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Indigenous ecotourism in the Amazon: a case study of ‘Casa Matsiguenka’ in Manu National Park, Peru


Ecotourism can capture biodiversity values and provide incentives for conservation, and many integrated conservation and development projects include an ecotourism component. One key assumption behind this strategy is that ecotourism businesses can achieve financial viability. This paper presents a financial case study of the well-known community-based ecotourism lodge ‘Casa Matsiguenka’, owned by an indigenous Matsigenka population in Manu National Park (Peru), only the second such project to be thoroughly analysed in the literature. Built and financed from 1997 to 2003 with German official aid, the lodge's revenues have only just exceeded operating costs and have not covered the costs of infrastructure replacement, thereby failing to secure long-term business sustainability. Wages and income from handicraft sales have covered about a third of individual cash needs in the two participating communities, but communal income from lodge operating profits (for example to pay for community infrastructure, health care or education) has been minimal. The lodge's difficulties are attributed largely to a flawed business plan in which the lodge has sold its services to its own competitors, a group of ecotourism agencies that have used their lobbying power to create a cartel in Manu. In a narrow analysis, the return on investment for this project has been approximately one-third of what could have been achieved to date by merely investing the start-up grant monies in a bank account and paying the interest directly to the Matsigenka communities in exchange for conservation actions. Broader analysis indicates the modest income and slow pace of business so far has permitted gradual social and economic adaptation on the part of culturally conservative indigenous communities. Moreover, the lodge project has generated processes of social and political organization, and sustained positive contact with Peruvian national society, which can be counted among its successes. The lodge has helped produce dialogue between the Park administration and the Matsigenka communities, a process that could ultimately result in co-management agreements that help to resolve people-park conflicts in the Park.

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*Correspondence: Dr Julia Ohl-Schacherer e-mail:
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