November 20, 2013
The government of Honduras has passed laws that will allow the private sector to invest in infrastructure and visitor services in the country’s underfunded national parks, enabling the development of tourism concessions in these spectacular but unfrequented protected natural areas.
These regulations define the terms for the establishment of tourism-related services such as restaurants, lodging, shops, and activity vendors, as well as for supporting infrastructure such as roads, trails, and water and sanitation systems, in line with the government’s goal to generate more revenue to be used toward the conservation of these areas.
The regulations were developed with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded ProParque project, which is strengthening the management of the country’s protected areas system and supporting sustainable development of tourism, forestry, and agro-forestry with its partner, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS).
The regulations resulted from 18 months of intensive application of international best practices, in-depth legal analysis, and stakeholder outreach conducted by the project team, the Honduran Institute of Forest Conservation (ICF), and the NPS.
“We sought to develop a flexible tool to allow for a range of build-operate-transfer type of concessions for accommodation and tourism infrastructure,” said Alejandra Reyes, ICF’s Director of Protected Areas. “And [we wanted to] provide a mechanism to legalize local communities’ commercial activities through permits, licenses, and simple leases.”
ProParque is working with the ICF and park managers to attract more visitors to the country’s terrestrial and marine national parks. A critical piece of the strategy is to attract investment from the private sector to develop high-quality infrastructure and visitor services. However, a legal framework to allow private commercial services in the protected areas did not exist when the project started.
ProParque and the NPS undertook the challenge of streamlining a series of overlapping regulations, rules, and decrees trying to govern the development of tourism in the protected areas managed by the ICF and local co-management groups. The legal status of local communities living within the protected areas is also complicated, so opportunities for communities’ formal inclusion in the tourism value chain are limited. The new regulations take this reality into account, incorporating a tiered approach to concessions that minimizes the entry barriers for these marginalized groups.
With the new regulations in place, the project team believes opportunities to improve the tourism experience will grow.
“As budgets for conservation keep shrinking, the engagement of professional private sector operators and local communities in the provision of visitor services will allow the ICF and co-management groups to reduce their reliance on donor funding while re-focusing their mission,” said Miguel Baca, DAI’s Senior Tourism Development Specialist. “Too much time and resources are spent managing tourism, distracting the ICF from its core job of protecting and managing these areas’ natural resources.”
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