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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evaluating ecotourism in Mexico’s biosphere reserves : whale watching activities in the world heritage site of Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico 1994-2002 Agersted, Peter Rossing

Abstract

A descriptive case study approach and 34 indicators was used to examine the socio-economic impacts of whale watching tourism in the Laguna San Ignacio (LSI) World Heritage Site - located within the EI Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Baja California Sur. Mexico. The framework measured both the socioeconomic changes, and the economic viability of the local and regional operators. This approach led to a detailed understanding of the underlying, and often complex. inter-related factors that shaped the ecotourism development in LSI between 1994 and 2002. It identified strengths and weaknesses of current ecotourism development making it a valid tool for evaluating and improving these activities in any biosphere reserve. More specifically the objectives were to examine: I. How existing ecotourism operations and their activities in the LSI have changed since 1994: 2. Whether these changes have made ecotourism a more viable socio-economic development alternative for the local communities: and 3. Which strategies may be useful in overcoming identified barriers to further socio-economic benefits both from existing and future ecotourism activities The results strongly suggested that the benefits from ecotourism improved significantly between 1994 and 2002. Economically this was reflected in growth of visitor numbers (50%), employment (100%) and local and regional revenue approximately 70% (or 55% in real te011S adjusting for inflation). Social benefits were seen in more cooperation among previous antagonistic stakeholders: a wider distribution of ecotourism benefits; some improvement in living standards and increasing local support for the Reserve. Politically, local stakeholders became more empowered through involvement in tourism related management activities. The viability of the local and regional operators also improved significantly as they became more sophisticated in their product offerings, enhanced their facilities and gained a market share of ecotourism relative to the foreign operators. These improvements were particular true for the operators that sold package tours. However, the analyses also revealed a number of barriers with the most important ones being: Unresolved historic land use conflicts over rights to land with ecotourism possibilities; Lack of activities diversification possibilities outside the tourism season; Stagnating visitor numbers; Uneven business skills among operators: Poor marketing and promotional efforts; Insufficient ecotourism infrastructure: A proposed ecotourism tax; Low profit margin of the ecotourism operators: and Lack of funding for further investments To alleviate these threats and barriers 13 general strategies were identified. An elaboration of these resulted in 39 concrete operational strategies on how potentially to implement them. Keywords: ecotourism evaluation; biosphere reserves, world heritage sites: whale watching, grey whale.

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