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The Panamanian Association of Sustainable Tourism (APTSO) is the creation of a group of entrepreneurs who were concerned about the need to promote sustainability in the tourism industry of Panama. Since its beginnings in 2007, the association has promoted economic integration within communities, and respect for the cultural, social and environmental aspects involved in the tourism industry.
Sustainable tourism is growing worldwide, in part because it is a practice which generates higher income as selective tourists choose providers who are responsible and can provide unique experiences.
Sustainable tourism in Panama
MarViva, a non profit organization, has developed a program with the local fishing community in the Gulf of Chiriquí. The program teachesfishermen how to do responsible whale watching, a very profitable activity, instead of overfishing the area or killing sharks for their fins.
Another effort is called “Discover the Great Darien.” It is the project by several companies and organizations which joined forces to promote hiking, history, culture, and scientific tourism in the province of Darien. The Pastoral Center of Santa Fe in Darien works with ECODIC, a women’s cooperative that produces products from the forests in the area, without affecting the forest. In combination they produce teas, organic soaps, liquors and others items. With ECOTOUR Darien (6736-1605) one can visit local communities such as Boca Lara y Mogue.
Certification around the corner?
Other countries have certification available for sustainable tourism providers. Panama has no certification, other than the commitment of those who belong to APTSO. Annie Young, the president of APTSO tells The Visitor, “We are working in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance (RA) to create a program that recognizes sustainable products and we hope to receive support from more businesses. RA will visit Panama in November to present us with a project proposal, which we hope could become a reality.”
APTSO has developed a guide for sustainable tourism in Panama with USAID, which is available on their website. The purpose of the guide is to provide orientation to all those involved in tourism (operators, hotels, transportation, guides, tourists, communities, etc.)
APTSO has organized training and seminars with organizations such as MarViva, Azuero Earth Proyect and Avifauna. In 2010 with funds from USAID they certified 20 guides over a period of three months, teaching them about natural history, culture, interpretation, leadership, etiquette and first aid.
The association believes they are not enough trained guides in Panama and hopes to reach an agreement with the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP) to develop more trained professionals.
For more information or to join, visit www.aptso.org.