligible for the Blue Flag for Community as well. A Phase 2 additional project of a hydroponic organic garden is also nearing completion. It will provide healthy food for the community and is a future revenue source through produce sales to eco-lodges on the Pacuare River.
We expect that Bajo del Tigre will be financially sustainable within two years of opening and operating the exhibits and the internet café. The ready-made tourist market from the rafting industry on the Pacuare ensures a steady visitor population to this tiny and otherwise remote rainforest community.
The combination of sustainable community development that is near large-scale adventure recreation is a win-win for communities and outfitters, and the only way the project can be financially viable long term. All outfitters have a chance to market to their guests the opportunity to visit to a sustainable rural development project while adventure vacationing on the Pacuare River. El Tigre now has economic and social opportunities never before imaginable in such a small and remote rainforest community.
Costa Rica TV News Feature Story: Rios Tropicales, El Tigre, and Bhutan
Green Living Project: Rios Tropicales and El Tigre video
The South-South Cooperation program is about having beneficiaries, people and communities getting benefited from the activities. El Tigre project it’s a real model where really the community is benefiting from this project. So it’s not just a big organization or a private organization its really about getting the benefits to the community; so when you see the people in El Tigre having their new, butterfly farm or the internet café or the serpentarium or whatever is really about them becoming micro entrepreneurs and having new activities but its also about a new source of income for them a new opportunity also for developing the family.
It’s really a model. As part of the PSC and as part of our hopes in Fundecooperación or our goals in Fundecooperación. This project is really about thinking globally acting locally, so its really two countries far away with so many differences: culture, language… its more about what can we learn from what our similarities are El Tigre project probably will never have dreamed of having a counterpart in the other side of the world… and this project makes it possible.
Marianela Feoli: General Manager, Fundecooperacion NGO, San Jose, Costa Rica
When I got here as a young boy, the custom of all the townspeople was to deforest in order to make space for farming. Even after that we continued cutting down trees without realizing that this was a serious problem for the environment. When I began to do this work with Rafael Gallo, I realized that this was a big mistake. He was impressing upon us that tree planting was so important. That’s that way I see it now too, and I believe the reforestation project is of utmost importance for the maintenance of the environment.
Javier Mora: Sustainable Development Manager, Tilapia Farm Manager, Owner of Internet Café with family
Thanks to South-South Cooperation and to Rios Tropicales I was able to achieve one of my dreams, to receive computer lessons- I travel to Cartago every Saturday from eight in the morning to midday. Thanks to having the internet here at home, it really helps me in my computer studies, and it also helps me economically.
Helen Gonzales Mora, 19 year old daughter of Javier Mora and manager of Agua Dulce Internet Café
I’m one of the guides that work for Rios Tropicales and also I’m one of the International Rafting Federation Instructors. I went to Bhutan to teach the Bhutanese guides how do rafting. It’s part of the South-South project. To travel to Bhutan it was an incredible opportunity that Rios Tropicales give us, me and Johnny Calderón as well, to teach them, because for us …we found a place that had a very incredible potential to be one of the white water rafting [destinations] around the world as well … I find people exactly the same as the rafting community in Costa Rica: they had passion, love for water, for rivers and they probably didn’t had the same experience than we [do], but they want to. I’m very surprised because we were talking the same language… we share the same passion, the same love for the water.
Walter Monge, Rios Tropicales Senior River Guide and Guide Trainer
I have seventeen years of knowing the people from the town of Bajos del Tigre. It was always a dream and an illusion to have a little place in this beautiful town. Seven years ago I bought a piece of land and had the faith of developing a tourism project, something to show the people, and for my children to live together with nature and share a little more of nature. It was exactly one year ago we were able to fulfill a dream thanks to the South-South Fundecooperacion that thanks to Don Rafael Gallo, who gave us a hand… he knew us for a long time and knew the project that I had out there beforehand. Today we can say that we finished part of a dream; that we own Pacuare Butterflies and we are very proud of the work we have done.
Mario Achoy Vega, Owner and Manager Mariposas Del Pacuare (Pacuare Butterfly Garden)
I feel that the people have already changed their minds, they think more on sustainability, people think more in nature, and there has to be a change … I know that El Tigre will progress. Javier is one of our sustainable development managers and one of the beneficiaries from this project, he is the owner of the Internet Café and his daughter and his wife run it. His conservation values are continuing on to different people in the township.
Rafael Gallo, President Rios Tropicales and El Tigre PSC Project Manager
Rafael Gallo, President of Rios Tropicales and El Tigre PSC Project Manager, will be presenting on the panel “Tour operators roundtable on sustainable tourism business strategies” at this year’s Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC), being held in Portland, Oregon, USA from September 8-10. The ESTC brings together innovative minds from across the industry to discuss practical ideas and solutions that inspire positive changes. Learn more & register online at: www.ecotourismconference.org.