Ecotourism’s 25th anniversary: Conversation with Hector Ceballos-Lascurain

by Ron Mader

The Planeta Forum features a Q&A with Hector Ceballos-Lascurain in celebration of the 25th anniversary of ecotourism. Winner of the Colibri Ecotourism Lifetime Achievement Award, Hector Ceballos-Lascurain is a Mexican architect, environmentalist and international ecotourism consultant. He is widely credited with coining the term ‘ecotourism’ and its preliminary definition in 1983.

Hector has agreed to participate in an online conversation to celebrate ecotourism’s 25th anniversary. The Q&A is featured on the Planeta Forum.

Hector Ceballos-Lascurain in Borneo

What are some of the lessons learned? Hector says that in some nations (including Mexico), ecotourism has been in recent times strongly promoted by government authorities, interested in improving the quality of life and economic level of poor rural communities. He points out that many of these experiences have failed, because of excessive paternalism of the public authorities and due to lack of interest and proper training of local groups.

“Generally speaking, I think ecotourism is going strong around the world, and is providing important tangible benefits to local communities and to nature conservation in many places of our globe,” says Hector.

How did the word ‘ecotourism’ develop?

Hector coined the term ‘ecotourism’ in early July 1983, when he was performing the dual role of Director General of Standards and Technology of SEDUE (the Mexican Ministry of Urban Development and Ecology) and founding president of PRONATURA, an influential Mexican conservation group working to conserve the wetlands in northern Yucatan as breeding and feeding habitats of the American Flamingo.

Among the arguments that Hector used in the Celestún estuary was the growing number of tourists, especially from the United States. Hector was convinced that visitors could play an important role in boosting the local rural economy, creating new jobs and preserving the ‘ecology’ of the area, and began using the word ‘ecotourism’ to describe this.

The Q&A continues through June/July 2008.